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'Blast from the past' still hot

Once upon a time — actually, soon after Thomas Henry Morrison and his wife started the business in their home kitchen in 1883 — Morrison carts prowled downtown Salt Lake City, dispensing hot Scottish-style meat pies that quickly became a beloved dinner tradition for many Utahns.

Heck, once upon a time in the heart of downtown, there was even a Morrison's restaurant serving up not only meat pies but also a whole "refreshment menu" of sandwiches, tamales, oysters, "Boston cream toast" and ice cream.

Once upon a time is now for Gene Tafoya, co-owner of Morrison Meat Pies with his wife, Susan, and Wendell Wagstaff. There's a new Morrison restaurant in the heart of downtown (Morrison Pie Xpress, 123 E. 200 South), and a Morrison cart works the downtown Farmers Market, with Tafoya planning to place more carts throughout the valley.

"We thought, 'Gee, wouldn't it be nice if somebody could sit down and enjoy a hot pie like they used to?"' Tafoya said. "This little pie is not just about eating. It's about family memories. I've never been involved with a company like that."

A few years ago, the Tafoyas and Wagstaff took over Morrison at a time when the company was struggling. (Wagstaff had owned a portion of the company for decades.) Tafoya figured a little sales savvy was the ticket to rescue the venerable firm.

The Tafoyas and Wagstaff stepped up marketing efforts, stocking the pies in local groceries and convenience stores, introducing a sleek Web site (www.morrisonmeatpies.com) and recently rolling out such new product lines as Australian "travelers" pies.

Those new pies, as well as the traditional Morrison beef pie, are on sale every day except Sunday at Morrison Pie Xpress. The eatery's menu boasts progressive promises — such as wireless Internet use and an offer to pay customers' parking-meter tabs — but the food is pure, comforting tradition.

"We've had a good community response so far, especially with the new pies we've introduced giving a lot of choices," Tafoya said. "People tell us that in Australia they sometimes use subprime cuts and a lot of scrap meats (in travelers pies). But our chicken is chicken breasts; our steak is sirloin tips; our lamb is Morgan Valley lamb."

Customers also can choose from breakfast pies filled with meat, eggs, potatoes and onions; salads; soups; smoothies; or even two vegetarian pies.

The traditional Morrison pie is still a huge part of sales, Tafoya said, both at the new restaurant and at the firm's West Valley headquarters — and it provides culinary variety all by itself. "People have it with Worcestershire sauce, with ketchup, with gravy, with chili. It's kind of like they eat it however they grew up with it. There's just all kinds of ways people eat them."

Downtown businesses are supporting the new eatery, Tafoya said, with workers spending lunch hours there and companies booking Morrison for catering gigs.

It all adds up to a "blast from the past" that's still winning fans today. "(The Morrison meat pie) is a staple of Salt Lake City," Tafoya said. "There wasn't a cafe, bar, bowling alley or school in town that didn't serve these pies. Before hamburgers and hot dogs, this is what people ate.

"I want to bring that back, when instead of going to a big burger franchise, people can come to our little place where you can sit down and have some real comfort food, enjoy it and walk out full."


Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com