Feb 282007
 
Authors: Elena Ulyanova

In the midst of being recognized as the “most fit” state, Fort Collins cannot deny its many restaurants and its related love for dining out.

For the second year “Great Plates” will celebrate that notion as more than 20 downtown restaurants feature evening dining specials that will begin today and continue for the next two weeks.

“Clearly there is a passion for eating,” said Peggy Lyle, entertainment director of the Downtown Business Association. “So we are teaming up of all the DBA member restaurants downtown, great promotions and great sponsors, and coming together and offering Fort Collins one of the things that they enjoy doing most, which is dining out.”

The culinary feast will offer dinner specials for the price of $18.68 as a way to honor the year Fort Collins was established.

“Downtown is not only an entertainment and cultural center of Fort Collins, but also the historical center of Fort Collins,” Lyle said. “What better way to honor that than use the year it was established as kind of the baseline for that event?”

The specials include a dining experience for a family of four, a romantic dinner for two or an exquisite gourmet meal for one.

Lyle said Great Plates, which was created last year by the Downtown Business Association, has already successfully packed Fort Collins’ downtown restaurants and is anticipated to be even more successful this year.

“Last year I said I would determine if it was successful by how busy we were the second Monday of the event, and that night we were on a wait, on a Monday, so it was hugely successful and I look forward to doing it again,” said Scott Smith, owner of CooperSmith’s Pub and Brewing.

Smith, who also took part in creating the event, said the idea for an event like Great Plates was “kind of stolen” from Denver.

“After talking to my friend who he said he had gone down to Denver for dinner three nights in a row, I thought ‘Why can’t we do this?'” Smith said.

However, the original idea for this type of event began in New York City after Sept. 11 to encourage the city to dine out again and bring the community together.

Great Plates has similar goals, and Lyle also said that one of them is to include opportunities for every spectrum of the community, not just one or two segments.

“Some participating restaurants are places where people get to taste things and go out to places they normally wouldn’t and haven’t,” Lyle said.

The idea is that Great Plates will unveil new dining opportunities for people because of the great deals, which will result in fewer restrictions due to financial reasons for families or companies that want to take their staff out for an event.

“It can bring new opportunities to their doors as consumers,” Lyle said. “Maybe there are some places that they haven’t gotten around to trying, and maybe Great Plates is a way to experience those new flavors.”

Still in its adolescence, Great Plates is in the process of growing and possibly expanding into an all-over downtown event.

This year, the event is only located in the restaurant establishments themselves, which is something Lyle said may change in the years to come.

One of the external additions is the participation of Fort Collins Floral. For the price of $18.68, the company will deliver a bouquet to a table at the participating restaurants.

Another possible change in the years down the road is to make sure more vegetarian options are included in the specials, because there are currently only a few. Lyle said that since the restaurants get to choose the specials, and often they are striving for exclusive deals, they frequently include meat or seafood products that are generally more expensive.

“Next year we may emphasize that they need to include more vegetarian options,” Lyle said. “With it only being two years old we are still on that learning curve, where we can include some of those improvements every year as we get a little more experience under out belt.”

Yet, even in its formative years, Great Plates has already proved its contribution to the community and the downtown restaurants.

“This is a really wonderful way of helping the restaurants during a typically slow time of their year,” Lyle said. “What a better time to celebrate community than when people aren’t traveling and there aren’t as many tourists? This is a time for Fort Collins and its restaurants.”

To assist the restaurants in their ability to provide such great deals, the Downtown Business Association teamed up with sponsors First National Bank and Yancey’s Food Service Co.

As a food distributor to many of the downtown restaurants, Yancey’s Food Service Co. has contributed on a bronze sponsorship level which will in turn help the businesses’ ability to provide such great deals.

“We are sponsoring Great Plates to support those downtown restaurants and what they’re trying to achieve there,” said Jill Almirall, marketing director at Yancey’s Food Service Co. “Downtown Fort Collins has come a long way, its becoming an area where the community can get together and experience good food and wine and music, this event makes it more attractive to people.”

“Any time people get together around a feast or food I think it promotes friendliness, community and a sense of belonging,” Lyle said. “Eating food is historically a time for people to come together, celebrate, talk or have a romantic encounter. All of those things happen around food, and it is in the nature of mankind to use food as a way to celebrate.”

Staff writer Elena Ulyanova can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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Given that the restaurants do get very busy, especially in the second week, Lyle suggested making reservations prior to dining out.

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