Mountain West Burrito, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

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.



Filed under Food, local, restaurant

7 responses to “Mountain West Burrito, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

  1. Location, Location, Location! I’ve worked in a restaurant that could barely do decent rush hours because the parking lot sucked!

  2. I am a little confused. What about the people that live within walking distance of MWB? My friend and her three kids walk there weekly. Should only people that live within a five block radius of center street (like me!) have access to delightful food?

    Thanks for writing. Always love to read your posts.

    • That’s a very good point. There are indeed apartments near MWB. However, as I mention in the post, population density is higher in downtown. That means more people would be able to walk if the restaurant was there. My point is that the highest degree of walkability for the most number of people is desirable. Obviously the benefits some more than others, but hopefully changes bring benefits to more people.

      The walk scores of both downtown and MWB’s current location bear out the fact that a new location would serve more people.

      Also, the parking lot expansion suggests that for all the people who currently walk, driving remains an integral part of the business model.

  3. Pingback: A Historic Weekend for Provo | (pro(vo)cation)

  4. First off, thank you for the reference to LCD Soundsystem… Just to clarify about the parking lot. It isn’t an expansion per se, rather the current owner of the building was required to remove the buried gas tanks because they are no longer in use. It really has nothing to do with us other than the fact that we will enjoy more parking when it is finished.

    That said, we think the best solution is to just open up more than 1 MWB and share the lovely (and hopefully walkable) experience that way. Perhaps as we get closer to being a position to do just that we can get in touch and find a way to understand better how you see the downtown developing.

    Thank you again for the discussion.
    Owner, Mountain West Burrito

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