Solitude • For more than a decade, Dewey Yeargin has come to Utah from Greenwood, S.C., and attended the Taste of the Wasatch, an annual event of wine tasting, beer drinking and food sampling from dozens of elite chefs.
He liked his first experiences so much, the event is now central to his annual trips to Utah. He and his wife, Despina, started bringing their friends and, on Sunday, they all sat in the shade of a tent, while hundreds of attendees ate and drank in the sun at Solitude Mountain Resort.
“It’s for a good cause,” Despina Yeargin said. Dewey Yeargin noted he was told 80 percent of the proceeds go to area charities fighting hunger.
That thought helped the Yeargins stomach the “irony,” they said, of eating a lot of food: their $110-per-plate entry fee was helping to feed the hungry.
The Yeargins hadn’t heard the recent news that 3 Squares, the nonprofit that organizes the event, hadn’t given the beneficiary of last year’s event, Utahns Against Hunger, a promised $50,000 from the proceeds. The leader of the Green Urban Lunch Box, another Salt Lake City nonprofit, said his group was also promised money it never received from the event three years ago. UAH said it was also shorted $10,000 in 2016.
“If they keep doing it under a pretense," Dewey Yeargin said, “that might put a bad taste in my mouth.”
The money helped cover expenses for 3 Squares, including the salary of its executive director, Karen Zabriskie, who declined to talk with The Salt Lake Tribune on Sunday.
Zabriskie previously told The Tribune the shortfalls happened because she was trying to expand the role of her organization, which provides cooking classes for low-income children. She hoped to create a kitchen that could be rented by others in the community to generate money for 3 Squares.
Zane Holmquist, board chairman of 3 Squares and a vice president and corporate chef of Stein Eriksen Lodge, said Saturday that Zabriskie has offered to resign. The full board is expected to discuss the issue in coming days.
Several attendees said they were upset their money wasn’t helping Utahns Against Hunger as promised.
“I bought a whole table here,” said John Eckert, who along with his son purchased two tables in the VIP section of the event for $2,800. “I’m not going next year unless they pay their debts.”
“The volunteers I’ve been talking to today say they’re all hurt,” said Michael Kauffman, who directed traffic in the lower Solitude parking lot as cars streamed in for the four-hour event. “We used to be a charity program. We can’t say that anymore.”
Zabriskie previously told The Tribune attendees didn’t all attend to help feed children, and some who came Sunday agreed.
“I would come even if it weren’t for charity,” Brandy Siniscal said. “But I think you need to be transparent.”
This year marked the first time Stephen MacKay’s Park City-based Old Town Cellars had enough employees to stay open at home and staff a booth at Taste of the Wasatch. He said he viewed the event as exposure and was happy to serve the people who’d already bought tickets before the controversy came to light. But he’d like the proceeds to go to charity.
“That’s the whole reason we’re pouring $5,000 worth of product for free,” MacKay said. “Everyone’s gotta have an economic benefit if it’s not a charitable cause.”
Among the booths Sunday were empty ones left vacant by Salt Lake City businesses that backed out shortly before. The owners of Copper Onion, Whiskey Street, 3 Cups coffee and Flourish Bakery didn’t take part.
“We originally wanted to participate in this event because we saw an opportunity to support a community organization that addresses another very real barrier to total-life recovery and rehabilitation: food scarcity,” Flourish Bakery wrote in a post on the event’s Facebook page. “In lieu of participating in this event, we will be making a direct contribution to fulfill this promise in the coming days.”
Kauffman has volunteered for the event for years. While he was conflicted about coming, he said he wanted to make sure the event that hundreds had bought tickets for went on for a 19th year.
He just hopes changes will be made before the 20th now that the issues are generating headlines.
“I guess there’s going to be some soul-searching going on,” he said.