Having Words With Margo Provost Owner, Log Haven, Salt Lake City

Having Words With Margo Provost Owner, Log Haven, Salt Lake City

Food, energy and labor costs may be on the rise, and it may be as difficult as ever to find and retain employees, but Margo Provost has seen tougher days as the owner of Log Haven [3], a fine-dining destination restaurant in a historic log mansion in the Wasatch National Forest, just 20 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. Now a $2.5 million enterprise, Log Haven didn’t start out that way. Fifteen years ago, Provost left a lucrative career as a technology consultant for the health care industry to renovate a condemned building in Mill Creek Canyon. She lived in an RV on the site for two years. She encountered construction cost overruns, asbestos, a buried diesel tank and intervention from the Environmental Protection Agency. Provost teetered on the edge of bankruptcy to make her dream come alive.

Did you ever feel like giving up on the project?

I came to a point where I decided I’m either going to commit all the way or I’m going to pull out. I decided to commit all the way and do everything I possibly can to make it work. If I failed, I would accept it, knowing I had done everything I knew how to do. I think prior to that I had always played it safe. This was about three years in. I decided if I was going to go down, I was going to go down in total flames.

But you didn’t. At what point did you realize you were going to make it?

When I could self-fund and not borrow funds during the year. Then I knew I could make payroll, and I knew I could pay the bills and not worry every single pay period. Then I knew then I could do this as long as I wanted to.

FAST FACTS

HOMETOWN: ClevelandHOBBIES: needle arts, reading, hiking, travelingCAREER HIGHLIGHTS: winning the 2007 Athena Business Leader of the Year award from the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and being named Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young and Merrill Lynch; being named 2001 Pacesetter of the Year by the Women’s Roundtable; earning awards for Log Haven such as a four-diamond rating from Mobil, Awards of Excellence from Wine Spectator [4] and DiRoNA, and Small Business of the Year from the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce

Did it ever become fun?

You can focus on the 3 percent or 4 percent of the experiences that aren’t fun—customer complaints, disappointments with staff. But the reality is the majority of the time you’re creating a good product, people appreciate it, you hire people and respect them—the majority of the time it is fun. And it’s really beautiful where I am. It’s an enchanted wilderness, a refuge for wildlife.

Did any of your corporate experience help you as a restaurateur?

It gave me good business sense. So many restaurateurs I know buy into the romance of it. They think of it as, I’ve got my own place to hang, entertain my friends and party every night. I never felt that way. I insisted on running numbers every day. I know where we are every single day. We budget.

We do compensation packages, not just a straight salary. Compensation is based on customer satisfaction, controlling costs and generating revenue.

As [the economy] gets more and more difficult, I don’t now how you stay in business if you do not run it as a business.