Food and Wine: Feeding Aspen’s Local Economy

(Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is the unofficial start of summer in the resort community, which until mid-June is a quiet, sleepy mountain town with few visitors.

The 2021 Food & Wine Classic kicked off in Aspen on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Locals have just returned from off-season excursions around the world, and businesses are recruiting new hires. Hiring is tough these days with labor shortages and a local housing crisis, so the demands on Valley businesses to host the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen this year are particularly tough. .

Earlier this spring, at a meeting of the board of directors of the chamber of commerce, employers from all sectors of activity in the resort community lamented the effects of the labor shortage on the customer experience, especially the difficulty of getting people from the airport to the city and vice versa.

The week leading up to the Food & Wine Classic, occupancy in Aspen is just under 50%, then jumps over 30% for the three-day event, starting Thursday and ending Sunday, according to Eliza. Voss, vice president of destination marketing for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

Before the epicurean extravaganza, it becomes a “game on” for local hotels, lodges, restaurants, taxis, limousines, property managers, caterers, party planners, audiovisual experts, tent suppliers , linen and uniform companies, florists and everyone in between to make it happen.

“The Classic couldn’t happen without them,” said Jennifer Albright Carney, COO of ACRA, which has helped bring the Food & Wine Classic to Aspen for more than two decades.

The Classic uses 13 different venues for the event’s seminars and cooking demonstrations, Albright Carney noted, and exhibitors are bringing in local catering companies to help out.

Over the years, parties held across the city in restaurants and private homes outside of the official event have grown exponentially, requiring the support of small armies of caterers, bartenders and other service personnel. .

A queue circles the mall to attend the Food & Wine Classic’s first big tasting in Aspen on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

“The incidental aspect of the weekend is so much more important than before,” said Lori Lefevre, spokeswoman for Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. “For each of those things, they come with surrounds.”

The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen has been compared to the Sundance Film Festival in that there’s an official footprint of the event, but the weekend is full of extracurricular festivities throughout the host resort (in the case of Sundance , Park City, Utah).

In Aspen, vendors and exhibitors team up with local restaurants for winemaker dinners and spirits experts often use the bars to showcase their latest concoctions. Wendy Mitchell, owner of the Meat & Cheese Restaurant, Farm Shop and Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar, said the bar will host marquee events and celebrity bartenders, but the restaurant is left to foodies and local workers during the weekend. -end.

“I think our place is for working people,” she said. “Lots of chefs and industry professionals will come to take advantage of the eclectic wine list.”

Many restaurants in the area are taking advantage of Food & Wine’s invitation to have a table in the Grand Tasting Pavilion, allowing them to showcase their latest dishes and interact with customers.

For years, the number of attendees, exhibitors and vendors has been capped at 5,000 people, which organizers say is the sweet spot for experience and infrastructure bandwidth. But this year, like last September when the event was moved from the traditional June dates due to the pandemic, attendance is capped at 75% of 2019 figures, according to Lefevre.

The reduced capacity was a judgment made last fall while COVID-19 restrictions were still in place across the country, she noted.

“Also, we got really good feedback that it was sturdy with a tiny bit of wiggle room,” Lefevre said of fewer people in the Grand Tasting Pavilion and at seminars.

When tickets went on sale shortly after last year’s event, they sold out within two hours.

Years ago, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen conducted market research on an attendee’s average spend in the resort community on food, alcohol, and shopping over the weekend. This figure and demographics are dated, so the Food & Wine Classic plans to do a study this year to update the market share landscape.

“We all want to know and it’s so valuable,” Lefevre said.

Judging by the city’s sales tax receipts for June 2019 for the Pre-Pandemic Classic, and then in June 2020 when the event didn’t take place, there’s no doubt how much the event has an impact on the local economy.

Taxable sales in June 2019 were $66 million, including $18 million in accommodations and $11 million in restaurants and bars.

Those numbers dropped that same month in 2020 to $51.9 million in taxable sales, including $6 million in accommodations and $8 million in the restaurant and bar industry.

“It’s the premier culinary event in the country, and having it in Aspen elevates the local culinary scene,” Voss said.

This story was featured in the 39th Aspen Times Food & Wine Classic Weekend magazine, available now locally and at

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