Salt Lake restaurant owners ‘honored’ to be selected by NBA

Dec 29, 2020, 7:57 PM
(People waiting to eat at Red Iguana in Salt Lake City.  Credit: Paul Nelson)...
(People waiting to eat at Red Iguana in Salt Lake City. Credit: Paul Nelson)
(People waiting to eat at Red Iguana in Salt Lake City. Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – A trio of restaurant owners in Salt Lake City are getting high praise from the NBA, as their restaurants have been approved as places to eat for away players coming into the state. They’re calling this stamp of approval a high honor.

One of the restaurants on the approved list is Red Iguana on North Temple near 800 West.  Owner Lucy Cardenas said she was surprised to hear from the NBA to arrange a time where league representatives could inspect their restaurant. She believes the players must have requested to go there.

Cardenas added, “we have taken care of them over the years. We take care of musicians and a lot of people. They love coming to our restaurant.”

The restaurant has a huge fandom outside of Utah, partly due to her appearances on the Food Network show Diners Drive-Ins and Dive, but also partly due to out-of-state visitors coming to Salt Lake to see their team play against the Jazz.

Cardenas relayed that running a restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly tricky, with sales dropping between 35-40 percent. So, the recognition from the NBA comes at a very good time.

“I’m just grateful, but this is all a reflection of my parents and their hard work and dedication to their business,” Cardenas said.

The other two restaurants on the list are Manoli’s Greek restaurant on 900 South and Valter Osteria’s on Broadway. Valter Osteria’s Co-Owner Valter Nassi said basketball players eat at his restaurant, frequently, and he loves when Jazz players come to visit.

“Some of them call me ‘Uncle Walter,’” Nassi said.

League officials looked over his restaurant to ensure it could meet COVID-19 safety recommendations, but he didn’t know his place was selected until his friend told him after watching the news.  Nassi said he loves the city and strives to make each tourist’s visit memorable.

“People that come from outside have to leave the town with the formula to say, ‘Wow, Salt Lake City is very hospitable,” Nassi said.

In order to qualify for approval, restaurants have to have either outdoor seating or a separate room where the players can eat in a different area from the rest of the customers.

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Salt Lake restaurant owners ‘honored’ to be selected by NBA