Tom Guinney, beloved father, grandfather, friend, restauranteur, and entrepreneur, passed away on September 6th of natural causes at his daughter’s home in Oregon City, Oregon.
Born in Hollywood, California on January 13, 1948 to Ted and Betty Guinney, Tom grew up in Orange County. His first restaurant job was a dishwasher at the age of 15 and even from such an early age, Tom knew that he had found his vocation. From that point on, Tom’s career in the restaurant industry led him to numerous manager and executive chef positions in the state of California. From 1967 to 1971, Tom signed on for 3 combat tours in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta with the U.S. Navy. He was a Food Service Specialist and Commissary man and completed his enlistment at Point Mugu Naval Air Station.
In 1979, Tom met Tom Sieg and John Williams, who convinced him to move to Salt Lake City to join them as partners of the fledgling Gastronomy, Inc. Tom developed the menu and recipes for which the Market Street Grill and Oyster Bar are recognized across the country.
While the restaurant business was Tom’s first love, he was also very active in the community and served on numerous boards including the Downtown Alliance, Visit Salt Lake, the Utah Restaurant Association and the Salt Lake County Board of Health. Over the years, Tom and his partners received many awards for their contributions to the restaurant industry and Salt Lake City, and in 2017, Tom was presented with “The Key to the City” by Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski. There is not a restaurant in Salt Lake that does not employ someone whose career was influenced by Tom and he will be sorely missed.
Tom is survived by his daughter Alexandra Bird (Jon) and beloved granddaughter Faye. He is preceded in death by his wife Dorothy Guinney and daughter Victoria Guinney.
Thomas Lawrence Guinney was the only child of Theodore (Ted) Guinney and Betty Guinney (nee Collette). Both families had deep roots in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Betty was a homemaker and like his son Tom, Ted was a cook and restauranteur himself.
Tom’s father was also a merchant marine and sailor who narrowly survived his sinking ship after being hit by a German U-Boat torpedo in the Atlantic during WWII.
Though Tom was born in Hollywood, California, he was raised primarily in Orange County. Tom’s childhood companion and best friend was a Boxer purebred he named “Mike”. Tom’s pet, who was sired by the Grand National Champion of the American Kennel Club, Was acquired by Tom’s father, who won the boxer puppy for his young son in a poker game. Tom always spoke fondly of his boyhood surroundings “You had Disneyland to the east, (Tom was one of the first to go to Disneyland) the ocean shore to the west with the pervasive scent of oil drilling, and miles of cabbage fields!”
On Tom’s 16th birthday, his parents took him to the bank for a $400 car loan and Tom purchased his first vehicle. Tom serviced the loan by washing dishes at a local restaurant. Subsequent years had Tom working at his father’s restaurant, as well as establishments such as Delaney’s Berkshires by the Bay, The Crown House and the Bay Marie – all in seaside communities.
By his own recollection, Tom would say of his youth “I wanted adventure”. So, acting ahead of the draft, and during the escalation of the Viet Nam War, Tom enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Needless to say, as an only child, this news did not go over well in the Guinney household – especially with his mother Betty.
After boot camp, Tom served as a cook and commissary man on the Aircraft Carrier U.S.S. Coral Sea and the U.S. S. Neuces. After sailing across the Pacific, Tom signed up for the combat duty of a “PBR Squadron” up the Mekong Delta. His youthful reason for doing so was simple – he wanted to escape the overpowering diesel fumes that hung over the galley of the Nueces. Subsequently, Tom was assigned to the four-man gunships of the river patrol. Years later, PBR Squadrons like Tom’s were immortalized in the war epic Apocalypse Now. These comparatively small gunships were fast, but had few protections for the crew of four. Tom fought in three separate combat tours and did so during the Tet Offensive, one of the fiercest military campaigns of the Viet Nam War. In addition to combat action, Tom was a universal blood type, and so was continuously donating blood during the conflict, lying alongside wounded servicemen in makeshift settings, day and night, for emergency blood transfusions.
Ever energetic in spite of the harrowing experiences of Viet Nam, Tom’s kinetic nature never let him sit still for long. After returning to the big ships as a cook and commissary man, he entertained his fellow sailors with movie nights – showing moves on a bed sheet screen, selling popcorn and holding impromptu poker tournaments. He won so many poker games himself that when he was discharged, he came home to nearly $70,000 in military pay vouchers – a stunning amount in 1971. When asked how he could win so much, he would reply “Ah… young men’s egos were at stake…and bet on!”
After his three tours, Tom returned home and purchased a condominium with his poker winnings and a yellow, 2-door Mercedes Benz convertible that, along with hew new restaurant co-worker Robert Toler, he often pressed into service as an off-road adventure vehicle. Robert and Tom’s friendship would flourish and endure but sadly, not the Mercedes!
In a few short years, Tom began to establish himself as more than a chef as he began to develop as a restaurant operator and manager, handling with precision the great and small details of the hospitality industry that would define his career and entrepreneurial gifts for almost 50 years.
It was during this season of his life that he met a tall, striking redhead who was also in the restaurant business. Dorothy Peters was a front-end restaurant manager, and to hear either of them talk, it was love at first sight – with a sprint! They were married in Mason Park in Irvine, California in 1974.
Working life in the restaurant industry took Tom and Dorothy up and down California. Seafood and Steakhouses dominated the restaurant scene in the `1970’s and saw Tom working for Charlie Brown’s in South San Francisco and running his own restaurant, The Bay Marie, in San Clemente. Tom often reflected that he and Dorothy “had so much fun together – we always had a great time.” On the rare occasion when Dorothy and Tom dined at home, Dorothy’s favorite dinner from her husband was a spicy specialty called Gilly Gilly Chicken.
There was oddball drama too. Dorothy had acquired an enormous parrot in those days – a giant Blue Macaw that she named Rocky. The Macaw adored Dorothy but treated Tom as its mortal enemy in very “parrot” ways. They even took Rocky to a bird handler specialist to see what could be done and during that visit, Rocky chopped down hard on Tom’s ear, drawing a fair amount of blood. Tom was fond of comically quoting what the bird handler said next “Um, you don’t seem to be establishing a relationship with the bird” “No $#%+?”
In 19870, when Tom accepted the invitation to come to Salt Lake City and form a partnership with developers John Williams and Tom Sieg to launch the Market Street Grill, it was with high hopes and a low-brow arrival. Tom and Dorothy rolled into town in an aging Dodge Dart with all of their belongings and forty dollars. When they pulled into a local 7-11, the dusty car sputtered and choked. As Dorothy got out of the car, a rather sarcastic stranger exiting the store walked past Dorothy in the parking lot and quipped “nice car, lady.”
The remarks brought tears to his young wife, and Tom knew right then that he had his work cut out for him. But the uncertainty of their choice to come to Salt Lake City didn’t last long. The Market Street Grill was immediately a rousing success. New restaurants would open and flourish and the public praise of their establishments would make headlines in their hometown newspapers. Lifelong friendships began to multiply, lasting through thick and thin.
And the rest, as they say, is history…cherished.
A visitation will take place on Monday, Sept. 16, from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.at Neil O’Donnell and Sons Mortuary, 372 East 100 South. A funeral mass will be celebrated Tuesday, September 17 at 12:15 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, 331 East South Temple. Committal to follow at Mt. Calvary Catholic Cemetery, 4th Avenue and T Street.
As Tom would typically say “I’m gonna scoot off on ya!”