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By Carrie Mossien

The Sunset Grill
“There’s a Reason Why We Are Successful”

A former aerospace engineer and a former nightclub manager might seem an odd couple to take over an historic, high-class dinner house in rural Utah, yet John and Laurie Clayton have not only made it work for them personally, they’ve made a successful go of it at The Sunset Grill.
High on the northeast hill with possibly the widest and longest view of the Moab Valley and beyond, Sunset Grill diners often frequent the restaurant first for its view and its history. Laurie says its good food that keeps locals and visitors coming back, and that’s what she makes her first objective in running a restaurant.
“The reason why we are successful is we didn’t have a restaurant background to say ‘this is how it’s done.’ We came here with a customer’s point of view,” Laurie said. “How would we want it to be if we were the customer.”

The Claytons came to Moab in 1993 from Salt Lake City. John holds an engineering degree and was building rockets and Laurie was managing a nightclub when they met. They both hail originally from the East Coast – John from Philadelphia and Laurie from Erie, Pennsylvania. They are raising three children in Moab and are active in youth sports. John teaches computer technology at Grand County High School and Laurie is president of the board for Seekhaven Family Resources. Since they moved to Moab, The Claytons have been joined by family – Laurie’s three sisters and her mother.

“We have a low employee turnover and have a lot of family people here,” John said. The Sunset Grill is open year-round and employs 45 people; chefs, bakers, wait staff. The restaurant is open from 5 to 8 p.m. during the winter months and 5 to 10 p.m. during the spring, summer and fall. In addition to indoor and patio dining, The Sunset Grill offers catering, will do wedding parties, bus tours and private parties. The weekend of the Olympic Torch Relay is one weekend the Claytons will be open on Sunday.

“We have tickets to the Olympics so we’ll be up north,” John said. One of his waiters, Steve Frederick, will be in Moab, running with The Torch. “He’s been with the restaurant the longest,” John said, “since 1994.”
“We have a lot of great people working here, a lot of students too. When we first got here we hired several chefs to help us on the cooking end. I think Laurie’s management experience and my organizational skills have helped us make this restaurant successful.”

John said he keeps in touch with Charlie Steen, the legendary Moab rags to riches uranium boom king who built what is now the Sunset Grill as his home after striking it rich in the 1950s. Charlie Steen’s youngest son, Mark Steen, brought Charlie to Moab for a visit early in 2000.

“We like the history of this place, we like the Charlie Steen story and we keep in touch with him,” John said. For dinner information and reservations, call The Sunset Grill at 435-259-5432.

Chicken Sophia

1) Warm marinara in a saucepan.
2) Pre heat oven to 375’F
3) Heat (medium-high) a lightly oiled saute (frying) pan
4) Coat chicken with Italian Bread crumbs.
5) Place chicken into Saute pan, skin side down until golden brown
6) In pan, turn over chicken and remove pan from heat
7) Top with Marinara, Mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese.
8) Add small amount (1/8 cup) of white wine or water to pan.
9) Place in oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Cooking Time will depend on amount of chicken and its thickness. Chicken is usually done when all the cheese has melted over the chicken. Serve with rice or pasta and fresh vegetables.

John Clayton offers this recipe, Chicken Sophia, because the ingredients are available locally and it is the restaurant’s most popular chicken entrée. “it’s named after Sophia Loren,” John says. “It’s an Italian dish and is beautiful.” Three other Sunset Grill dishes are named for John and Laurie Clayton’s children, Nicholas, Olivia and Thomas. They are Pork Nicholas; a lobster and shrimp pasta dish, The Olivia; and a Tommy T-Bone.

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