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How Park City Prepares for The Sundance Film Festival

How a Park City restaurant owner prepares for the Sundance Film Festival. When the world comes to Park City on January 18, how do local businesses cope?


In 2017, when A Long Strange Trip – The Story of the Grateful Dead, had a private performance at The Spur Bar & Grill, the production process was immense. For weeks prior to the event, details like food and bar menus were being tweaked. In addition, the documentary’s organizers worked with city planners to arrange for special permits, including any temporary overhead or wrap-around signage that was required. Additionally, as the musical show was strictly for A-List entertainers, event security needed to be heightened. 

According to Courtney Johanson, managing partner of four of Park City’s most popular dining destinations, there were five levels of security, including The Spur’s own private service. “Many of the fans had purchased The Spur’s t-shirts in advance, and then tried to get into the location by impersonating our wait staff. They would try to sneak in through the kitchen and the delivery doors. It was crazy.” 

After working on Main Street since 1996, Johanson is a veritable savant at navigating the intricacies of the country’s largest cinema celebration — the Sundance Film Festival. 

“Each year is just an incredible, fun, and intense time. I often go for 48 hours straight without sleeping,” Johanson exclaimed. 

Her fête education began as a hostess at the young age of 14. With many firm words, impatient huffs, and “Don’t you know who I am’s?” being directed her way, the teenager quickly learned how to manage the expectations of spectators, fans, handlers, and talent. 

Park City’s Main Street will welcome the Sundance Film Festival from January 18, 2024 through January 28, 2024. Photo by Angelica Jardiel | Sundance Film Institute.

Fast forward to today, with her four locations on Main Street — 350 Main, The Spur Bar & Grill, The Star Bar, and Big Dipper Park City — Johanson handles much more than just seating. In fact, preparations for the Sundance Film Festival begin long before its opening day in January.

Her work started in July when “big groups”— like production companies, talent agencies, and sponsors— began negotiating times, spaces, and concepts. 

“The main emphasis is on the first weekend of the festival. They all plan out their parties and social events well in advance. For example, for many years we have worked with WME talent agency, and they will often rent out a space for 2 to 3 days to entertain their special talent, agents, and guests.”

August and September are used to finalize menus, permits, requests, etc. Then in December, once the film’s lineup is announced, preparations for premier dinners, press junkets, and VIP parties begin. “When a company wants to use our space for an event, there are many steps and considerations that need to be taken to make it work,” Johanson stated. 

As fervid as a VIP screening can be, when companies rent a space for more than 24 hours, the day-of preparations are even more intense. It all begins at 1am, when Johanson supervises the dismantling and removal of the location’s interior decor, including furniture, artwork, lighting etc. 

At 2am, the event decor is delivered and set-up. At 8am, the restaurant staff arrives for their extended shift, and Johnson grabs a quick shut eye, before the real excitement begins. 

10am is “launch time” when brunch is served until mid-afternoon. At 4pm, dinner service begins and runs until 9pm, when the decor is quickly changed into a nightclub scene and food and drinks are served until 1am.

 Johanson and her staff get a few hours of sleep and start over again the next day.

Sundance is a 10-day adrenaline rush, and you do what you have to do to get through it. All of my team carry a survival bag — protein bar, energy drinks, toiletry bag, extra set of clothes — to their shift. You just never know what will happen. By the time you’ve completed your after-close cleanup, you may have only a few hours before your next shift. Staffers that don’t live in Old Town will often crash on a co-workers couch.”

Johanson acknowledges that the pace and intensity during Sundance can be exhausting, but she expects this year to be a little less stressful. The organizers have changed up the schedule a bit, with all the premiers and big events taking place over the first weekend. After that, many of the showings and panels will be available online, which will allow the town to slow down for the final few days. 

“It means shorter events and less large bookings, which will be a nice change of pace. However, I still expect this year will bring many wonderful experiences and amazing people through our doors.”  

On that note, we wondered, out of the hundreds of celebrities she has met over the years, which ones stand out to her? 

One of the packed screenings at Sundance. Photo by Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet | Sundance Film Institute.

“Honestly, most of the stars and entertainers are wonderful people and delightful to work with. However, I do have a few favorites. The first being the late and great Robin Williams. He was dining at 350 Main when I was a hostess. I was around 19 at the time, and a patron was being particularly hard on me. Mr. Williams came over to me and told me to ignore that awful person and that I was doing a fantastic job. His compassion and empathy were so genuine, he made me feel amazing.  

Another person that is so authentic and down-to-earth is Matt Damon. He remembers me year after year and always asks how I am doing. And lastly, I have to say that John Legend is one of the absolute sweetest, kindest people I have ever known.” 

This year, Johanson doesn’t know which celebrities will stop by for an entree or cocktail at her four locations, but whoever does, you can be sure that her seasoned staff will be well prepared and ready for them, and for another fabulous festival.In 2024, the Sundance Film Festival will run from January 18th through the 28th. Tickets, passes, and packages are available here , and include discount rates for Utah residents.

Feature Image of the Egyptian Theatre, one of the venues for the Sundance Film Festival. Photo by Jonathan Hickerson | Sundance Film Institute.

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