Orem: A New Ribbon-cutting Every Week
Here are just a few of the coolest places you’ll find in Orem.
Settled in the shadows of Mount Timpanogos’ towering crags, Orem wasn’t laid out in neat city blocks like many of Utah Valley’s settlements. It began as a medley of orchards on the Provo Bench, but as time passed, communities began to take root between the trees. Nearly a century later, this unorthodox layout still benefits the city — with no main street commerce magnet, businesses bud in bunches across town.
Orem has been explosively expanding ever since it was incorporated in 1919. It’s Utah’s fifth largest city, boasts the fastest-growing employment rate in the nation and hosts Utah’s largest public university.
“I’ve gone to a ribbon-cutting, a groundbreaking or a grand opening almost every single week for two years,” says Mayor Richard Brunst. “It’s unheard of elsewhere, but that’s just how Orem is.”
The State Street Food Scene
Two distinctive restaurants mark the outer limits of Orem’s State Street: On the Lindon-most end, Sweeto Burrito, and 5.3 miles south on the Provo end, Bam Bam’s BBQ. Sandwiched (or would it be burrito-ed?) in between are dozens of fantastic, locally owned, under-the-radar eateries.
Looking for typical rice-and-beans Mexican food? You won’t find it at Sweeto. Instead you’ll find bold Mexican-American mash-ups like the Buff Chick, a burrito crammed with boneless buffalo wings and tater tots (among other things), or the All American cheeseburger burrito (beef, fries, bacon, fry sauce and cheese). It’s tough to find anything on the menu that isn’t delicious. Sweeto Burrito (sweetoburrito.com) can be found at 1990 N. State Street. Though Bam Bam’s BBQ was started by a native Utahn, the restaurant prides itself on creating authentic Central Texas style barbecue — and it does it well. Bam Bam’s was named grand champion of three major barbecue competitions in the last four years and invited to participate in the World Series of Barbecue in Kansas. Bam Bam’s (bambamsbbq.com) is located at 1708 S. State Street.
From Mayor Brunst: “It may not be a hidden gem, but I sure love In-N-Out Burgers.” Indulge in its famous fresh-cut fries at 350 E. University Parkway.
Anyone who wants fresh fruit should stop by Crandall's Fruit Farms (crandallsfruitfarm.com) located at 825 E. Center Street, though it’s a few blocks drive from the State Street scene. In the spirit of historic Orem, this orchard has been selling the best fruit around since 1887.
University Mall Area
Orem is dotted with retail developments, but the epicenter is undoubtedly University Mall. At a time when malls across the country are going under, Woodbury Corp. is investing $500 million into the area to create a modern urban city center.
“These people really did their research as to how to develop it, then brought their plans to us, and we worked with them to make it happen,” Brunst says. “They’re building new parks, apartments, hotels all around. Instead of just a mall, they’ll have a mixed facility of commercial, residential and recreational.” The renovations started in 2015 and are expected to take 10 years.
But the mall proper is only half the fun. An eclectic collection of locally owned businesses and developments are scattered across the blocks surrounding it.
For the design-inclined, Utah advertiser-turned-interior designer Jessica Bennett runs a home decor boutique called Wonderland by Alice Lane (alicelanehome.com). For those planning a mountain getaway, Eddie Robinson’s fly fishing pro shop offers guided tours, fishing classes and gear. Runner’s Corner (runnerscorner.com) welcomes all comers, from the first-time 5K runner to the seasoned ultra-marathoner. (Owner Hawk Harper won the St. George Marathon in 1984.)
Suburbia — Yes, Really
Skyscrapers seem likely to sprout soon at University Mall, but the rest of the city is far from urban. What Brunst is most proud of isn’t the economy, but the suburban neighborhoods filled with friendly people.
“To be honest, it’s the people that live in Orem that make it so great,” he says. “We have strong families in Orem. They work hard, they’re entrepreneurial, they take care of their homes and each other. That’s how Orem is. Everybody is here working hard to help each other.”
The mayor isn’t the only one raving about Orem. Forbes rated the city the No. 5 best place in the country to raise a family — a rating based on cost of living, prevalence of home ownership, median household income, housing costs, commute time, crime rates and the percentage of young adults that graduate high school.
Surely, a thriving arts scene doesn’t hurt either. Those so inclined can check out the SCERA Center for the Arts (scera.org), Hale Center Theater (haletheater.org) and the beautiful Mt. Timpanogos park, home of the annual Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, the largest of its kind in the western states (timpfest.org).