This article appears in Edge Magazine.
By Kathy Rygg
In the two years since Salt 88 opened, very little has changed. The elegant, modern Mediterranean-influenced décor is still fresh and inviting. Almost all items on its Italian and Croatian-inspired menu are still available. A big spun cone of cotton candy is delivered to every table at the end of each meal. And for owners John and Jennifer Horvatinovich, continuing to do what works for their customers and for their employees is exactly how they like it.
John and Jennifer both have backgrounds in the restaurant business and worked at a restaurant together, which is how they met. John has traveled throughout the region, consulting and opening locations for other restaurant companies, including Hiro 88, which is just a few doors down. It was through a partnership there that he was able to open Salt, which he named because of the unique way it sounded when spoken aloud.
“Salt isn’t a restaurant for everyone,” he said. “People who are willing to wait an hour or more to eat at a chain restaurant probably wouldn’t come here. But if you want an elegant experience, no matter what the occasion, then we can provide that.” John said many business customers and travelers come into the restaurant when they have an extra day to spend in town, or locals who want to start their vacation early. For this reason Salt makes its dinner menu available all day. “Knowing they can have it any time of day is a big reason why they come back,” he said.
Many companies enjoy hosting meetings in the private dining room that seats up to 40 people. The room is equipped with three TVs that are easily viewed from any seat, and there is no charge for the room during the week. There is also a south-facing covered patio opened seasonally that seats up to 80 people and has a quiet, golf-course view. The open dining room and large bar are perfect for smaller parties or couples who want a bite and glass of wine before going to a movie.
But it’s the food that keeps people coming back. John, who is also the executive chef, said they have only reprinted the menu once after replacing a single item. “I’m very tough on myself, so I’ve made sure we have the highest standards from day one,” he said. That includes finding the best quality mesquite wood to cook their best-selling entrée, the Plank-fried Scottish Salmon. “After it’s cooked, the wood continues to crackle, leaving its smoky perfume behind across the room as it’s served,” he said.
Another popular entrée is the Sirloin Puttanesca, which John created out of frustration after having problems with the consistency of a particular cut of meat. “What we had wasn’t working, so I decided to make a dish as though I were cooking it for myself,” he said. “I took a classic Puttanesca sauce and made it my own.” He has also created 18 different pizzas, each with its own sauce. A different one is featured each week and listed on Salt’s web site.
Another feature you’ll find at Salt 88 is that every item on the menu can be made as a gluten-free item, something John and Jennifer take very seriously because several staff members have Celiac Disease. “It’s not about just being able to say we’re a gluten-free restaurant,” Jennifer explained. “We don’t just want customers to like the gluten-free food while they’re here. We want them to feel good the next day too, which doesn’t always happen after eating out, even if the food claims to be gluten-free.”
Whether it’s their customers or their staff, John and Jennifer want to help people celebrate milestones in their lives. “We want to be the restaurant where businesses celebrate the close of a big deal, a couple celebrating a night out, or one of our employees celebrating the purchase of a first home,” John said. “We’re just a mom and pop restaurant who care about people.”