Mountain West Burrito does a lot of things right. Like all of the Heirloom restaurants, the shop combines an atmospheric setting with an unbeatable, zeitgeisty product. I count myself among the fans of the restaurant, and I’m sure I’ll eat there again in the future.
But the restaurant has one inescapable flaw: location. Moreover, MWB is literally digging in with a parking lot expansion.
As most people already know, MWB is located in a former gas station near the border between Provo and Orem. It’s an odd place for a restaurant, though it illustrates the principle that good food joints sometimes end up in the places with the lowest rent.
Those factors notwithstanding, the parking lot expansion illustrates the central role cars play to MWB’s business strategy. In other words, due to its location, everyone drives to MWB and almost no one walks or bikes.
That fact seems strikingly at odds with Heirloom’s public image, which aggressively — and admirably, in my opinion — emphasizes sustainability and local products. The restaurant group is obviously committed to both good food and being a good neighbor, and with Communal succeeds in spades.
A drivable location, by contrast, undermines that image by encouraging patrons to engage in the fundamentally polluting, isolating, and unnesscary activity of driving. Investing in a parking lot only exacerbates the problem by making it easier to access the restaurant by car. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much how sustainable a product is if everyone engages in non-sustainable activities — such as driving – to get them.
Selfishly, perhaps, I’d like MWB to move downtown. I eat out multiple times a week, but I only go to MWB once every few months because I typically go to restaurants I can access on foot. I’m also not alone in wishing MWB was in a better location; in virtually every conversation I’ve had about the restaurant — and I’ve had a lot — someone inevitably ends up adding a caveat about its address.
More importantly, a downtown location makes economic sense. Downtown is only three minutes from the restaurant’s current location, so it remains equally accessible to drivers from the north. Furthermore, the higher population density and smaller streets would at least make it possible for more people to walk. On top of that, downtown has a higher student population, closer access to the freeway, a growing reputation as a restaurant destination, and loads of new development. There has never been a better time to be downtown.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I’m a fan of MWB. I’ll continue to eat there no matter where in Provo it’s located. I also raise these criticisms as a friend; if this was some pathetic chain restaurant, I wouldn’t even bother.
But a truly sustainable business cannot be built around actively encouraging people to drive. Increased profit and self-interest provide a compelling reason for MWB to seek a more walkable location. However, if that proves not to be enough, Heirloom’s own philosophical emphasis on community and sustainability should provide the impetus to move.