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Salt Lake City restaurants and bars brace for an NBA All-Star boom

Vivint Arena, seen here on Feb. 8, 2023, is preparing to host the NBA All-Star Weekend, happening Feb. 17-19 in Salt Lake City.
Curtis Booker
Vivint Arena, seen here on Feb. 8, 2023, is preparing to host the NBA All-Star Weekend, happening Feb. 17-19 in Salt Lake City.

Utah, the state of sport — a name given by the Utah Sports Commission, and for a good reason.

According to Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, an estimated 120,000 people are expected to visit Northern Utah and Salt Lake City for the NBA All-Star Weekend. But how are local businesses preparing to handle the crowds?

Utah isn't unfamiliar with major sporting events. Salt Lake City hosted NBA all-star festivities in 1993 and the Winter Olympics in 2002.

"I remember working at the Olympics and how fun that was,” said Bridget Gordon, owner of the Green Pig Pub in downtown. “And this [all-star weekend] is going to be like, you know, the Olympics all wrapped up in four days."

Back during the winter games, she was trainee manager at the now defunct Port O’Call. Now she’s got her own place and has been hiring extra staff ahead of both the Super Bowl and the NBA All-Star Weekend, but they are still under-staffed.

"We actually have, I think three or four more employees starting this week too, to be ready for next weekend."

Gordon said a full staff is typically around 58 employees. They have 37 employees right now and are actively looking to hire more.

Even before big events like the all-star game were booked, hiring has been a challenge across Utah. The state’s unemployment has been a steady and enviable 2%, but that good news comes with hiring challenges. There’s a lot of demand and not enough labor to fill it. Nurses, drivers for buses and plows, postal workers and, yes, restaurant workers have all been hard to come by.

There’s just a brighter spotlight now that the NBA is coming to town.

When it comes to preparing for a major event, Reed Slobusky is also no stranger to ensuring staffing is in place. He's CEO of Nice Hospitality which operates Italian Graffiti as well as Hall Pass SLC, both located inside The Gateway. They also have operations in Las Vegas, which hosted the NBA All-Star Weekend in 2007.

"[We] have a lot of people coming up from Vegas to help work the weekend. And you know, we're just going to keep it in front of us. Turn off DoorDash and Uber Eats for a few days and just focus on all our guests in the building."

Italian Graffiti opened back in November and Slobusky said it is already fully booked for All-Star Weekend.

With a projected economic impact of over $250 million during the NBA All-Star Weekend, Gordon said despite the challenges they're ready for the influx of business.

"We'll have a special menu going for next weekend just because of the volume that we'll be doing. We need to kind of scale down the menu a bit, but we'll have some really great specials to make up for that. So we're going to have a little fun with that."

Curtis Booker is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in Central Utah.
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