Bill White nominated for top food award
Most aspiring professionals have idols and role models they look up to. After 20 years in business, Bill White said it was humbling to learn they are now his peers.
Bill White Enterprises was recently named a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s 2011 Restaurateur of the Year award. White’s restaurants include Grappa and Chimayo on upper Main Street, Wahso on lower Main Street, Ghidotti’s at Kimball Junction and Windy Ridge Café and Windy Ridge Bakery on Iron Horse Drive.
Writer James Beard is credited with bringing French cooking to mainstream America and pioneering gourmet American cuisine. In 1990 the foundation convinced the two most prestigious national foodie awards to merge, thereby creating what has been called "the Oscars of the food world."
White has been recognized regionally his entire career, but this national nomination was especially meaningful, he said.
"When I read the list I got shivers," he said. "These are people I’d heard about before I’d flourished in the industry."
Instead of being excited, White said his first reaction was to consider if he was really worthy. White’s company is competing for this prize against some of the most famous restaurants in the industry, most of which are located in big cities.
It’s also historically uncommon for restaurants not on the coasts or in Chicago to receive nominations, he said. For example, in his category he is only one of three nominees located between Houston and San Francisco. He is one of only two Utah restaurateurs nominated in any category.
"The center of the U.S. is considered a culinary no-man’s land," he said. "This award reflects well on the food population of this town."
The fact that Park City is even on the radar of the James Beard Foundation is a result of every fine-dining establishment in Summit County working to make this a dining destination, he said.
White credited some of his company’s most successful marketing strategies to other local restaurateurs. Riverhorse on Main was the first to offer two-for-one coupons in town to give locals the opportunity to experience fine dining at affordable prices, he said. A former restaurant in the Gateway Building was the originator of Taco Tuesdays a successful campaign at Windy Ridge Café.
As humbled as he is, and willing to share the honor with his peers, one thing White said he is exceedingly proud of is the fact that this is a management award.
"I don’t get to cook anymore. I don’t get to spend a lot of time on what got me into this business. Instead I have to run the business and to be recognized for that is really satisfying," he said. "We work in a challenging environment in a seasonal town."
White said his experience with the foundation is that they closely guard their judging criteria or the schedule of their visits. That said, White believes his success comes from his business’s emphasis on pleasing customers.
Instead of working with pots and pans, White said he spends a lot of time responding to letters and comments from clients about their good or bad experiences.
"And we’re constantly brainstorming on how to bring more value to the dining experience," he said. "You’ve got to give people reasons to come eat at these restaurants."
As costs rise and fall, White said he works hard to find ways to trim budgets without ever compromising the quality of the ingredients.
Bill White Enterprises employs about 600 people. It takes a lot of corporate management to run a company like that, but the focus has to be on the bottom up. If the diner’s experience is ever compromised, the whole enterprise will be in jeopardy, he said.
To do his job well, White said he’s had to become expert in a lot of areas outside the kitchen.
"When you first get in business, most people get in for a technical skill: you cook well or you’re great at the front door. You have to be able to look beyond that and understand that running a business is beyond the cooking," he said. "My expertise at this point is people skills getting everyone to pull sled in same direction is a huge challenge."
The award winner will be announced May 9 in New York City.
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