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Idle Isle gets a creative boost from new owner

By Valerie Phillips - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Apr 25, 2023
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Corinna Harris, owner of the Idle Isle Café in Brigham City, with the onion ring appetizer.
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The Cowboy Carson Bison Burger is a creative addition to the Idle Isle’s menu.
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The chewy Bavarian pretzel, a new appetizer, is suspended vertically for a bit of drama.
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The Idle Isle Café in Brigham City turns 102 years old in May 2023.
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The Idle Isle Café is using hydroponically grown lettuce for just-picked freshness.

The Idle Isle Café’s owner is keeping the old-fashioned traditions of the Brigham City restaurant, which turns 102 in May. But she’s added some updates as well.

“We want the Idle Isle to last another 102 years,” said owner Corinna Harris. “We’re unique because we’re a historic restaurant, but we want to appeal to new people as well.”

Owners Travis and Jana Porter sold the restaurant to Harris in March 2022.

The café’s original marble-and-onyx soda fountain counter, hand-crafted wooden booths and 1940s Coca-Cola dispensers speak to a bygone era. In the dining rooms, the formica-topped tables remind customers of their grandma’s kitchen.

Comfort classics such as pot roast and chicken fried steak coexist with new menu options.

“We’re using the creativity of our line cooks and encouraging them to come up with dishes that they can be proud of,” Harris said.

One success is the Cowboy Carson Bison Burger, brainchild of line cook Carson Lee. It’s a bison burger topped with bacon, a fried egg, an onion ring, red onions, pickles, lettuce, tomato, cheese and a special “cowboy BBQ sauce.” Served dramatically with a steak knife sticking in the bun, it’s become a top-seller.

Appetizers were added, “and they’re bringing more people into the restaurant,” Harris said. They include wings, deep-fried calamari, and garlic fries laced with bits of fresh garlic. House-made onion rings and Bavarian pretzels are both suspended from vertical hangers for extra flair.

Harris also added hydroponically grown lettuce, fresh-picked in the kitchen as needed in sandwiches and salads. They get deliveries twice a week from a supplier.

The Idle Isle’s daily specials have mainly stayed the same, offering specials like hot turkey sandwiches, liver and onions, corned beef and cabbage, meatloaf and rainbow trout. Filet of salmon, a salmon salad and ribeye steak are now served daily.

During the winter, the restaurant has been closed on Wednesdays (as well as Sundays). Harris plans to be open on Wednesdays come summer.

About the only thing taken off the menu was the split pea soup, regularly served on Tuesdays. “It wasn’t a big mover,” Harris said. “So we changed to tomato-basil.”

Idle Isle’s reputation for house-made desserts such as Idleberry Pie is expanding with an “incubator kitchen” program. Budding pastry chefs use the kitchen to make baked goods during the restaurant’s downtime. The cafe also serves both Farr’s and Utah State University’s Aggie ice cream.

The restaurant now hosts special events, such as Valentine’s Day, when the back dining room became a dance floor with a DJ, and couples enjoyed upscale entrees like mahi mahi and New York strip steak. Harris also did special menus for Oktoberfest and Chinese New Year and hopes to host future events like mystery dinners, trivia nights and bingo.

“We want to be a community-based restaurant,” Harris said.

The artwork on the walls comes from local artists and photographers, and it’s for sale. The café carries local authors’ books and also hosts book signings and charity events.

The Idle Isle boasts Utah’s oldest restaurant continually operated on the same premises. Verable and Percy Knudson opened it in May 1921 in the Armeda Block Building (named for its first owner, Armeda Snow Young, in 1892).

Percy Knudson learned the candy and ice cream business by working at the Bluebird Café in Logan, opened in 1914.

In a contest to name the new business, Mrs. Walderman Call won a $10 prize for suggesting “Idle Isle.” According to an April 1921 Box Elder News story, the name was “something different from the ordinary, catchy and suggestive of rest in a comfortable place.”

The Knudsons built a candy-making facility in the basement, and in 1929 brought in Verabel’s brother, David H. Call, and his wife, LaRita, as partners.

From 1971 to 1994, the Knudsons’ grandson, Richard VanDyke, was an owner. He decided to sell the restaurant to focus on the candy side of the business, which eventually moved across the street.

A restaurant staffer, Cariann Jeppsen Brady, asked her parents, Kim and Ann Jeppsen, about buying the café. They had never run a restaurant, but it became their family business.

Jana Jeppsen Porter was 14 when her parents bought the cafe. When she married Travis Porter in 1998, “I didn’t realize that I would be running the Idle Isle,” he said during the restaurant’s 100-year celebration.

At his in-laws’ request, he managed the restaurant for nine years. When the Jeppsens retired in 2015, the Porters became the owners.

In a previous Standard-Examiner story, Travis Porter said that during the COVID-19 restaurant shutdown, he wasn’t sure the restaurant would make it to 100 years. The restaurant had to pivot to takeout meals and baked goods.

“A lot of things went right for us,” he concluded.

When Harris took over the restaurant last year, her only restaurant experience was working fast food during her high school and college years.

She hadn’t planned on running a restaurant. “But for whatever reason, we were picked to carry the torch. We did it for the community,” she said.


Idle Isle Café

Location: 24 S. Main St., Brigham City

Contact: 435-734-2468 or https://idleislecafe.com

Price range: $7-$21

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Currently closed Wednesday and Sunday.


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