A solid foundation for future Memorial Days

Jack Affleck Special to the Daily

VAIL — Vail may have found a “signature event” for Memorial Day.

Since events have become a crucial part of the valley’s economic engine over the past few years, the inaugural FEAST! Vail culinary festival was pitched as a way to fill what had become a fairly conspicuous hole in the town’s tourism calendar. The problem, especially in Vail, is that Memorial Day weekend weather can be fickle.

With that in mind, the Vail Commission on Special Events sought ideas for events that could be either moved indoors or tent-covered in the event of a snow squall. The answer came from Highline Sports and Entertainment, which proposed a food-based event that also included activities ranging from hiking to fly-fishing to wall climbing.

The idea seems to have found some traction and room for future growth.

Luca Bruno owns a clothing store in Solaris, where the festival’s opening event was held. He also enjoys fine food and wine, and said the event was a success, both personally and professionally.

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Bruno’s store was busy over the weekend — not July or August busy, but busier than a normal Memorial Day, which is generally a quiet weekend for Vail.

“It was surprising… We did well for a weekend in June,” Bruno said.

Jeanne Fritch, owner of the Sitzmark Lodge in Vail Village, said she was out of town over the holiday weekend, but a quick look at the reservation books indicates that this year’s Memorial Day bookings were slightly higher than last year’s holiday weekend.

At Cashmere and Coco, a shop near the gondola in the village, owner Ann Csincsak said the festival weekend exceeded her expectations.

“My expectation was for a semi-normal weekend,” Csincsak said. “A lot of people were in town.”

Csincsak said weekend business at her store was “great,” meaning that a lot of people who walked into her store walked out carrying a shopping bag.

Sarah John, director of group sales and marketing at Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail Village, said the weekend was a great one, with plenty of people from the Front Range coming to town.

“It was a good way to kick off the summer,” John said.

Of course, it helped that the weather was summer-like for the inaugural Memorial Day weekend event. Most restaurants that were open enjoyed full patios around lunchtime over the weekend.

James Deighan of Highline Sports said there were plenty of ticket sales in the days just before the event, as the weather forecast started to promise sunny skies. Deighan said a lot of people also plan their Memorial Day trips in the weeks following Mothers Day, so he expected ticket sales to pick up in the days before the event.

Deighan said the Friday tasting event at Solaris, the kickoff to the weekend, sold out, with an additional ticket offering also selling out quickly.

Besides the weather, Deighan said the event got a boost from the addition of a couple of high-profile chefs, including Frank Bonanno, from Denver’s Mizuna Restaurant.

“(Bonanno) told me he wants to be a part of the event as long as we have it,” Deighan said.

People who enjoyed the events also praised the way FEAST! Vail came together.

“Highline did a great job,” Bruno said. “It was a great idea and a really great event.”

Deighan said this year’s success, from the food to the activities to the weather, has gotten FEAST! Vail off to a good start.

“We’ve really built the foundation for years to come,” Deighan said, adding that he believes the event could eventually become one of the premier culinary events in the mountains in the not-too-distant future.

Still, it may take a while before FEAST! Vail really becomes the summer kick-off it’s intended to be.

Fritch said the Sitzmark’s summer really kicks off with the GoPro Mountain Games.

“The Mountains Games is a great jolt, and then it gets quiet again for a while,” she said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at

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