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Prego Cafe a ‘hidden gem’ inside Roy library

By Cathy McKitrick - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jul 8, 2024
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Prego Cafe inside the Southwest Branch of the Weber County Library System is pictured Friday, July 5, 2024.
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A variety of items from Prego Cafe.
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A pinsa from Prego Cafe.
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A salad from Prego Cafe.
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A salad and sandwich from Prego Cafe.
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A croque monsieur from Prego Cafe.

ROY — One of Northern Utah’s best-kept culinary secrets lies just inside the doors of the Weber County Library’s Southwest Branch in Roy.

On Yelp, Ed D. of Roy gives Prego Cafe five stars: “Truly a hidden gem. It’s a bit pricey but the food is amazing!! I highly recommend you give this place a try.”

Dj H. of Tucson, Arizona, recommended saving room for dessert “because they usually have cake slices and cookies that are incredible. … I ordered a breakfast sandwich and a latte! It was delicious. My favorite part was sitting with my food and doing homework.”

Prego Cafe is the brainchild of Ramin Broumand, who moved from Southern California to Utah about three years ago to be closer to his son and family.

Broumand’s signature dishes include pinsa (similar to pizza but with an old-style European crust) and Schiacciata (Italian sandwiches), along with salads, homemade pastries and sumptuous desserts.

“This was essentially Roman bread … peasant food,” Broumand said of his pinsa crust that goes through a 48-hour maturation process before baking to make it more digestible.

“The hydration makes it less doughy and more crisp,” Broumand said. “The rest of it is the cheese, sauce and some unique toppings.”

And the sandwiches, served on oversized ciabatta bread, run the gamut from basil pesto chicken, Reubens, top-of-the-line tuna, barbecue beef and the croque monsieur — an upscale ham and cheese production.

Prego Cafe also offers an array of beverages that includes cappuccinos, macchiatos, lattes, smoothies and Italian sodas.

“I honestly think this cafe is different,” Broumand said. “Food was never meant to be intimidating. Whether it’s a hot dog or $120 piece of steak, it’s the only daily thing people can treat themselves to.”

Starting fresh … again

Broumand, now 63, hasn’t always been a restaurateur, but from his youth his career path involved establishing human connections and providing exceptional customer service.

Born in Iran in 1960, Broumand attended school as a teen in England and Southern California. But by 1979, the Islamic Revolution had erupted in Iran, upending his familial support.

“My father was arrested, and six months after that I realized there was no money coming in for school,” Broumand said. “The government was dictating what you could study.”

Friends he’d met in England had moved to San Francisco, and Broumand ended up joining them there. Fortunately, he had a legitimate Social Security number, driver’s license and the ability to speak English.

One connection led to another, and Broumand began working for a limousine company, later launching his own high-end transport business.

“I did things that weren’t done at that time … before it became commonplace,” Broumand said, referring to his fleet of luxury cars. “There were a couple of companies in New York and Los Angeles that had entertainment clientele, and they ended up using me.”

His workdays — of which he had roughly 365 per year — included providing press junkets for movie premieres and learning how to meet outsized expectations.

“Essentially, you need to be a one-stop shop. If someone comes in and says they need a yacht for dinner tonight, you need to have that yacht connection,” Broumand said. “You need to speak French, Italian, Mandarin, Cantonese — you can’t just say, ‘I only speak English.’ As long as it’s not illegal or immoral, you do what you have to, because that’s what high-level service essentially is.”

Broumand’s skills opened other opportunities as well, but the COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut down much of California’s hospitality industry.

So nearing the age when many people retire, Broumand and his wife set their sights on establishing a new life in Utah.

A new chapter

As Broumand explored his livelihood options in Northern Utah, he landed on food — in particular, something fresh and different.

“The weirdness of locations in city settings is quite a hook, it becomes a talking piece,” Broumand said of hole-in-the-wall eateries that draw lines of customers because of their uniqueness.

Opening Prego Cafe in three different libraries in Weber County intrigued him because it fell into that category of the unexpected.

Lynnda Wangsgard, executive director of the Weber County Library system, said Broumand arrived at an opportune time.

“He came to us with the proposal to take over the cafe, which made the previous operators really happy because they needed to get out from under it,” Wangsgard said.

Broumand’s plan was to open Prego Cafe at the library’s main branch in Ogden, the Pleasant Valley branch in Washington Terrace and the Southwest Branch in Roy.

“So he stepped in and reworked the entire presence of the cafe, did some rewiring so he could bring in special ovens and got really high-quality equipment — espresso machines and so forth,” Wangsgard said. “He really made quite the investment.”

Bumps in the road

What Broumand didn’t bank on were the cultural differences between California’s high-density cities and Utah’s smaller, car-oriented centers of population.

Rising labor costs also made it much harder to get established. Broumand operated Pleasant Valley’s Prego Cafe for several months, but had to shut it down because he could no longer afford to keep an employee there.

His cafe at the Main library has yet to open, so Roy’s library at 2039 W. 4000 South currently hosts the lone Prego location.

“He’s kind of between a rock and a hard place with all the infrastructure, but he doesn’t have the operational cash to get over that startup hump,” Wangsgard said.

Also, these library cafes lack one feature that many Utahns adore.

“We don’t have a drive-up window,” Wangsgard said. “And we don’t want that kind of commercial company anyway; we want something that complements the library.”

Still persisting

At this point, Broumand and his wife provide most of the cafe’s labor — and he has no plans to abandon the business.

“I’m in it to either win it … or until I can no longer function or see light at the end of the tunnel,” Broumand said. “I’ve just wanted to do the best I can, to do something different so it’s not going to get lost in the shuffle of sameness.”

South Ogden resident and library devotee Kathy Gambles raved about Prego’s food and Broumand’s vision.

“His initial desire and dream to have it open in all three spaces is so perfect, because each space has such a need for something like that — to have such lovely food available within walking distance,” Gambles said. “So I’m really hoping that it’s just taking a longer time to be able to see his dream come to fruition.”

While pinsa tops her list of favorites, Gambles also stocks her refrigerator with some of Prego’s other menu options.

“I love the beet salad. I would buy that and some of his tuna salad and some of his egg salad and take those home so I had them to eat on during the week,” Gambles said.

While online orders and DoorDash deliveries bolster the cafe’s business, Broumand looks forward to the day when he can again hire more employees and also open the other two locations.

“Every time I’ve done something, I’ve just wanted to do the best I can,” he said.

One online comment attested to customers’ appetite for something different:

“I was told about this Italian cuisine from my dog groomer. We were talking about places to eat and being from Miami it has been challenging to find good cuisine that is not a fast food. The portions are large, the quality of the food is exceptional. I have been to Prego Cafes many times now and actually would recommend everything on the menu. It does not disappoint and I would of never thought the library would have such an exceptional gem of a cafe inside. Brilliant place to hide out for lunch. I have had take-out for dinner as well.”

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