How a Utah band aims to make picnics cool again – with a blanket, food and friends

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Sheltered under a tree in Salt Lake City’s Warm Springs Park on a hot June day, McKenzie Wallace and Griffen Nebeker laid a red checkered blanket on the ground.

Then they made a simple but quaint spread: pears, grapes, cheese, bread, tins of sardines, bright pink radishes marinated in Nebeker’s own kitchen, and a rhubarb and strawberry pie with pansies cooked in the crisscrossing of the crust.

Both are regulars at organizing picnics. Since 2017, they have been part of the Salt Lake Picnic Societythat they started with Kendra Pugh (who helped open Tradition and was formerly co-owner of Pantry Base Company The bearded woman).

The founders said the company started as a group of friends from the food industry, who had picnics on Mondays and Tuesdays – which, for people who work in bars and restaurants, is the weekend -end.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fruit, bread and cheese, part of a spread offered by McKenzie Wallace and Griffen Nebeker’s Salt Lake Picnic Society in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 9, 2022.

“Mostly I started it to bring my friends from the service industry outside on our days off to share good food and drink because that’s what we all do” , said Pugh, who moved to Texas last year. “I was glad we did – we had a lot of fun and had some amazing broadcasts. I really want people to be excited about sharing great food, especially in the beautiful spaces from Utah.

The company’s last picnic, at Jordan Park, was in the fall of 2019. After Pugh moved to Texas and everything was shut down during the pandemic, the company went dormant, but its first public event in two years will take place at the end of June. (The date will be announced on Salt Lake Picnic Society Instagram Page@slcpicnicsociety.)

Wallace said that before the pandemic, picnics had grown organically to include people more peripheral to the food industry, as well as like-minded friends.

“We just started having these picnics,” Wallace said, “and we were all obsessed with food, so they might be a bit more over the top than the average picnic. Which was always great fun. And then we started to interest and involve more people. Kendra casually started posting images of our picnics on social media, and people were like, “What’s going on? “I want to come to this! »

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Panzanella Salad, part of a spread offered by McKenzie Wallace and Griffen Nebeker’s Salt Lake Picnic Society in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 9, 2022.

Wallace and Nebeker said they want the company to continue moving in this direction. “Griffen and I were talking, and we were like, we should make the Picnic Society a thing. We should do that and make it a big community gathering – centered around food people and industrial workers, but open to everyone,” she said. “It’s not exclusive. We want everyone and everyone to come.

Nebeker, who is a chef at Post Office Place Downtown, said he also sees the company as a lure to bring people to some of Salt Lake City’s underappreciated and less-used green spaces — like Warm Springs Park, Kay Rees Park and Faultline Gardens Park – as well as more unusual places, such as Gilgal Gardens. “All the local sights are pretty fun, in my opinion,” he said.

They say they also want to keep their events low-key and spontaneous, so picnic announcements will be made via Instagram a day or two before the gatherings. It’s partly a way to keep events from getting too crowded, Wallace said. “But we also want to keep the spontaneity going and make people think, ‘When’s the next picnic?'”

“We never want to lose the informality,” Nebeker said, adding that the fun thing about picnics is that you can put as much or as little effort into it as you want – and the people shouldn’t feel embarrassed to bring simple or non-extravagant things, or just show up empty-handed. Wallace said they were always guided by Pugh’s philosophy of keeping things simple, but high quality.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Smoked mackerel and oysters, part of a spread offered by McKenzie Wallace and Griffen Nebeker’s Salt Lake Picnic Society in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 9, 2022.

“It doesn’t have to be difficult,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be extravagant. The best food you’ll ever eat uses only really good ingredients, really well done, without being overdone. »

Nebeker and Wallace’s go-to picnic spot is the Downtown Farmers Market, where they buy breads Bread Riot Bakery or pies made by their friend, Cori Norton from pie party (who baked the pansy pie).

Caputo’s is like a one-stop-shop for a picnic, other than the produce,” Wallace said. In addition to the Farmers Market, for the fruits and vegetables she likes Harmonies, Fresh Liberty Heights and SLC Top Culturesa farm in Rose Park that takes online orders on Tuesdays for pickup on Wednesdays.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, part of a spread offered by McKenzie Wallace and Griffen Nebeker’s SLC Picnic Society in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 9, 2022.

Wallace said she wants to support local businesses and local food systems and sees the picnic society as a way to do that. Not only do picnic attendees buy food from these local businesses, but they experience the joys of a locally grown tomato or a handmade strawberry and rhubarb pie.

Another benefit offered by picnics is a chance for people to slow down and connect with people around food, Wallace said. “It looked like things were going to slow down during the pandemic,” she said, “and then they didn’t.” Picnics are a way to put the brakes on, even as life resumes its usual hyperactive speed.

“It’s almost a kind of ritual,” Nebeker added. “Like a bygone era. …just eat tasty stuff in the park with your friends. It’s the best.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bottles of wine, part of a distribution offered by the Salt Lake Picnic Society of McKenzie Wallace and Griffen Nebeker in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 9, 2022.

How to enjoy an organized picnic

The Salt Lake City area has several businesses specializing in picnics, from one-person outfits who book via Instagram DM to full-service luxury caterers who will bring photo backdrops, flowers and tea sets. Most companies provide furniture – though this ranges from unpainted wooden coffee tables to sleek modernist outdoor tables and chairs – and most picnics typically last around two hours. Prices vary greatly depending on the number of people, supplements and travel.

Every day is a picnicEverydaypicnics.com • Offers luxury themed picnics for two, four or large groups. The company takes care of all the set-up, including setting up the outdoor furniture. Food is deli, or you can bring your own food for a $25 cleaning fee. Although their website is in maintenance mode, they confirmed via email that they are now accepting online reservations.

Picnic Lux SLCschupickevents.com • Deluxe picnics for up to eight people. Provides the picnic table, plates, cutlery, glasses and cold cuts, as well as pillows and blankets, maps, ice bucket and trash cans. Accessories include balloons, flowers, chocolate strawberries and more. Reservations can be made through their website.

Nuve Deluxe PicnicsNuveluxurypicnics.com • This company can organize a picnic for one person or up to 15, around seven different themes. Picnics include outdoor furniture, all table settings, umbrella, insect repellent, tissues, sunscreen, trash bags, etc. Add-ons include games and boards and more elaborate deli boxes such as the brunch box, which contains waffles and multiple jams and syrups. Book via their website.

The aesthetics of the picnicthepicnicaesthetic.com • Offers six different picnic themes, including “rental” (they bring the blankets, cutlery and decor, you bring the food), luxury (all furniture, cutlery and food provided) and a picnic brunch with a charcuterie board for breakfast. Book via their website.

The Picnic Collectivethepicniccollective.com/book-utah-valley • Bespoke luxury picnic caterer based in Utah and California offering five different themes. Includes assembly and disassembly, picnic furniture and pillows, and pasture boards. Book via the website.

picnic streetinstagram.com/picnicstreet.slc • Deluxe pop-up picnics. For June they are hosting a special, “To the Clouds”, which includes a picnic table, balloon backdrop, blankets and pillows, candles, table settings, Bluetooth speaker, a personalized letter board and an ice bucket. Book through Instagram.

Picnic under the starsinstagram.com/picnic_under_thestars, facebook.com/Picnic-Under-The-Stars • Pop-up picnics, mainly for special occasions. Picnic tables, cutlery and decorations are provided. Book via Facebook or Instagram.

Picnicinstagram.com/picnicupslc • Ephemeral “luxury bohemian picnics” mainly personalized; serves deli meats, which can be vegan upon request. Book through Instagram.

Solar picnicsolpicnics.com, instagram.com/solpicnic • Sol provides all furniture, cutlery and decorations before your arrival, but you bring food and drinks. They come back after you leave to clean everything. Book at least 24 hours in advance, through their website or through Instagram.

Zion Picnic Tourszionpicnicexcursions.com • Offers four different themes, and offers assembly and disassembly, as well as furniture, cushions, insect repellent, pasture boards, rugs, single-use plates and cutlery, and more. Upgraded packages include picnic games, cake and a balloon arch. They book picnics in Salt Lake City and near Zion National Park. Schedule via the website.

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