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Veteran Park City restaurant owners discuss current scene: “Sundance every night”

Bill White and Kevin Valaika

Two veteran Park City restaurant owners say the volume of customers and the cost of doing business are breaking records with no end in sight.   

Bill White and Kevin Valaika have 50 years of restaurant experience between them. They have been serving the public since 1993 when the two opened Grappa at the top of Main Street. They say that since the world opened up in the summer of 2021, city restaurants are seeing more business than ever before.

Bill White, the CEO of Bill White enterprises, says that even though they are seating record numbers of diners, inflation is putting a damper on profits.

"We're up in sales and numbers, but also, you have the caveat that with the costs of everything going up from hamburger to employees to all the costs of running the restaurant, it goes up in tandem. Even though sales are up, costs are out there and sometimes even costs go up more than the sales so your margins are getting squeezed too. So it's not all roses just seeing a big busy restaurant.”

Valaika is co-owner of Shabu. He says that he’s never seen anything like this year, with every night on Main Street wall to wall people.           

"I'm on Main Street four nights a week. And I was out there last night just kind of taking it in. If you close your eyes, and went back 10 years ago, during Sundance, it looks like Sundance every night on Main Street. You know, it's a conveyor belt of people.”

White says that such rapid growth has the whole industry at a critical juncture.

"And now we don't have the infrastructure because of the rapid growth in those two years that I just mentioned, since COVID. The rapid change and growth, it's coming out. It's like an avalanche. So it's hard to keep up and it's hard to plan what's going forward with such rapid change.”

Valaika says even Utah’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has a hard time keeping up with demand.

“They need to bring in more product because it's embarrassing from our end of it, we're an Asian restaurant and we don't have sake, people are like, why don't you guys get your act together? And like it's not us. It's relying on other systems to provide the products we need.”

White and Valaika say building more restaurants is not the answer and Park City needs to address its rapid development to understand what the real needs of the community are.

“So most people would say, boy, since demand so high, let's increase the supply of restaurants, let's open some more restaurants to meet that demand since everybody's so busy. But that just exacerbates the problems that already exist. No labor, more traffic more this more that more competition. And then it just dilutes the you know, being a restaurant here, especially when you're a single unit operator, you have to rely on what you make that night to fund your future.

White also believes that using a percentage of the RAP tax that Summit County passed last year to help with workforce housing and alcohol and drug abuse treatment is much-needed and would be one way to address some major issues facing the community.

Feeding winter crowds also takes a toll on staff. Valiaka plans on closing his restaurant for a month during Spring’s muddy season while White’s restaurants will remain open.