Hug-Hes Cafe is known for its memorable name and salad | News, Sports, Jobs

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Valerie Phillips, Special to Standard Examiner

Blake Hawkins is the founder of Hug-Hes Cafe restaurants.

A pasta salad might have saved the Hug-Hes cafe, according to owner Blake Hawkins.

Six months after opening in 1988, Hawkins’ South Ogden restaurant was in trouble. Having left his job as manager of the popular Market Street Broiler in Salt Lake City, he now wondered, “Why did I do this?

But he realized that the pasta trend, already big on the east and west coasts, was spreading to Utah.

“When we first opened, Utah was still a meat and potato culture,” he said. “But pasta was getting more and more popular, so I started playing around with it. Our smoked chicken pasta salad became our star product, and maybe the one that saved us.

It’s still one of the restaurant’s top sellers and “it’s become a big part of our catering, served at weddings and all kinds of functions,” Hawkins said.

Valerie Phillips, Special to Standard Examiner

Hug-Hes Cafe is known for its loaves of beer bread.

The recipe hasn’t changed in 34 years: diced smoked chicken, rotini and bow tie pasta, chopped kidney beans, carrots and broccoli, tossed in a sweet vinaigrette.

Today, the salad is also a mainstay at the restaurant’s five other locations – Syracuse, North Ogden, Centerville, Stansbury Park and the smaller Hugs in Layton. Many customers buy bottles of sweet dressing to take home.

Over the years, Hug-hes Cafe has maintained its “salad” reputation, offering around 10 different varieties, including the popular summer salad with strawberries, diced apples, craisins, feta, almonds, red onions and grilled chicken.

The beer bread, with its subtle yeast and malt flavor, is a second signature item.

“It happened about four or five months after we opened,” Hawkins said. “We started by serving sourdough bread, but I wanted to be different.”

Valerie Phillips, Special to Standard Examiner

Smoked Chicken Pasta Salad is a longtime specialty at Hug-Hes Cafe.

Hawkins, who has a degree in business administration, never planned on a career in the restaurant business. As a student at BYU, he became a bouncer at JB’s Big Boy in Provo, where he dated one of the waiters. When he was offered a job guarding rowdy late-night customers, he saw it as a great way to see her more. It apparently worked out, as he later married Kathryn Hughes, whose last name later sparked the name Hug-Hes.

He moved on to managing JB, then managing truck stops before managing the Market Street Broiler near the U campus. He was owned by Gastronomy Inc., a rising star in Salt Lake City’s restaurant industry at the ‘era.

“Gastronomy is where I really learned about food at a higher level, especially fish,” Hawkins said. “But with my personality, I decided that corporate structure was not for me. I struggled with my success from depending on others, and I wanted to do my own thing.

He also wanted a flexible schedule for family events and his children’s sports activities.

As for the original name, it is not pronounced “Huggies” or “Hughes”, but “Hugg-Hess”.

Valerie Phillips, Special to Standard Examiner

Hug-Hes Café Summer Salad is made with greens, strawberries, diced apples, raisins, feta cheese, almonds, red onions and grilled chicken.

It’s a joke about Kathryn Hughes Hawkins’ maiden name. When his father worked for the FBI in Washington, D.C., many Easterners mispronounced his last name as “Hugg-Hess”, instead of “Hughes”, with a silent G.

“When we thought of a name, it floated to the top,” Hawkins said. “It worked out pretty well, because people were always curious about it.”

They first opened in a strip mall on the west side of Harrison Boulevard, then moved to the current location at 1220 E. 4800 South.

“We moved here because it was a bank and we wanted to have drive-thru,” Hawkins said. “It was an eye opener as I hadn’t realized how bad our old location was for parking. And when COVID hit, it was even more important to have a drive-thru. Now when we open a new site we make sure there is good parking.

For years, Hug-Hes was a one-stop cafe, until Hawkins’ son, Jordan, came home from his church mission and wanted to work in the business. He and longtime employee Nathan Richey helped open a second Hug-Hes in Syracuse in 2014, followed by a North Ogden location at 505 E. 2600 North and a limited-menu express restaurant on the main street in Layton called “Hugs”. A Centerville Hug-Hes opened four years ago, and last November a location opened in Stansbury Park.

Valerie Phillips, Special to Standard Examiner

Seared salmon is a popular dish at Hug-Hes Cafe.

At 70, Hawkins leaves day-to-day operations to Jordan, Richey and a separate manager who oversees the restoration. But he’s still involved in decisions, such as whether to take old-school classic liver and onions off the menu.

“It wasn’t the best seller, and Jordan and Nathan wanted to get rid of it,” he said. “But people my age always come for that. We finally took it off the regular menu last year, and now we’re offering it as a special. I imagine that when my generation dies, the liver and the onions will die too.

The menu features fun appetizers such as refried green beans, fried pickles, fried cheese curds, beer battered mushrooms, and onion rings. Popular dishes include beer battered fish and chips, seared salmon and prime rib.

There’s a Chicken Cranpeno sandwich, topped with a sauce made with cranberries and jalapeños.

“We sell a lot. We also have a meatless burger and a vegetable-based ‘chicken’ product,” Hawkins said. “All the pastas on the menu can be vegetarian. We try to take care of as many people as possible.

The bakery’s display case out front is stocked with sweets such as the pink frosted sugar cookies that won Best of State.

The post-COVID era has brought the current challenges of staff shortages and rising food prices. Menu prices were increased and halibut was removed from the menu due to cost.

“It wouldn’t fit into our price range because I would have to sell it for $35 to $40 for a meal,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I could sell enough to make sure it was fresh.”

He said they keep up to date with trends, attend food shows for potential new items.

“Then we modify it and make it our own. Often we hold things up as a special, and if it becomes popular, we’ll put it on the menu permanently.


IF YOU ARE GOING TO

Pitches: South Ogden, North Ogden, Syracuse, Centerville, Tooele, Layton (hugs)

Contact: https://www.hughescafe.com

Prices: $10-$15 (lunch), $14-$22 (dinner)

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. from Friday to Saturday; close on Sunday. Cuddles at Layton: 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Friday to Saturday; close on Sunday.



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