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Citing increased competition for the starving worker's lunchtime dollar, venerable downtown Salt Lake City restaurant the Judge Cafe & Grill will close Friday, but with a plan to reopen eventually, and with a vastly different concept.
"In the past year, there have been eight or 10 new places that have opened around here, and it just made it difficult for us to make a profit operating this type of restaurant for lunch," said current co-owner Joe Edwards.
Beloved for its desserts and chicken enchiladas, the Judge Cafe serves sit-down meals in a room adorned with vintage photos of downtown Salt Lake City on the walls and myriad legal tchotchkes in the window like gavels and scales of justice (balancing cookies, of course).
Edwards' tentative plan for the space, located on the ground floor of the historic 1907 Judge Building at 300 South and Main Street, is to ditch waiters and table service for a quick-service style concept think Subway or Panda Express where customers order their food, watch it being prepared, then get it to stay or go.
"That's the trend," said Edwards. "The way we're set up right now is just not feasible for the fast service people are looking for."
It's not the first time the Judge has been thrown out of court. Previous owner Carol Couch closed the restaurant in 2004 after operating it for 27 years. During that era, it was known as a hangout for Utah Jazz players, who would leave autographed shoes to display behind her counter. It was soon reopened under new ownership, but in much the same style.
Edwards said there isn't a time line for the Judge's reopening, but when it happens, it will likely undergo a remodel. A name change also isn't out of the question.
"We certainly need to figure out how to get more revenue from the same space," said Edwards. "Maybe have dinner as well as breakfast and lunch. There's a lot going on in downtown in the evenings. ... Whatever we decide, it could be a while, or it could not be a while, we have no idea."
What Edwards does know for certain, though, is that come Friday at the Judge's 3 p.m. closing time, he'll be pretty emotional. For the kitchen staff and servers he has to lay off, for the Facebook poster who desperately pleaded, "Where am I supposed to get my brownie fix now?" and for himself.
"That day will be really rough," said Edwards. "We don't want to let our customers down, but at the same time I'm excited to see what we'll end up doing."