Falling off a 60-foot cliff and shattering your pelvis in a remote canyon in the middle of winter can precipitate a change in lifestyles. Particularly if you are the professional endurance athlete whom Sports Illustrated named one the world’s greatest female adventure racers.
“I shattered my pelvis and was stuck out there for two nights and three days,” said Danelle Ballengee. “On the third day my dog went and got help. I lost over a third of my blood in internal bleeding.”
With her livelihood no longer an option until her injuries healed, Ballengee needed something else to occupy her time. As luck would have it, that was right about the time that Milt’s Stop & Eat, Moab’s oldest restaurant, came up for sale.
Several months prior to her accident Ballengee had started dating B.C. Laprade, a chef. Laprade, who grew up in Colorado Springs, Colo., had gone to culinary school at the Western Culinary Institute in Oregon, and spent much of his professional life working at high-end restaurants in Colorado’s mountain resorts.
With her injury, and with Laprade looking for a new job, the two decided to take the plunge.
“It was this time in my life when I needed something to do other than compete,” Ballengee said. “We saw Milt’s and the timing was right.”
Milt’s originally opened its doors on Labor Day in 1954.
The man who started the restaurant, Milt Galbraith, had set up a trailer where the outdoors seating area is now so he could literally roll out of bed and into work, Ballengee said.
After 24 years of running Milt’s, Galbraith sold it. Several more owners came and went until Ballangee and Laprade bought the restaurant in July of 2007.
The transition from the previous owners was fairly smooth; Laprade worked at Milt’s for two days and at noon on the third day, during the lunch rush, the restaurant changed hands.
“It was a real easy transition. I was doing this for a really long time before I got here,” Laprade said. “This was real small compared to some of the places I’ve worked.”
The pair made a concerted effort to keep the feel of Milt’s the same as it had always been.
“We had to get some new equipment, but it’s the original counter top, the laminate tile flooring, it hasn’t changed,” Ballengee said.
The menu is another story.
The two still serve some of the Milt’s favorites like the chili burgers, malts and milkshakes.
But when Laprade took over the kitchen it began a slow, organic change.
“One day I did this blue cheese burger as a special. Everybody really liked it so next thing you know we decided to put that on the menu,” Laprade said. “Then one day I did tacos as the special then we decided to put that on the menu.”
The ingredients that Milt’s uses in their meals has evolved as well during Laprade’s and Ballengee’s tenure.
“At first I didn’t think too much about the burgers. I was buying frozen burgers like everyone else,” Laprade said.
Then at a barbeque hosted by the owner of Coyote Shuttles (which uses Milt’s grease as fuel for their fleet) Laprade tried some local, grass fed beef from Ruby Ranch. He was sold. After convincing Ballengee, the two began using the meat in Milt’s burgers.
Since then Milt’s has been getting more and more of its supplies from local, organic sources, Ballengee said.
“We try to get as much local food as we can. In season we will get fresh produce from local farmers. The milk comes from McClish (Family Dairy),” she said. “I eat at Milt’s everyday. Seriously. Everyday.”
And the customers love the food, too.
“This is literally one of the best burgers I’ve had,” said Jack Johnson, after trying the veggie burger. “It’s going to haunt me.”
In fact keeping up with the demand has been the biggest challenge they have face since taking over, Ballengee said.
“Sometimes there’s a little bit of a line because we cook everything fresh,” she said. “We are trying to figure out how to keep up with the busy season.”
But the couple has no interest in changing the restaurant, expanding, or in adding another grill. They like it fine the way it is.