St. George business women are a force to be reckoned with

Little more than one year after opening Affogato West coffee shop, Elise West is transforming the building which she now owns into a community gathering spot. St. George, Utah, Jan. 10, 2020 | Photo by David Louis, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — In the 100 years since women were provided the opportunity to vote, they have shaped America in ways unforeseen at the time.

Few would have believed they would go on to command combat troops, hold congressional office and become titans of industry. In St. George, women have created successful businesses that add to the quality of life for the community.

Nicki Pace, co-owner of the Painted Pony and George’s Corner Restaurant and Pub, couldn’t be more pleased with the response her downtown businesses have received.

In high school, Pace wanted to be an architect. That’s a far cry from being a restaurateur. The shift in career choice came when she married her husband, Randall. His passion for food quickly became hers.

“Once you get married, you merge interests and goals,” Pace said.

The first entrepreneurial conquest came in 2004 when the husband and wife team purchased the restaurant. Randall had been the chef at the restaurant since 2001.

Nicki Pace, co-owner of the Painted Pony and George’s Corner Restaurant and Pub. St. George, Utah, date undefined | Photo courtesy State Bank of Southern Utah

“It made sense to purchase the restaurant,” Pace said. “I thought I’d only be the bookkeeper, but I soon realized there was more to owning a restaurant than just cooking.”

The Painted Pony’s concept of being a place to wine and to dine fills a culinary void in St. George.

The high-end dining experience has changed so many times over the years, Pace said.

“We get our inspiration from going to big cities and going to great restaurants,” Pace added. “My husband wanted to cook his type of food, and I wanted to match the atmosphere and experience we found in other places.”

The location of the Painted Pony is no coincidence.

In the 1980s, Pace’s father created Ancestor Square. Although it was filled with shops, cafes and other businesses, it did not flourish at the time. It was Pace’s dream to become part of the resurgence of downtown St. George.

“A certain demographic really appreciates the experience we can offer,” Pace said. “You can be fed anywhere. There is great food in a lot of different places, but fine dining is all about being treated well, catered to and becomes the event of the night.”

It’s not about going out to dinner or grabbing a bite, Pace added, it’s about something that can transcend having just a meal.

Another distinction that sets the Painted Pony apart is its commitment to using as much food as possible from local organic gardeners. To take the support one step further, in 2008 she started a Saturday farmers market at Ancestor Square.

The Painted Pony was just the start.

Pace’s second restaurant, George’s Corner Restaurant, had family ties.

Pace’s great uncle started what was then the Big Hand Cafe in 1932 at the same location.

The Greyhound bus would make its only stop in St. George, and each time it pulled in, the waitresses would holler “bus in,” and the cafe would busy itself to take care of hungry travelers.

“We always toyed around with a second restaurant, but we were raising two small children,” Pace said. “I really dug in my heels not really excited to take on another restaurant, but when the location came up with so much family history it piqued my interest to be able to celebrate the history of St. George as well as the history of my family.”

Different from its upscale cousin, George’s Corner feels more like walking into the bar on the television show “Cheers” than dining at Tavern on the Green.

“We wanted it to have that neighborhood watering hole space that was once called the Big Hand Cafe,” Pace said. “At both of our restaurants, we really do have a large support system in our community where everybody is family.”

Although it’s a team effort at the restaurants, it takes a special kind of woman to want to become an entrepreneur.

“Fifteen years ago, St. George wasn’t like it is today,” Pace said. “We’ve seen tremendous growth. In the 1990s, we were kind of a ghost town, and that was sad to see.”

Motivated, Pace has worked closely with the city and the Greater Zion Convention and Tourism office to start a downtown area merchant group with the goal of promoting and branding downtown St. George.

“Everyone sees the potential and what St. George is going to become in the future,” Pace added. “There is a lot of great history in this town, and I don’t want it to become forgotten.”

Pace’s council to young women who might want to become a business owner is to think outside the box.

“Don’t limit yourself to what you think the job is about,” she said. “Always run circles around everyone else, and be passionate about what you do whether it’s cleaning a toilet or busing a table.”

Seduced by a sense of community

Elise West owner of Affogato West Coffee and the West Village. St. George, Utah, date undefined | Photo courtesy Elise West

St. George business owner Elise West has also embraced the sense of community that exists throughout Southern Utah.

What began with leasing a space for Affogato West Coffee soon widened into a much larger endeavor, West said.

Moving to St. George 11 years ago from Salt Lake City, West never could have imagined things would turn out the way they have.

“I thought I was going to be here for a year, but we all know how that goes,” she said.

After being seduced by the beauty of Southern Utah, the simplicity of life and the community of friends she has made, West can’t imagine being anywhere else.

“This is such a fun place to live, and there are so many opportunities to start a small business,” West said.

Starting out small, West knew she wanted to open a coffee shop. In 2017, she ran her business out of a mobile coffee truck parked at Red Rock Bicycle. Nearly one year later, the truck broke down, and the search was on for something else.

“This was never the end goal, but it was a great way to start getting the word out,” she said.

West found the answer in a leased corner at the former St. George Movie Theater.

West moved in on what she thought was going to be a temporary location in August 2018, but in September the other business that occupied space moved out, and with that can-do, entrepreneurial spirit, West jumped at the chance to purchase the building.

“This allowed me to pursue my big dream,” she said. “For me, it was the dream of all dreams.”

Although she was unsure how to transform the building into something people would gravitate to, West knew this was her destiny.

Along with still being the home of Affogato, the building now known as the West Village has become a community gathering place.

Its common area includes secluded nooks and crannies to doodle pencil drawings, relax on a comfy couch mending the trials of a hard day or meeting up with an old friend. West is not stopping there.

“We will be opening up a bistro cafe and a bakery over the next few months,” West said. “I have 10 private offices, and I also have merchant shops to lease.”

Partnering with the downtown farmers market, West Village hosts a farmers market from 4-7 p.m. every Wednesday, year-round. The market features approximately 35 vendors.

“This is really to come and be yourself,” West said. “It’s music to my ears when people come in and say ‘This is in St.George.’ That really pleases me.”

The West Village also offers live music on Sunday and improv comedy on Saturday.

Taking the view that this isn’t her business but her baby, West said it’s important to pace yourself.

“I can spend 16 hours a day without even thinking about it,” she added. “I spend all my time, effort, energy, money, passion here. The challenge is really to take care of yourself as a small business owner.”

Although there are challenges, West said, it’s “pure” magic to go to work every day.

St. George Mayor Jon Pike is amazed by both women’s tenacity to succeed.

“These are two great leaders in business,” Pike said. “Here are two women who are incredible. With some determination and vision, you can jump into this community and fill a need.”

Talk to any business owner, Pike added, and they spend countless hours at success.

“Both women have worked long and hard to accomplish their goals,” Pike said. “What they have done is very exciting, and I can’t wait to see other women come in to do similar things.”

Pike added it’s not just Pace and West who have transformed the business climate in greater St. George, but many other women have stepped up to make a difference in their community.

“We have a history over the past few decades of some incredible women doing some incredible things,” Pike added. “As you look around the county, not only at businesses, education and health care but in nonprofit organizations, you see a woman at the helm. One after another, women are really leading the charge.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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