The nonprofit that has sponsored the popular Taste of the Wasatch annual food and wine celebration for many years intends to shut its doors in the wake of news reports about it forgoing a $50,000 promised donation to Utahns Against Hunger from last year’s event.
“We have to shut down now because we can’t recover from that,” Karen Zabriskie, 3 Squares Inc. executive director, told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday. “There’s no way we’re going to be able to get funding going forward.
“Board members have resigned," she said, noting that board Chairman Zane Holmquist, a vice president and corporate chef at Stein Eriksen Lodge, stepped down Friday. "It’s just me now.”
She added that she has been the target of accusations and personal attacks since The Tribune first reported Aug. 3 that Utahns Against Hunger had cut ties with Taste of the Wasatch because of the $50,000 promised contribution falling through.
The money was instead used to cover an unexpected setback in 3 Squares' fundraising for construction of a kitchen that was planned as a for-profit revenue source for the nonprofit’s program to teach cooking classes for low-income youths.
“For the past two years, we’ve worked on raising funds for, and constructing, this kitchen and teaching upwards of 300 kids how to break the cycle of hunger,” Zabriskie said, lamenting that the dream is now in pieces. “I’m sorry about all those kids.”
Zabriskie blames The Tribune for wrecking her nonprofit’s reputation because it ran the story two days before this year’s Taste of the Wasatch at Solitude. In its 19th year, the event brings out some of the state’s top restaurants and chefs, and draws hundreds of people paying $110 apiece.
At least four of the 50 or so participating restaurants pulled out of this year’s event after learning none of the proceeds from last year had gone to Utahns Against Hunger as billed.
Zabriskie accused the newspaper of sitting on the story for months and launching it at the last minute to undermine the event and the sponsoring organization. But David Noyce, a Tribune managing editor, said the paper’s food writer had learned about the controversy the Wednesday before the event, then finished reporting and writing it Thursday for publication in Friday’s print edition.
Gina Cornia, executive director of Utahns Against Hunger, said Friday that she had determined not to contact news organizations after first learning last January that she wouldn’t get the promised donations. But she said she’d always been prepared to tell the truth if contacted by a reporter, and that happened Aug. 1.
“When [Zabriskie] decided to spend the money that was earmarked for Utahns Against Hunger, she knew that was the risk she was taking,” Cornia said.
“It was a blow, absolutely,” Cornia said of the loss of $50,000 in promised donations. “For close to 20 years, that was a big chunk of our advocacy funding. ... For 18 years, we never got less than $30,000, which is always a big chunk for us.”
Utahns Against Hunger held its own, much smaller fundraiser in May and cleared about $7,000 from it. She also has been contacted by some of the restaurants that had pulled out of Taste of the Wasatch offering contributions.
Several of the restaurant owners have started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $50,000 for the anti-hunger group.
“I hold no ill will towards Karen [Zabriskie], and I really do wish her the best," Cornia said. "It’s unfortunate that she’s made the decision to close 3 Squares. Hopefully, somebody will help fill in that gap for what her vision was.”
As for Taste of the Wasatch, Cornia doesn’t see Utahns Against Hunger going back to that model but will, in the future, stick with smaller fundraisers.
Zabriskie hopes some other group will continue Taste of the Wasatch.
“Because it has done a lot of good for the community, I hope the event itself continues," Zabriskie said, “under different management obviously, under a different entity and structure.”