Breckenridge restaurant group funds student scholarships |

Breckenridge restaurant group funds student scholarships

Jessica Smith
Summit Daily/Jessica Smith

Spring is generally considered to be a slow season here in Summit County, sandwiched between the winter and summer visiting crowds. Businesses close for renovations, locals go on vacation and life in general seems to slow. But that’s just from the business angle. Elsewhere in the community, things are happening, particularly in the schools as students prepare to move to the next grade level and seniors look ahead to graduation.

The Breckenridge Restaurant Association wanted to find a way to use the slow mud season to benefit the community. For years, the BRA has donated money to graduating seniors through its scholarship fund, but its members wanted to do more. Two years ago, the BRA came up with the idea of the Dining Passport — a $10 booklet with mud season restaurant deals — which has since brought in thousands of dollars for the scholarship fund.

Passport to progress

The idea of the passport is simple. For $10, a person receives the passport, a small booklet with a green cover that lists mud season deals for 21 restaurants in Breckenridge. This includes two-for-one deals, 10 to 15 percent off deals and more. It also includes closing and reopening dates throughout the season.

“The neat thing about it, I feel, (is) it gives customers something in their hand that lets them know in the shorter seasons when restaurants are open and closed and what they’re doing, in addition to being a benefit to the community, putting the money right back into the scholarships,” said Matt Feckler, member of the BRA as well as chef and owner of restaurants Relish and Twist in Breckenridge.

While the passport is helpful for diners and restaurants, its real benefit is the money that it routes back into the community, the BRA members say. While a small portion of the money goes to printing the passport booklet, the rest of the funds go toward the scholarship program or donations to local community organizations in the fall.

Supporting their own

In order to qualify for the Breckenridge Restaurant Association Scholarship, students must have a parent who works in the food and beverage industry, have worked in the industry themselves or have plans to build a career in that industry.

The high school counselor distributes the application form, which includes a written element, that the BRA members then look over and approve. They decide the best way to divide up the money.

In the first year of the passport, the BRA raised $7,000 for the scholarship fund. Both this year and last year, that number has risen to $10,000.

“It grew the year we started doing the passport program (and) we were able to give more,” said Ken Nelson, president of the BRA and owner of four restaurants in Breckenridge.

This year, seven Summit High School seniors were awarded the BRA scholarship. Recipients are often headed toward places such as the Johnson and Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts in Denver. Others, who qualify because they or a parent have worked in the industry, are also going on to good schools, though not necessarily culinary related.

“You read the applications and some of these kids, they’re academically gifted and involved in many, many organizations and working part time or full time even all through the school year and during the summers, and how they get it all done is beyond me, because they’re amazing,” said Dick Carlton, managing partner for Mi Casa and Hearthstone restaurants and BRA member. Carlton has read many scholarship applications and last year attended the local scholarship awards ceremony.

“It’s really powerful,” he said of the ceremony. “It’s really neat to hear how talented the kids are and also to see how much our community supports them.”

Nelson attended this year’s award ceremony, an experience which he also described as powerful.

“Reviewing (the applications) is amazing, because you get to know the kids and their backgrounds and where they’ve come from. Some of them, it was never any question that they were going to go to college; other kids, it’s like, ‘Wow I never thought I would get there, I’m the first person in my family to go to college’ — those kinds of stories,” he said. “Then when we finally do meet them at the ceremony, you put a face to the name finally, and that’s cool.”

Nelson said he and his fellow BRA members are pleased with the success of the Dining Passport program and plan to continue it this fall and the following year.

In the fall, passport funds are donated to local community programs. Last year, the BRA donated $10,000 to Summit County Cares, a program that donates money to various nonprofits throughout the county, including the Summit Community Care Clinic, which serves many restaurant industry employees in Summit.

“For me it’s a real win-win positive program all the way around,” Carlton said. “I know the locals of Summit County enjoy the restaurant discounts during the spring, and it’s a nice way to be able to have everyone participate in a program that really benefits the youth in Summit County.”

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