Winter 2018-19 turned out to be a good one for downtown restaurants.
Establishments as upscale as Trio An American Bistro and down-home as Moe’s Original BBQ saw strong sales, and others had their best winter ever. Restaurateurs said big snow, an ample number of flights and Jackson Hole’s growing appeal as a destination played a role. Some also said the Ikon Pass deserves credit. Though the bargain multiresort ski pass riled some locals, who blamed it for long lift lines, crowded slopes and jammed parking lots, it helped fill restaurant seats.
“It certainly generated a lot of traffic in town,” said Julien Lacourse, general manager of Thai Me Up. “We certainly benefited from it.”
Graeme Swain, who operates Gather with his wife, Christine Mara Swain, described winter 2018-19 as an “astonishing” season, with sales up 39% from last year.
“It was our best winter on record,” he said. “If I could have every winter like this I would be the happiest person alive.”
Swain said “thank you” to the Village.
“Whoever made the decision to bring in the Ikon Pass, I think that person deserves a lot of credit,” he said. “Ikon was great for business.
“We are a tourist town,” said Swain, who also owns Palate with his wife. “We want traffic. The people who make their money to live here, they have to have that income stream. ... The people who live here are dependent on locals and tourists alike.”
Solid business during peak visitor periods is essential to balancing the offseason slowdowns.
“If you have a winter that’s strong and your summer is strong, that’s awesome,” Swain said.
The best day in Thai Me Up’s history was March 15, when Grace Potter performed on Town Square for the Rendezvous Festival.
But it was a strong season in general at the Pearl Avenue restaurant and brewery, and Lacourse said good air service played a role.
“The town and the parks have been advocating to have more flights into this town for five or 10 years,” he said, “and that definitely came to fruition a little bit.”
As a skier and businessperson Lacourse sees the Ikon Pass from both perspectives. He said he couldn’t fault anyone for taking advantage of such a good deal, yet he also understood why local skiers were miffed.
But was Ikon good for Thai Me Up?
“Hell, yeah,” Lacourse said. “We did very well.
“As a recreational skier I was frustrated with the amount of traffic that was at the Village,” he said. “However, operating a business, I couldn’t be more thrilled with the level of traffic we had here in this town.”
For three winters Local has operated at capacity. This past winter was a good one for the Town Square bar and restaurant, thanks to the great snowpack and increased traffic at Teton Village, but it was not a record-breaker.
However, General Manager Jessica Wireman said, “our check averages were higher than previous winters. People were spending money and dining out, for sure.”
And the Ikon Pass didn’t hurt, either. It “definitely increased business,” she said.
Blue Collar Restaurant Group owner Joe Rice also spoke enthusiastically about winter 2018-19, and, like Swain, stressed how good it is for employees when his eateries are busy.
“It was definitely a great winter,” Rice said. “And record-setting.”
He was at Merry Piglets when he spoke, but he said his other restaurants, including Liberty Burger, Bubba’s, Sidewinders and Noodle Kitchen, did well, too.
“A number of factors” made for strong business, including the valley’s tourist appeal, he said.
“I just think Jackson is becoming more and more popular,” Rice said. “I just think in general people want to be here.”
That has smoothed out the peaks and valleys for businesses. Rice remembers when winter wasn’t such a happy time.
“In the early ’90s and early 2000s there was no real winter business,” Rice said. “Now our offseasons are shorter.”
For service employees, including those who depend on tips and, therefore, customer traffic, a strong winter is a boon.
“That’s the big thing that people have to realize,” Rice said. “For people that have families and work in these jobs, it gives us the ability to give raises and better bonuses.
“It helps everybody, not just the owners,” he said. “It goes down to everyone in the company.”