At least three participating restaurants in the annual Taste of the Wasatch food and wine event scheduled for Sunday at Solitude have pulled out over concern that tens of thousands of dollars in proceeds are going to the host organization and its leader instead of being donated to Utahns Against Hunger.
“We had always expected this money was going to feed hungry children,” Ryan Lowder, owner and chef of Copper Onion and Copper Kitchen, told The Salt Lake Tribune on Saturday.
Lowder said he has canceled plans to send eight employees to the Sunday event and instead will donate about $3,000 directly to Utahns Against Hunger. That’s about the amount he figures he would have spent on participating in Taste of the Wasatch, which he’s done annually for almost a decade.
But a leader of the sponsoring organization pledged that most of the 50 participating restaurants would come and the event would live up to the expectations of 1,800 people who signed up for it.
“I owe it to the folks who have bought tickets that they experience a great event,” said Zane Holmquist, board chairman of the nonprofit that hosts Taste of the Wasatch and a vice president and corporate chef of Stein Eriksen Lodge. “As a professional, I owe it to them.”
The hosting organization, 3 Squares Inc., will regroup after Sunday and make whatever changes are necessary to ensure the event’s future, Holmquist said. “It’s been 19 years, and we want to have 20.”
The group’s executive director, Karen Zabriskie, has offered her resignation, Holmquist told The Tribune, but no decision will be made before Sunday’s event and without input from the full five-person board.
Zabriskie unilaterally made the decision last year to forgo the promised $50,000 donation to Utahns Against Hunger, which has led the anti-hunger group to cut ties with Taste of the Wasatch. She and Holmquist said the painful choice was necessary to prevent the debt-caused dissolution of 3 Squares.
The decision to spend the $50,000 elsewhere, which only later was revealed to the board, was still unknown to many of the restaurants participating in Taste of the Wasatch until a story published this week by The Salt Lake Tribune.
Matt Crandall, executive chef at Whiskey Street and White Horse Spirits & Kitchen, disclosed Saturday that he is skipping the event.
“We feel our contribution from last year was not handled as intended and the main purpose for this event was to help Utahns Against Hunger,” Crandall said on Facebook. “We are currently looking into ways to contribute this year’s costs to Utahns Against Hunger and are open to any suggestions.”
Holladay’s 3 Cups coffee is abandoning the event, too.
“After reading about this in the SL Tribune and then talking to our employees about it. We have decide that we will be pulling out of tomorrows Taste of Wasatch event. Just feels like the right thing to do,” the restaurant announced on Instagram.
After reading about this in the SL Tribune and then talking to our employees about it. We have decide that we will be pulling out of tomorrows Taste of Wasatch event. Just feels like the right thing to do. Here is the link to the story for those that want to read about it https://www.sltrib.com/news/2018/08/03/anti-hunger-group-utah/ . All food made for the event will be sold in house tomorrow and 100% of proceeds will go directly to Utahn’s Against Hunger. So, come on in and support an important and great cause Https://www.uah.org/meet-uah . . #honestyisthebestpolicy #supportcommunity #sltribune #UAH
“I’d be shocked if more restaurants don’t jump on board,” Lowder told The Tribune on Saturday.
Zabriskie sent an email Saturday evening to participating restaurants, encouraging them to stick with the event.
“I would strongly suggest that you show up tomorrow for the people who bought tickets and want to taste your food,” she wrote.
“We are a 501(c)3 so when you contribute and donate to this event, you can be assured the funds are being used in the efforts to fight hunger locally. I apologize for not sending this information earlier in the year. And will strive to so a better job of keep you informed on where the funds are going.”
“People gave money thinking it was coming to Utahns Against Hunger,” Executive Director Gina Cornia previously told The Tribune about last year’s event, “and it didn’t, and that’s not OK.”
It appears Utahns Against Hunger isn’t the only feed-the-hungry nonprofit that feels betrayed by Taste of the Wasatch. Green Urban Lunch Box Executive Director Shawn Peterson said it happened to his nonprofit three years ago.
Zabriskie “told us we would get between $30,000 and $40,000” for partnering with Taste of the Wasatch that year, Peterson told The Tribune on Saturday. “We provided a bunch of staff, helped put on the event. After the event, they just went cold to us, wouldn’t return our calls, wouldn’t do anything. Finally, they just sent us a $1,000 check in the mail.”
In a report to the IRS, 3 Squares said the 2015 event took in $104,612. After expenses, it reported clearing $59,063. Zabriskie, president of 3 Squares, took salary of $56,600 that year.
“All in all, we felt really used,” Peterson said, adding that he came forward after a colleague sent him a copy of the story about Utahns Against Hunger and asked, “Sound familiar?”
He urged participating restaurants to boycott the event and donors to look elsewhere for a good cause.
“There are so many good organizations that people can support,” Peterson said, “and it’s unfortunate to support that one.”
Zabriskie, who reported a 2016 salary of $71,500 on tax returns, did not respond to requests for comment Saturday. She had told The Tribune that 3 Squares ran into money problems because of a venture to build a kitchen for its classes teaching children from low-income families to cook.
The kitchen was to be styled as a for-profit business making money from renting to caterers and others, but with the money being used to support its nonprofit educational activities. Construction was underway, Zabriskie said, when several promised donations fell through.
Holmquist, who offered himself Saturday as the spokesman for 3 Squares in place of Zabriskie, confirmed that the nonprofit’s financial troubles last year stemmed from the kitchen construction and unfulfilled donor pledges. He said he was unaware of any commitment to Green Urban Lunch Box in 2015 and didn’t know of the organization.
Financial records Zabriskie provided indicated that 3 Squares took in $196,568 last year, including $137,390 from Taste of the Wasatch. But expenses totaling $214,852 were shown, including a reduced $42,575 salary for Zabriskie.
Asked about Zabriskie’s future, Holmquist said that would be up to the board.
“In my opinion, I have never seen anybody work so diligently, so hard to make a charity successful,” he said. “I’m very happy with her commitment to the charity, her ideals and her goal and her passion. I am disappointed that she didn’t involve the board with the decision to divert the funds from 2017.”
“If I remain involved, which I may or may not," Holmquist continued, "I will make sure that I have a personal dialogue with every chef about what’s going on for next year.”
Reporter Kathy Stephenson contributed to this story.