TV star Ty Burrell fears Utah could lose ‘quite a few’ restaurants and bars

“Modern Family” star Ty Burrell knows this is a tough time for bar and restaurant owners. He’s one of them and concedes his Utah establishments — like many others — may not survive the coronavirus collapse.

But he remains hopeful — and helpful.

That’s why the actor-turned-restaurateur launched an ambitious plan to give $2,000 grants to newly sidelined chefs, servers and bartenders.

Now that program has had to be scaled back.

Laid-off Salt Lake City food service workers instead can get $500 through the “Tip Your Server” program, Burrell said Tuesday on “Trib Talk.”

The television star and his wife, Holly, are part owners of the Bar X and Beer Bar in Salt Lake City, the Cotton Bottom Inn in Holladay, and The Eating Establishment in Park City. They kicked off the grant program with the city and the Downtown Alliance in March, seeding the fund with a $100,000 donation.

Since then, nearly $527,000 has been collected, but it’s not enough to give every employee the original $2,000 grant, Burrell said during the live interview.

“The fundraising landscape…. is tougher than we thought,” he said. “And we wanted to get as much money out to as many people as possible.”

The Downtown Alliance estimates that there are 15,000 employees who work in Salt Lake City’s 850 restaurants and bars.

Under its new plan, Tip Your Server is able to distribute five checks — for $500 apiece — to a business. The employer then decides who gets the money, which, Burrell conceded, “is not an easy decision.”

In some cases, it is handed to the most-tenured employees; other times, it goes to the most in need.

At one restaurant, for example, most of the servers were able to get unemployment checks, so the money was given to cooks and “back-of-the-house” employees — several of whom are single mothers.

Getting the money to employees “has been bumpy,” Burrell said, because workers first must provide federal tax identification forms. Because of that, checks to about 230 restaurant owners are still pending.

Burrell said the city and the Downtown Alliance “put this together on the fly” — he praised both for their efforts — and, as far as he knows, did not hire additional employees to operate it.

Besides the Burrells’ donation, Tip Your Server has received several generous grants from some well-known donors, including $100,000 from the Jeff S. and Helen H. Cardon Foundation and a matching grant of $50,000 from the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, which was met in April.

The program previously said big donations have come from Ogden’s Own Distillery, the Peace and Possibility Project, Tito’s Handmade Vodka (in partnership with Young’s Market Co.), Squatters and Wasatch Brewery founders Jeff Polychronis and Peter Cole, and Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles and his wife, Renae.

“But we still have a long way to go,” Burrell said, noting that the program wants more restaurants to apply and is still accepting donations at https://downtownslc.org/TipYourServer.

He also would welcome an “angel donor” who could fully fund the program.

During the “Trib Talk” interview, Burrell said he is still hesitant himself about eating out and his co-owners are waiting until they deem it safe before opening Bar X, Beer Bar or The Eating Establishment. On May 1, the state allowed the resumption of sit-down dining — with strict precautions.

When asked about the future of the industry, he acknowledged it was tenuous even for businesses that were successful before COVID-19.

“I expect we will lose quite a few businesses,” he said, “and ours could be one of them.”

But Burrell has every intention of reopening at some point, noting the work his partners are doing revamping the Cotton Bottom Inn, where he looks forward to taking his first bite of the eatery’s signature garlic burgers.