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Let the Games begin

Restaurants say locals shouldn’t be afraid to go out during the Olympics

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Utah's restaurants are welcoming the world, but they're not shutting their doors to local customers.

Last week the Utah Restaurant Association issued a plea to Utahns to come out and mingle with the Gamesgoers. Several association members said Sydney, Atlanta and Los Angeles restaurants actually lost business when those cities hosted the Olympics, because local diners stayed away.

"Don't hibernate at home or leave during the Olympic Games," URA President Melva Sine said. "There will be plenty of tables."

Contrary to predictions last year that most restaurants would be fully booked by corporate elites, many are wide-open to the public. Eateries are gearing up for crowds but aren't sure what to expect.

For Utahns willing to brave a few detour signs and congestion, it's a chance to rub shoulders with the out-of-towners and maybe try out their high school French or German on foreign guests.

Market Street Grill, for example, will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "We decided that people will be all over town all the time," said John Becker, a spokesman for Gastronomy, Inc., owner of several Salt Lake City restaurants. "We're very confident that it will be a great time to be downtown, and they will want to come in and get warm. They've got to be hungry, so we're really looking forward to a lot of business."

Although approached by companies and foreign dignitaries about taking over certain Gastronomy restaurants, Becker said, "The owners decided the most important thing is to serve the customers who have been with them and who will continue to be with them."

One exception: Baci Trattoria has been reserved all day on both Feb. 14 and Feb. 20.

Reservations will be accepted at most Gastronomy restaurants for parties of eight or more; at Market Street Cottonwood, parties must be 12 or more for reservations. The New Yorker will be open on Sunday for the first time ever.

The Market Street Broiler is fairly close to the Olympic Village at the University of Utah, "so we're hoping there might be some athletes coming in," Becker said. "We've been training our employees to have great hospitality for our foreign visitors. The wine selections have been increased. We expect it will be a fun time, for our regular customers and a whole lot of visitors."

Bambara, also downtown, is offering translated menus in French, German, Italian and Japanese. Along with the regular breakfast menu, a sushi chef will prepare traditional Japanese breakfasts. With the expectation that European visitors will favor meat dishes due to the recent scarcity of safe meats at home, chef Scott Blackerby is featuring such regional specialties as Buffalo with Wild Mushrooms and Braised Colorado Lamb Shank, as well as such European favorites as Fisherman's Stew and Cassoulet Bourguignonne. A coffee and sandwich bar in the lobby will provide a quick bite between Olympic events.

In the kitchen, Bambara operations are being fortified by staff from sister restaurant Kuleto's in San Francisco. The staff attended workshops on diversity training, transportation and security issues, and hosts will be armed with translation books to help answer questions, such as "Where are the bathrooms?" Reservations will be taken up to 11 p.m.

Absolute! Restaurant and Brasserie and Dijon Provençale Bistro will become the "Austrian House" during the Games. The restaurants will be converted into a broadcast hall/hospitality center for invited guests of the Austrian Olympic Committee and Austrian Trade Commission.

In similar fashion, Au Bon Appetit on Market Street will become the Swiss Haus for the Swiss Olympic Committee. However, the public is welcome to come and meet Swiss athletes and officials, watch events on a big-screen television and dine on a menu of authentic Swiss cuisine, such as roesti potatoes and Lindt chocolate.

"Ours is different from many of these hospitality spots, because it's open to anybody who is curious about Swiss culture, not just for the elites," said Edwin Rudolph, who has managed the House of Switzerland for the past 16 Olympic Games. "We want people to know Swiss food isn't just cheese."

Metropolitan restaurant has been booked by Jet Set Sports and individuals from numerous foreign countries but will also be open for reservations from the public part of the time. As an incentive for locals, diners with a Utah driver's license will receive a 15 percent discount.

Some expected bookings didn't pan out for other local restaurants. Chris Patterson said his restaurant, Christopher's, was set to cater three meals daily for 100 members of an international news agency. Last week, the company canceled, saying the agency had to put more of its budget into covering the war in Afghanistan.

"That was devastating for us," he said, adding that many companies have scaled back their entertainment budgets, and some people canceled their travel plans after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Tom Grant, owner of Martine on 100 South, said he's accepted reservations for small groups, but he's leaving open plenty of tables for walk-in customers. A balcony dining area has been added to accommodate more guests.

"It's a big 'if,' because I heard some restaurants in Atlanta were down quite a bit," he said. "But if the foot traffic is what I expect, Martine will do really well."

Martine serves tapas and entrees with Mediterranean and North African influences, and offers a "prix fixe" menu, which is a popular dining option abroad. Grant is extending his dinner service to 11 p.m. and revising his menu to include the top favorite tapas from past menus. Instead of adding more international dishes, "I decided to just stick with what we do best, and hopefully they will want to enjoy some American culture and cuisine."

URA President Melva Sine pointed out that there are also numerous restaurants away from the Games venues that will be open for business.

Eric Slaymaker, whose company, Slaymaker Group Inc., owns Utah franchise outlets that include Tony Roma's, T.G.I.Friday's, Winger's and Tucci's, said he doesn't expect to see a lot of international guests at his restaurants.

"Frankly, there's a sense that we will be less busy because of the Olympics," Slaymaker said.

Greg Neville, chef/owner of Lugano, thinks his canyon location near I-215 and I-80 is a plus for travelers and locals alike. "We are on the perimeter to all the events," Neville said. "We are actually getting a lot of people coming from Sundance (Film Festival), so I think we'll do really well.

"I looked at how the Sydney Olympics affected business, and the comment I heard was the restaurants in the perimeter areas that were very accessible and not interrupted by security and closures did very well."

Some private parties have booked luncheons when Lugano isn't normally open so they won't affect the regular dinner traffic. He said the restaurant is starting its "deep winter" menu next week, which will include buffalo steak, veal chops and a wide selection of fish for the wood-burning oven. On Sunday nights, family-style meals will be served, with platters of pasta.

Sundance restaurants will be open to the public, too, said spokesman Lucy Riddolphi. "That includes the Tree Room, the Foundry Grill and Zoom in Park City."

Fresco, at 1500 South and 1500 East, is another spot that's open to walk-in customers, although it is hosting private luncheons. "Companies and groups approached us to buy the restaurant, and we felt it would do more of a disservice to our customers," said owner David Harries. "To be honest, I'm not worried about business. The restaurants in the downtown commercial business district should have those concerns because of the difficulty of parking and so forth. But we don't really have those problems."

Harries also said he avoided price-gouging the private parties. "Someone called to book a luncheon for 40 people, and she said another restaurant had told her it would be $7,000. Maybe some of that has gone on, but we've just wanted to maintain our presence as it is and always has been."

McGrath's Fish House, which opened this week at the Gateway, expects to receive plenty of Olympics traffic. "But that's not why we're here," said regional manager Randy Millet. "We're here to serve the people of Utah for the long term. The fact that the Olympics are here is incidental."

However, the restaurant is ready for guests from all over the world. "We are lucky in this area, that because of the many people who have served LDS missions, we have people on our staff who speak a lot of different languages," said Millet.

For those looking for quick chow rather than a fine dining experience, McDonald's — the official restaurant of the 2002 Games — is gearing up for the Games with new food items. It will unveil a Cheddar Bacon Sausage McMuffin (cheddar, bacon, sausage and egg on a toasted English muffin) and Chicken Breast Parmesan (chicken topped with mozzarella and marinara sauce).

Greg Gruber, whose company owns six local McDonald's, said, "I'm concerned that the public is getting the message that there will be tremendous gridlock, and it will take four hours to get anywhere. While unintentional, it could cause everyone to hide at home and not come down and enjoy the Olympics. Salt Lake City is prepared; we have enough restaurants and tables throughout the city."

E-MAIL: vphillips@desnews.com