Nourishing the bodies and souls of Heber Valley
Gloria Grass and her son, David Perez-Medina, have been nourishing the bodies and souls of residents and visitors for decades. Their unique origin story and outlook on the food business has helped this duo run two successful restaurants in Midway; their delicious food keeps the crowds coming back for more.
David was just 15 years old when he and his single mother, Gloria, immigrated to Utah from Mexico in 1997. On their journey to Wasatch County, they brought along their traditional Mexican recipes, passion for food and people, and their unique perspectives and values that have enriched the Heber Valley and Midway communities.
Gloria had only planned to stay in the United States for six months, but, “God had different plans for us,” she explains. In 1997, Gloria met her husband, Greg Grass, at the Yarrow Hotel in Park City. Gloria’s traditional Mexican cooking background and Greg Grass, formal culinary education created the perfect combination. Together the Grass’ opened Tarahumara in Midway. Their commitment to fresh food and authentic service gave them enough common ground to develop a successful, community building business. Gloria shared, “At Tarahumara, we were trying to give Americans a taste of our rich culture, with love and pride.”
Gloria attributes her skills and passion for cooking to her aunt, who she calls her Nina. Gloria lovingly recalls, “She was the best cook, and made delicious meals with very little money. I know she put a lot of love into everything she cooked.” Her Nina helped to raise her after Gloria’s mother passed away. Gloria’s mind is still fresh with memories of waking up every morning to the smell of homemade tortillas, and coming home from school to smell her Nina’s cooking from outside the house. These memories have stayed with her as a chef and business owner at Tarahumara.
David worked in many different restaurants before joining Gloria and Greg as they opened Tarahumara. During his nine year tenure there David hoped to go to culinary school, but felt that he could not afford it and should focus on working as much as possible. “I used to believe that without school, I could never be great at this stuff,” says David, “but I’ve had the best teachers; my mom, Greg, and my Nina. I don’t know where I would be without them.”
Today, David and Mandy Perez-Medina, are the owners of Lola’s Street Kitchen, a wildly popular street food restaurant on Midway’s Main Street. However, they didn’t start out as a restaurant. After the Grass’ sold Tarahumara in 2015, David and Mandy, opened the Lola’s Street Kitchen food truck. To them, a food truck seemed much less demanding than a restaurant. Gloria and Greg were extremely involved with the food truck business helping with recipes, cooking, preparation, and service. Lola’s was a hit and customers repeatedly asked for a restaurant location, which led the Perez-Medinas to open a permanent Lola’s on Midway Main Street.
David is grateful for loyal Lola’s customers, but he made it clear that he and his wife do not prioritize numbers or profit. They care deeply about having real relationships with customers that go beyond the surface level of typical restaurant service. In his many years working in the high-pressure restaurant industry, David has experienced various negative encounters with customers. He believes that these can be attributed to the lack of respect the general public has historically had toward restaurant workers. “People still carry those entitled attitudes. I’ve always had a hard time with that, and it goes back a long time,” he says. He feels that this perspective has given Lola’s a unique integrity that attracts the right kind of customers. “One of the biggest draws is the energy at Lola’s,” says Grace Bingham, current Lola’s manager, “I also think the care put into sourcing and making the food is difficult to find anywhere else.”
The food found at Lola’s does not resemble the traditional Mexican cuisine Tarahumara was known for. But the Grass’ priorities of quality food and a welcoming environment were central to David as he and Mandy developed Lola’s. As David expertly sliced and shaped organic hamburger bun dough using Greg’s recipe, he explained, “we really believe if you’re eating good food that is real and good for you, you do everything better,” he says, “from a simple bun right here to the herbs we grow out back, there’s thought in all of it.”
This mindset has translated directly from his mother. “Good and healthy food nourish not just the body, but our souls too,” Gloria expresses. The integrity, commitment, and authenticity that this family has held through their restaurant careers has indeed nourished the bodies and souls of all those who have visited Tarahumara and Lola’s.
“We’re hoping to inspire you, be a part of your daily life,” says David, “I believe that we’re helping each other and I want to spread that mentality.”