MURRAY The site of a former go-kart track now features foot traffic weaving its way to tables full of food.
The Grand Buffet at the Salt Lake Pavilion, 4998 S. 360 West, has replaced the track and is part of plans for five restaurants in the building formerly chock-full of amusements and arcade activities.
"It's quite odd for some people to come down here and suddenly realize they're having prime rib and whatever else pretty much at the worst hairpin turn on the entire track," said Geremy Farrell, one of the facility's managers.
The building, built in 1983, was home to the 49th Street Galleria, the Fun Dome and briefly last year Salt Lake Valley College before owner Center Bay Corp. of California opted for the restaurant approach. The company late last year also acquired the nearby Pavilion Inn with hopes of cross-promoting the two facilities.
Gone are the go-karts, laser tag, air hockey tables and amusement rides. Soon to be gone are a bowling alley and miniature golf courses inside and outside the building.
In their place are or will be restaurants flanking a lobby area transformed into a European-style cityscape with waiting areas, a stone street and fountains.
"With a building this size, you've got to come up with something," Farrell said of the 170,000-square-foot structure. "I believe there's an Italian (restaurant) on the drawing board. There's a Chinese on the drawing board. The other two have not been identified yet, but we're looking for as much variety as possible."
Most should be in place by year-end. The first of the five began serving lunches and dinners March 24. The buffet occupies 14,000 square feet and accommodates 375 diners, although a nearby dining area also is being used on weekends, when the buffet draws its largest crowds.
More than 30 chefs prepare the food, which includes salad items, soups, beef, chicken, fish, vegetables, pizza, Mexican specialties and desserts, including some that are sugar-free. The number of offerings starts at 125 to 150 and throughout the day numbers about 200.
"Our essential goal here is we're trying to do as much of a Vegas-style buffet as possible," Farrell said. "We have a lot of people with varying dietary needs, so we try to make sure we try to have as nice a selection as well as as healthy a selection as possible."
The term "buffet" brings to mind certain images, but Farrell said those in Las Vegas tend to have a wide range of food available in a relaxed setting.
"What we were looking for here was a level of decor and variety but more of a family-friendly atmosphere. We wanted the variety and atmosphere but without the emphasis on anything other than just family and a very good meal," he said.
"On the weekends, we fill up the restaurant," said Greg Irvine, one of the operations managers. "It's been pretty good. We've been surprised with the turnout we've had in as little time as we've been open. From the turnout we've had so far, I think it's doing wonderful."
Farrell said the turnout has been about as predicted. "We do excellent lunch trade during the week, and once we hit Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it just takes off. During our weekends, we do very nicely," he said.
It certainly isn't difficult for longtime Salt Lake Valley residents to find. The distinctive reflective-glass exterior is easily visible from I-15 a curiosity even for people who never stopped by for a go-kart ride during the Galleria/Dome days.
"This is quite an interesting building architecturally. It's got a lot of variety in space, a lot of variety in size. We've got one of the best-known architectural structures in the state of Utah and also probably one of the better-known locations," Farrell said."Some of the clients we have would have dropped off their kids at the 49th Street Galleria. Some of them then would have dropped their own kids to the Fun Dome. We reckon we've perhaps two or three generations of Utahns who know exactly where we are, without question."
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