From Zion to the Slopes

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Today we drove 5 hours from Zion National Park in St. George, Utah to Salt Lake City, Utah.  The drive was a stunning spectrum of endless red rock mountain ranges. Upon arriving in SLC, we felt an immediate peaceful energy and the opportunity in the air was palpable.  How can a place this beautiful, with this many tech companies, ski resorts, and activities still be so undiscovered? Was was it so affordable? It seems the value for what you get in terms of quality of life is so much higher than anywhere else I’ve been.  My intuition was validated by a friend of Will’s, who said he had spent significant time in 41 states, and settled on Salt Lake City for affordability and quality of life. THey were living in a 5bedroom home with a huge backyard and artist workshop for $2,500.  How is that possible? And if you’re a skier/snowboarder, there really is no better value. 

In real estate, and airbnb management especially, it’s critical to find a good value market, and within that market, good value apartments/homes for purchase and lease.  We found a local coffee shop and began scouring the AirBNB listings to check listings to measure their pricing and quality. SLC seems to be a great place for AirBNB management with a lot of high priced listings and year-round events and activities.  Next step was to just try to live like a local, as well as like a tourist, to see what it’s like to experience the city. I went on Yelp and looked for a place to have breakfast– we landed at Sharon’s Cafe– an old-timers’ breakfast joint serving up delicious and simple breakfast– sunny side up eggs, sausage links, home fries, toast, and hot coffee.  The egg yolks were deep yellow (a great sign!), the sausages juicy and rich, the toast pre-buttered, and the coffee excellent– all for $12 including tip– not bad.  

Another thing that impressed me was the local flavor of the restaurant scene.  Yes you have your chains, of course, but the coveted corner real estate in this enclave of Salt Lake City where I was staying (Holladay, UT), was not a Starbucks as I would have expected, but a local burger joint.  And the surrounding places seemed all local as well. We spent the afternoon working out of a really cool coffee shop called 3 Cups– again, great coffee, and chock full of Millennials on laptops, chatting, reading the paper, and not looking hungover (surprising for a Sunday).  Everyone seemed friendly and in good spirits, and not all that stressed (much different from NYC). All of this felt quite refreshing, and I could begin seeing myself spending some serious time in this city. Will must have been thinking the same thing because he looked at me and said “Man, I think we should make this place our HQ”.  “My thoughts exactly” I responded, “I can’t wait for ski season.”  

That evening, we met Alex, who worked with Will as head chef at the Nantucket Yacht Club and who invited us to his new restaurant– Bartolo’s– for dinner.  We got there before it opened and chatted for about 45 minutes and I got a quick MBA in restaurant economics. I quickly realized Alex has a very sharp business mind to complement his skills in the kitchen.  I tried to apply my real estate interest to his own business, and offer any tips whenever I could, just trying to be generally useful. I love meeting local entrepreneurs, hearing their stories, and treating it like a business case from my days at UVA.  How can the business be improved? How can he create new streams of revenue? Cut costs? Improve sales and marketing? Is there anything of value we can offer? Luckily, Will was a sales guy at Yelp, and had tons of tips for Alex to improve his Yelp rankings, and I was able to help a bit on the real estate and leasing side.  Alex’s passion for his business was clear– he even constructed his own benches, put up his own tiles, and figured out how to save up to 70% on his restaurant machinery by striking a clever deal. I loved his bootstrap mentality because it reminds me of myself while I was building up my first several AirBNB apartments. We would find used furniture on Craigslist and get $3,000 couches for $300 or less.  I loved the hustle!

After our chat, were both starving, and the long wait made it that much better.  Alex sat us down in the corner table and we ordered Quinoa and Kale salad with the most delectable vinaigrette, roasted asparagus dusted in parmesan cheese, homemade Rigatoni Bolognese that was mind blowing, and spaghetti with plump, juicy shrimp bathed in a lemon sauce and skirted with tuscan vegetables. A Brazilian native but of Italian descent, Alex’s depth of knowledge of Italian cooking manifested in deep layers of flavor in the zesty, rich sauces and perfect al-dente pasta.  After our meal, Alex graciously sent over a complimentary tiramisu which didn’t disappoint. The energy of the restaurant was casual, but classy, and very congenial. The guy sitting next to us saw our tiramisu, and sent one over to a group of friends who were sitting at a different table. The vibes were so friendly and perfectly in line with my overall experience of Salt Lake City. What a breath of fresh air from NYC. I think I can get used to this place…

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