1476385313647.jpeg

emily gassman, 61, restauranteur

ageist EDITORS | april 3, 2016

_91C3855.jpg

Maybe it’s got something to do with the mountain life, or the company she keeps, but Emily Gassman loves to go fast. Above all, downhill—on skis.

“I was clocked at 57mph, although I swore the other day I was going 60,” she says and laughs. 

She does this a lot: the skiing fast, yes, but also the laughing. In our conversation about her transformation from head nurse at University of Utah to successful restaurant owner, Gassman often laughed off the challenges inherent in the big leap.

“I was always feeding everybody anyway and I was into food,” she says. “And the nursing career was kind of going south. It was coming to a close. And all the doors opened to starting a restaurant. And so I walked through them.”

Well, the doors weren’t open. They might have been cracked, but not full-on unhinged. She started Em’s Restaurant by doing “everything Suze Orman says not to do!” She left health benefits and a good salary at the University of Utah, used her home as equity and cashed in her retirement account. Fast-forward 18 years and Em’s is considered a staple of the Salt Lake City restaurant scene. She used seasonal ingredients before that kind of thing was all over the Food Network or earnestly prescribed in hipster bibles like Kinfolk. 

Her investor backed out at the last minute, but she managed to open anyway. She knew she could always go back to being a nurse. But if this meant so much to her, it would probably mean a lot to the people she was cooking for.

“Are you going to live by being safe?” she pauses and laughs. “What fun is that?”

The success of Em’s has given Gassman certainty that she’ll be able to handle whatever she takes on. She still speeds down hills, of course, but she balances that with yoga—something she’s been doing for 35 years—and meditation. She’ll stop doing the restaurant when she’s 70.

“I still have a lot to do. If I had to ask to put a number on how old I feel ... I’d probably say 40s, because I’m doing as much now as I did in my 40s in a way,” she says. “I think it’s the whole curious thing. Staying curious, being interested keeps you interesting. I had 90-year-old friends that I loved hanging out with because they’re still interested and therefore interesting.”