What does it mean to build community, and what is it like to re-invent that community in a COVID world? This is what Salt Lake City’s Lloyd Architects asked of four visionary community builders at this year’s Salt Lake Design Week 2020. Here’s a recap:

In October, business owners from Red Iguana, Publik Coffee, Snuck Farm, and Evo Campus got together to share how things are going in the seventh month of the pandemic. Theirs is a story of the communities that they have visualized and created, and how they’ve seen those communities change in today’s pandemic.

Like too many of our Salt Lake City entrepreneurs, these business owners faced serious challenges including a $300,000 food bill, delayed construction, complete closure, and customer demand disappearing in an instant, among others. The experience has been humbling and left them all wondering if they were going to stay in business at all.

“But the beautiful thing about Salt Lake is we do come together, and we make things happen. It’s a small town and everyone is one degree of separation from each other. If someone is low, we pull them up,” said Missy Greis of Publik Coffee.

Publik was created to bring the community together. “It has always been about community for me,” says Greis, “We built a space that gets people together to create for Salt Lake, to make our city better. That’s where it started for us.”

As a group of restaurants and cafes built on superior customer experience, Publik had to pivot to a completely new way of thinking. It quickly became one of numbers, safety, and supporting employees.  Greis said, “I just I had to go back to what I knew. Which is — how do we help each other?” 

Job functions shifted. Property uses shifted. She joined an industry group text made up of various local business owners helping each other out with the difficult decisions, which seemed to be a daily discussion. Over time the conversations lessened but the support is still the same.

Publik has been part of the Nourish to Flourish program where 10 restaurants are currently making a hundred meals five days a week each to help remedy local food insecurity. It has been a way to employ her people while doing good for the community.   

 “Yes, this experience has been awful. But a lot of new things have exposed themselves in a way that is wonderful. I can see my own gifts in this. I see so much value I have in a brand and spaces, and the ability to be nimble. One day we will be back together again in the same space, where it all started.”

“First, we are so fortunate to have our loyal customers there to support us,” said Lucy Cardenas of Red Iguana, “Suddenly we had to move to a curbside model. It was really like starting a new business. We learned something new every day. We made a ton of mistakes. But luckily, we had the other buildings to better serve the customers. Inside, the new layout of feels sweet and lovely – there are fewer tables and people are not on top of each other. We’re going to get through this. It’s a lot. Every day your business is shifting in some way. We are really grateful that our customers have come to our aid.” Bill Coker said, “The new layout was like designing a submarine. Every step matters. Logistics changed dramatically. As a team, we had to change everything to keep us socially distanced and safe. We even went old school and used walkie talkies, and it worked! Thank you to our community for showing up and supporting us during this challenging time.”

Tommy Trause of Evo Campus said, “We have this core belief that every passion strives for a community. It doesn’t matter what you’re into or care about, there is a crew to surround you.”  The project includes a massive renovation and revitalization project in the Granary District, just south of downtown Salt Lake City. The 120,000-square-foot space will house hotel, retail, skate park, bouldering space, flexible office space, and other programming. Trause explained that while COVID has really amplified the need to build Evo, it has also caused their team to rethink everything. It led to a change in construction plans with social distancing edits and a pause to let ideas germinate. The focus is now more on outdoor space and a meeting point to then get outdoors. Trause adds, “There is no end point in building community. You’re always re-building and COVID has made us double down.”

Page Westover of Snuck Farm talked about their pivot to an entirely new customer base. She said, “People are drawn to authenticity. The people around us seemed to wake up to what is important. They were able to look closer into their community and realize they wanted to help local restaurants and farms. That support has kept us afloat and we don’t anticipate ever going back. We’re hoping our community will stay with us. Rather than growing up, we’re sending our roots down and wanting to engage more with them now and in the future. And it is so great to see businesses taking care of other businesses, partnering and finding ways to collaborate.” 

A common thread to the discussion is gratitude and authenticity. It’s about going back to community. Perhaps success is now going to be defined differently. And where design is concerned, it amplifies the entire journey. Thank you, Salt Lake Design Week, and all of those who participated and sponsored this event. We are so grateful for your efforts in keeping our community connected.