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Utah Tip Challenge gives thousands to hospitality workers

Staff at Hearth and Hill restaurant in Park City react as they learn the Utah Tip Challenge is presenting the business with $1,000 for employees on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020.
Jay Hancock, Deseret News

PARK CITY — As the hospitality industry struggles to make a comeback from the pandemic, a grassroots effort is underway in Park City to offer some extra help for workers who rely on tips to make ends meet.

“They really survive on tips and if we don’t go out and dine out then a lot of them aren’t going to be able to survive,” said Sam Rubin, founder of the Utah Tip Challenge.

In the fourth week since the Utah Tip Challenge launched, Rubin, along with Hilary Reiter, made a surprise stop at Hearth and Hill in Park City on Friday. The restaurant has been around for nearly two years. But Rubin and Reiter didn’t just come for the good food and drinks. They came for what comes after.

Rubin and Reiter paid for their meal before calling the owner and other waiters and waitresses over to present an extra tip, courtesy of businesses and individuals in the community.

“Have you guys heard about the Utah Tip Challenge?” Rubin asked the group. “This past week was a really good week for us so we actually have $1,000. This is not from us. This is from the community. We just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate everything that you guys are doing.”

The surprise announcement was met with gasps and mask-covered smiles.

“I almost cried,” said Sunny Sorenson, a waitress at Hearth and Hill.

“This is huge. What Sam and Hilary have done for the rest of our community really means a lot,” said Brooks Kirchheimer, co-owner of Hearth and Hill.

For him, it has been months of ups and downs, and trying new things to bring customers back.

“I think the biggest thing through all of this is just the unknown,” he said. “What’s coming up? What’s the next day going to look like?”

His staff is still down 25% compared to this time last year because there aren’t as many customers coming in. But business is picking up at Hearth and Hill.

“People have been so generous,” Sorenson said. “I’m just so grateful to have a job.”

Utah Tip Challenge has raised and donated $4,000 to four different restaurants in Park City and Salt Lake City so far. And the people behind it are determined to keep it up.

“Hopefully this lasts as long as possible,” Rubin said. “(Restaurants) work on a razor-thin margin. So I think when they see a lot of the community coming together and supporting the business, it really hits home for the owners or the managers, but really for the service staff. They become very emotional.”

You can find Utah Tip Challenge on Facebook and Instagram. Donations can be made on Venmo to @utahtipchallenge.