The Park City Restaurant Association is on a roll, garnering the highest membership increase for the nonprofit since the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Since the start of the year, the PCARA went from 28 members, a combined 51 properties under same ownership, to 47 in October, a total of 72 properties. Owners such as Jesse Shetler of Butcher's Chophouse and Bar joined this year, incorporating his second property, the No Name Saloon. The jump in membership is attributed to a number of factors, from increased awareness of the organization and a new website and marketing efforts to hiring a full-time executive director last year.
"Prior to hiring me, the organization had an employee from one of the members taking minutes and keeping track of members on top of their normal job on a volunteer basis," said Ginger Ries, the Executive Director for the PCARA. "The association is really growing up. They hired me as a full-time administrator so the group had one consistent person allocating time to keeping everything going, to keep the members updated and manage the marketing efforts. They never really had that before."
The organization started in the mid-90s when three restaurant owners started holding informal meetings to discuss issues in the industry. Hans Fuegi, one of the founders of the PCARA and a current board member, said he has watched the organization grow into a more powerful entity in the community.
"The group got its start with only two or three owners," he said. "We decided to start because of the lodging association, which had already been around for several years. I remember they were a pretty powerful, influential association and we figured that the restaurants were an important part of the business in this town. We got together to discuss ideas and deal with challenges we saw."
From liquor law debates to marketing along the Wasatch Front, the PCARA is growing, both in membership and funding. In the most recent distribution of county grants collected through taxes, the PCARA received $180,000 for out-of-county marketing, including advertisements in print publications and billboard marketing in places such as the Salt Lake City International Airport.
At the most recent PCARA meeting Thursday morning, Greg Pack of the Snowed Inn Sleigh Company, a restaurant at the top of the Park City Mountain Resort Payday Lift, told members he was in the process of joining.
"We've started the process, but we're not members yet," Pack said. "We will be members by the next meeting in November."
"We're doing this to stay educated as the restaurant laws change," he added. "If the laws do change, we want to know what they are. And it will be nice to get to know other owners. We've been operating for 24 years, but we still don't really know many other owners in town."
With the launch of the organization's new website last year, the PCARA has seen a sizable increase in online users, jumping from roughly 1,000 visitors in an average month to 3,000 to 4,000 hits a month during the shoulder season alone.
"We know that people are not going to make vacation plans because someone has a great sea bass," Ries said. "They're deciding to dine based on where they are already vacationing and food is a secondary decision. As an organization, we are really trying to focus on the Wasatch Front, to get those diners up here."
"We want a consistent brand out there," she added, "which is something we've never done before. We want consistency, just getting in front of people and reminding them that the association is here. doing that, people will start recognizing our members and will dine more in Park City."