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Hans Koepsell, Deseret News

Utah catering company sues Eccles Theater owner for $1.5 million

By Katie McKellar, KSL | Posted - Sep. 28, 2018 at 7:13 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah catering company is suing the government agency that owns and manages the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City for $1.5 million, claiming lost revenue due to a breach of contract.

The company, Cuisine Unlimited, filed the lawsuit in 3rd District Court on Thursday, claiming an "egregious breach of contract" by the Utah Performing Arts Center Agency, which has caused "devastating financial harm to a well-established, well-loved Utah family business," the suit states.

Cuisine Unlimited was awarded a bid in 2014 to host food and beverage service at the 2,500-seat theater, which has become a popular part of Salt Lake City's nightlife.

Maxine Turner, Cuisine Unlimited's founder, said Friday the lawsuit comes after a year of effort to resolve financial issues with the theater's managing agency, but to no avail. The suit, she said, was a "last resort."

"We didn't sit back," Turner said. "We took our concerns directly to the people that we reported to, and it fell on deaf ears."

The lawsuit alleges the theater's managing agency "grossly overstated" the seating capacity of the theater's event space in its request for proposal for catering services, causing Cuisine Unlimited to lose revenue.

"Unfortunately all of those figures were grossly inflated," Turner said. "They inflated the capacity in some instances as much as 70 percent, so we were bidding on a false premise."

Turner said though they were awarded the full contract, it wasn't until a year later that the formal contract was presented and agreed upon.

"At that point in time, we again relied on the information within the (request for proposal) to be true and accurate," Turner said.

Turner noted that during that time, the theater was still under construction, "so it was impossible for us to even see what was going on" and they had no opportunity to check on what would be reasonable for the bid.

"In all honesty, if we had known the truth about the Eccles Theater and the true capacity ... we never would have bid on the project," she said.

Turner said the question of "why it is so many errors occurred" is one that should be asked of Eccles' management.

"We've asked it, and we cannot get a response," she said.

Jennifer Fraser Parrish, Utah Performing Arts Center Agency's attorney, said in an emailed statement Friday the claims against the agency "have no merit."

She also noted that the complaint misstated the name of the agency in the complaint, but when the "proper entity is named and served, (we) will respond accordingly in the Third District Court."

"(Utah Performing Arts Center Agency) acted in good faith under its contract with Cuisine," Parrish said. "I cannot comment further given the pending litigation, but look forward to the facts coming to light in court."

The agency's board of directors includes officials from Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City government.

According to the suit, Cuisine Unlimited lists several issues it faced when working for the theater.

Those included a decrease in seating capacity from up to 350 people for banquets in the lobby and 700 people for receptions down to as low as 150 people.

Cuisine Unlimited also invested in upgrades to its commercial kitchen, expecting the contract with the theater would allow food to be prepared off-site, but discovered otherwise — contrary to the agency's representation — when the company applied for a state liquor license, which required the food to be prepared on-site, according to the suit.

The catering company also claims the theater's managing agency "hampered Cuisine Unlimited's ability to attract events to the venue by unilaterally imposing a 90-day cancellation period on any event booked by" the company, according to the suit.

"As a result, Cuisine Unlimited's marketing efforts were eviscerated — few potential customers were willing to schedule an event with the possibility that it could be canceled unilaterally by (the agency) a mere three months before it was to occur," the lawsuit states.

Turner said the intent of her company, which was founded in 1985, is not to "damage" the theater.

"We love the theater. We miss being at the theater," Turner said. "But this is not the way Utah treats a small business, and they have to take responsibility for the damage they have caused." Email: Twitter: KatieMcKellar1

Katie McKellar

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