Derek Kitchen | Local Love

10/15/2015 |


 If there's one thing we love, above all else, it's good design. The kind of purposeful, authentic design that stands as a direct reflection of the life (or lives) within its walls. If there's another thing we love, it's good locals. The kind of people who take equal amounts of pride in their city, their neighborhood, and their personal space. So, naturally it stands to reason that we get a tad giddy when these two things beautifully collide. When we meet a human who practices what we preach and serves to perfectly represent our mantra, our credo, our modus operandi, in its most encompassing interpretation: love where you live.

Derek Kitchen is one such human. And when we find a Salt Laker with such big love for Salt Lake--both as it is today and as it could be in the future--we tend to want to celebrate. The potential of SLC is planet-sized, to say the least, and we're thrilled to team up with those that feel the same. To say that Derek is a native of our city doesn't quite do justice. Yes, he's a born-and-raised Utahan, but it's substantially bigger than that. He's an advocate for it's (healthy) growth, a fervent fighter for the rights of its occupants, a daily denizen of its varied streets, and a bonafide local business owner. He's entrenched in this salty land, and wholly dedicated to creating a more sustainable version of it. For those who don't know Derek, you're unlikely to forget the friendly face: he's all adorable ginger, friendly eyes, and a permanent, indestructible grin. He's also one half of Laziz Foods, which just happens to be peddling hummus, toum, and muhammara to die for.

Derek became something of a SLC-household name a few years ago, when he and his now-husband/then-partner, Moudi Sbeity, challenged Utah's constitutional ban on gay marriage with two other couples in Kitchen v. Hebert. The federal case successfully affected change--making Utah the 18th state to permit same-sex couples to marry legally--and in the process, inspired Derek to do more of the same. This year, Derek decided to run for District 4's city council seat. Says he, "I definitely felt empowered to make a difference in the world after having such an impact in gay rights. The Kitchen case gave me the courage to put my energy and voice behind the things that matter." Fantastic, say we. To quote ourselves (from a recent story), "a city radiates with the energy that’s put into it."

Our COLLECTIVE hearts are won by those who understand the importance of space on all levels. Your "space" is your city. It's your local businesses, the people that run them, and your own level of participation in their success or failure. It's your neighborhood. And--obviously--it's your actual space. Wherever you hang your proverbial hat, it should be unequivocally yours. It should reflect precisely what you need/love/desire/demand. We took a trip to Derek and Moudi's home, smack-dab in the Granary District, where the two live (with pup, Kaya) and work. We found ourselves in a spot that perfectly mirrored the fellas inside, and we chatted Derek up about his love of SLC, his vision for the 'hood he loves, and of course, his own sanctuary. Read on...


What is it about Salt Lake City for you? The mountains are amazing and the proximity to outdoor magic of any kind is crazy…of course. But what about our city do you love? I love our growing food community. It’s amazing to witness such growth in restaurants, bars, and local food purveyors. I really enjoy the farmers market and meeting the folks who produce the food that we eat. There are some crazy-talented people in Salt Lake and our booming, local economy has allowed the true colors of our creative class to shine.

You're running for District 4's city council seat. Tell us--as succinctly as you can--why you've decided to do it. I’m running because I love Salt Lake City. I love it because it’s home, because of its vibrant and growing economy, and because of the people that live here. I have a vision for a Salt Lake where we take advantage of our current economic boom--take ownership over our growth--and build a city that we’re proud of…with smart development where you can walk, ride your bike or take transit to work, school, or the grocery store. My vision is a resilient city with small businesses everywhere that pay their workers well. A city that focuses on social justice and equality.

Without waxing too political, we'd love to hear your thoughts on one particular facet of your campaign: that is, neighborhood growth and preservation. We have  a pretty vested interest in that…tell us what it means to you and why you want to take it on, so to speak. Salt Lake City is growing fast. I love seeing all of the new development that’s in the works and I’m excited for the stuff that’s in the pipeline. But, with this growth, we need to ensure that we preserve the character of our neighborhoods. We have so many wonderfully-built structures in our community that ought to be preserved and maintained. I think it’s critical that we find common ground when it comes to accommodating additional density while also staying true to the character of our city. I also think it’s important that we start discussing design standards for our new developments, especially in the Central Business District. I don’t want to see anymore stucco when we should be encouraging high quality building materials such as brick, concrete, and steel.

Now let's talk about your neighborhood, specifically. Why the Granary District? What do you love and, adversely, is there anything that you'd do away with entirely? What would you like to see within the next 5 or 10 years here? The Granary District is such a gem. I love living here because of the grittiness and industrial history of this area of our city. There’s so much potential for the district, not only to create walkable, urban neighborhoods, but to grow our tax base. I wouldn’t do away with anything, but I would like to see the Fleet Block developed. The Fleet Block is an 8-acre piece of land that’s owned by the city that could be developed for housing (apartments, row houses, etc.) as well as retail and creative spaces. I want this area to maintain its industrial identity while also attracting new investment. I think it’s important for us to invest in streetcar in the Granary District, and facilitate creative uses of land. There’s currently a discussion about narrowing the really wide streets and making Granary Row a more permanent fixture. Great ideas like this should be encouraged by the city.

You share one of the Art Spaces with your husband, Moudi. Tell us about your design sense, and how it works with his. Your style…how you prefer that your home feel. Moudi is from Lebanon, so he has brought so much of that cultural style into our home. I love the patterns and the warmth that comes from middle eastern decoration. But we’ve also fallen in love with Mid-Mod (who hasn’t!?), so we’ve blended the two styles together in our own way. We also dressed up our home with a lot of living plants and various knick-knacks from our travels. Our style is unique, colorful, and inviting. Because we love to cook, and host a lot of dinner parties, we wanted our home to be as comfortable as possible while also carrying out our sense of style. We love simplicity coupled with middle eastern and southwestern style (think cactus & geometric design).

Favorite room in your house? Why? Definitely my bedroom. We have this lovely nook in the corner of our bedroom that has two unique orange chairs and a panoramic view of our city & the Wasatch Mountains. This is where Moudi and I share our coffee every morning and spend our evenings unwinding.

Have you ever been inspired by the ideas/practices in other cities or countries and wanted to incorporate those here? Can you think off-hand of anything that's made you think, "Why in the hell aren't we doing that in Salt Lake?” Absolutely. We often look to Portland for their smart planning. When considering the future of the Granary District, I think it’s important to consider the same approach that Portland took with the Pearl District which encouraged development (neighborhood and light commercial), as well as mitigation of brownfield property. I also look to Boulder, Colorado for their huge investments in bike infrastructure. Yes, we have bike lanes and are constantly building more, but Boulder has separated ‘bike highways’ that are more like inner city trails. I think we need to focus our growth around multi-modal transportation options, not just vehicle infrastructure.

Where you do think that citizens of SLC have room to improve? As dwellers of this salty paradise, what aren't we doing right? How can we be better? We need to improve in a few important ways. Education, for instance, should be prioritized. I’d like to see us make Pre-K programs widely available to all SLC children who are 3 years old. I also feel that we need to really shift our culture away from automobile use. Cars and personal vehicles are the largest contributor to our dirty air, and we must begin to build a city that is not only sustainable, but focused on transit options and with a robust network of transportation options. Finally, it’s important that all new development be not only high-quality, but affordable as well. We don’t want to become just an expensive city with stucco buildings. We need to take ownership over our growth and build a city that we’re proud of.

The cityhomeCOLLECTIVE mantra is love where you live. Your city, your neighborhood, your home…love it all. Would you say you're doing it? Speak to that, would ya? I LOVE where I live. I love my house, my neighborhood. I love my community and the people that make it unique. Salt Lake is such a lovely place to call home because of the rich opportunities that exist, as well as the unique cultural identities that make it so diverse.

How do you see Salt Lake City in, say, 10 years? What role do you see yourself playing in that idea/vision? I always will be in Salt Lake City. I have committed myself to this place, not only because I grew up here, but because I have laid my roots and begun my family. In the next ten years, we will see our food, arts, and entertainment culture continue to blossom. Small businesses will pop up left and right, and we’ll see more outside investment in our urban core. I hope that in 10 years, our city will better connect the east & west side, as well as incubate more multi cultural & ethnic businesses on the west side of SLC. My vision is for a Salt Lake that has the character of 9th & 9th throughout our city, with smart development, that allows people to walk, bike, or ride transit to work, school, or the grocery store. My vision for Salt Lake calls for a resilient city with small businesses everywhere that pay their employees a livable wage.
Whether I’m serving in a formal public position or not, I will be dedicated to this city and will do my part to foster good civic engagement and meaningful relationships. Salt Lake is home to so many talented and passionate people, and I want everyone to live up their potential. I will be working to build community and contribute to the local economy in any way that I can. This is a great city, and I’m proud to call Salt Lake home.

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