How many people can you fit in two dilapidated trailers set eight feet apart and connected with plywood walls?
One hundred and two, according to Susie Taylor, the current owner of the Branding Iron. Taylor’s father, Karl Tangren, learned that the night he opened the restaurant and bar to the public in 1989.
“The first night we opened we couldn’t fit all the people in the parking lot, let alone in the building,” Tangren said.
The building that houses the current incarnation of the Branding Iron, which re-opened its doors barely a month ago on Sept. 3, is a far cry from those ragtag roots. The two large dining rooms, patio, spotless kitchen, and soon-to-be opened Backdoor Bar could easily fit three or four of the original trailers.
“We decided to open up because there wasn’t any place in Moab that you could have fun at that time,” said Tangren. So he, a rancher out in Green River, teamed up with his first wife, his friend Jim Easterly, a musician, and Jim’s wife Phyllis, to fix that problem.
The first hurdle was the start-up costs. The Easterlys moved out to Moab from Colorado’s Front Range, broke but for their 37 horses and a doublewide trailer. Tangren didn’t have the cash to start the business outright either, so they got creative.
“I ended up trading some land I had in the valley for the three acres the Branding Iron is on, straight up,” said Tangren, “Then I traded a kid from Arkansas my camper for his trailer.”
And thus, the Branding Iron was born.
“They wanted a place for people to have a burger, bring their instruments and jam, and that’s what happened,” Taylor said. Jim would leave his instruments on the little 8 by 8-foot stage so anyone who wanted to could play them. This, combined with the famous karaoke nights helped lead to the Branding Iron’s wild success.
Tangren became a victim of that success. He was so busy every night in the kitchen – they were open seven days a week, usually till 3 or 4 a.m. – that he didn’t have any time to socialize with the guests; the whole reason that he had opened the place to begin with. Around that time a woman from Salt Lake came down to Moab for the weekend. She liked the Branding Iron so much that she offered to buy it. Tangren accepted, and seven months after opening he had sold the business.
After several more owners, including a four-year stint by Taylor in the mid ‘90s, and an electrical fire, Taylor bought the place back. She came out of retirement to give the Branding Iron another go, and she brought much of her original crew back with her.
“Lots of the old crew are back, too. They remember it being fun and wanted to come back in,” Taylor said.
The customers seem to feel the same way.
“You get to go up, have a Karl’s Burger and see all your old friends, it’s just a great place,” says Moab resident and Branding Iron regular Carl Dixon.
Since opening week the staff has been busy turning out old favorites, like burgers, ribs, chili and their warm, fresh fry-bread, that, topped with honey is a much-loved desert. Nearly everything the kitchen serves up is made from scratch, and if you don’t see something you like on the menu, the kitchen is ready to make almost anything on request, Taylor said.
Karaoke will be coming back as well. Along with open mic nights, the Branding Iron is also planning on restarting one of its customers favorite traditions; biannual Karaoke contests. The four weeks of competition will be followed by a fifth week of finals, with the winner taking home a $1,000 prize.
The restaurant has been especially busy since Taylor’s return and finding herself running the Branding Iron again after many years is a job that she said she relishes.
“I like doing this, and not a lot of people get to do what they like.”