Utah caterer hired to provide concessions at Eccles Theater sues, says owner owes it $1.5 million

The Utah caterer hired to provide food and concessions at Salt Lake City’s showcase Eccles Theater is suing the government-led agency that owns the venue for breach of contract and $1.5 million in lost revenue.

Cuisine Unlimited, which was hired in 2014 to handle all food and beverage service at the downtown venue, alleges in a 3rd District Court lawsuit filed Thursday that the Utah Performing Arts Council Agency (UPACA) “grossly overstated” the capacity of the building’s event space in its request for proposal (RFP) for catering services and caused the financial losses.

“Shortly after signing the contract,” founder Maxine Turner told The Salt Lake Tribune, "we came to the realization that the RFP was not accurate, to the point where it changed the entire project.”

After signing the catering contract, Turner added, UPACA placed additional restrictions on the company, hindering its ability to make a profit.

UPACA’s Salt Lake City attorney, Jennifer Fraser Parrish, disagrees with the caterer’s assertions.

“UPACA acted in good faith under its contract with Cuisine Unlimited," she said. "I cannot comment further, given the pending litigation, but look forward to the facts coming to light in court.”

The board of directors for UPACA includes officials from Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Opening night of the "Hamilton" run at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, April 11, 2018.

The Eccles Theater, which opened in October 2016, was a longtime urban priority for former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.

Cuisine Unlimited has been in business for more than three decades and has overseen dozens of national and international events — from the Sundance Film Festival and the 2002 Winter Olympics to the Republican National Convention.

“We have answered RFPs for 38 years,” Turner said, “and we had no reason to believe that this RFP would have inaccurate information, especially since the entities have the resources available to make sure it is correct.”

But, according to the lawsuit, these were some of the problems Cuisine Unlimited encountered:

• In the RFP, UPACA listed seating capacity in the lobby at 542, plus up to 350 for banquets and 700 people for receptions. After entering the contract, UPACA decreased seating to 243 people. This decrease from UPACA’s original representation “severely impacts" Cuisine Unlimited’s ability to book and generate revenue from large-scale events at the theater.

• Cuisine Unlimited bought kitchen equipment, utensils, plates, glasses and other service items based on the larger capacity, leaving it with items it didn’t need and products it couldn’t return.

• The company upgraded its suburban commercial kitchen in anticipation of the increased business from the new theater. The company made those moves because the contract allowed for food to be prepared at the commercial facility and then be transported to the Eccles Theater warming kitchens for events.

• When Cuisine Unlimited applied for a state liquor license, officials with the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said food would have to be prepared on-site. Cuisine Unlimited subsequently hired additional staff, for which it had not budgeted, and purchased extensive equipment to accommodate the change.

• Cuisine Unlimited could not book events more than 90 days in advance so the theater could have the flexibility to book last-minute shows.

Turner said the 90-day requirement limited the type of events that could be booked in the space, because most conventions are scheduled at least a year in advance; weddings and corporate parties are usually planned at least six months in advance.

An independent audit put company losses at $1 million, Turner said. However, it is seeking an additional damages to be determined at trial because the problems forced the operation to terminate the five-year Eccles contract after just two years.

Cuisine Unlimited asked UPACA officials to renegotiate the contract but they denied that request, Turner said, adding that she also asked for mediation, which never took place.

“We’ve been trying to get this resolved for over a year," she said. "We don’t take filing a complaint lightly. But it’s been forced upon us because of inaction.”