On the third night of Allen & Company’s annual financial conference in Sun Valley, ID, two notable attendees ditched the elite cast of conference guests and headed off on their own. Rather than go to one of the many private events hosted by the investment firm, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went to an intimate dinner at a local restaurant in Ketchum (a neighboring town to Sun Valley), says a source who sat at a table nearby.
The restaurant and wine bar, Enoteca, is a local favorite. Zuckerberg and Christie nearly blended into its atmosphere, but a buff body guard standing near the bar was a key giveaway that people outside the restaurant’s regulars were in attendance. Christie also ditched his suit and tie in favor of a bright red shirt and high-waisted pants.
The dinner is newsworthy not only because of its tablemates, but because Allen & Company attendees rarely leave the historic Sun Valley Lodge where the conference is hosted each year to venture into the local community. Despite the waves the conference makes with its multi-million dollar deals and acquisitions, the small and sleepy ski town of Sun Valley is hardly disrupted when the conference rolls through town. Sure, it’s hard not to notice the full line up of private jets parked on the tarmac at nearby Friedman Memorial Airport and the caravan of black suburbans sitting outside Sun Valley Lodge, but there tends to be little trace of the corporate execs, media elites and tech entrepreneurs when they come for their week-long stay.
“Allen & Company keeps their guests sequestered to the Sun Valley Lodge, so we have virtually no interaction with them,” said Mark Eshman, a Sun Valley local and chairman of investment firm ClearRock Capital. “When they’re not in meetings, they and their families are shuttled by private transportation to fish, hike, raft, or BBQ under heavy (but nearly invisible) security.”
Even when conference attendees like Zuckerberg and Christie go into the local community, residents tend to leave them alone. Locals are used to seeing celebs. Tom Hanks, John Kerry, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore are some of the big names who call Ketchum their second home.
“We welcome the conference, but it’s your typical Sun Valley, low-key welcome,” said Editor and Associate Publisher of FOCUS, a mountain lifestyle magazine based in Sun Valley Ryan Waterfield. “There is no rubber-necking to get a glimpse of a tech tycoon or a Wall Street wizard.”
Another reason why the locals tend to let Allen & Company attendees enjoy their semi-vacation in peace is because the huge economic benefit the conference brings to the community every year. It’s difficult to quantify the exact boost Sun Valley gets each year because Allen & Company deals largely with confidential contracts with local businesses, but the impact is likely to be significant. Aside from the food caterers, outdoor guides and entertainers that the conference employs, the firm also hires several locals to babysit the children of conference attendees and take photographs at all the events. (Full disclosure: I was one such local babysitter and a long-time Sun Valley resident.)
There are also murmurs around town that Allen & Company is a key reason the local government keeps the town’s infrastructure up to snuff, says resident Lenny Barshack. The town has better wireless coverage than surrounding communities, an advantage that some locals attribute, in part, to ensuring the conference comes back every year, he added.
While it’s safe to assume that Christie and Zuck were chatting last night about the latest troubling developments surrounding the Facebook founder’s $100 million gift to help reform schools in Newark, NJ., our insider sources didn’t strain to hear details of the conversation. Says Barshack: “Locals tend to care more about what trails are good to hike or runs to ski, not who is in town.”