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Meet Sam Toia

...And Find Out Why the New IRA President Wants You to Join Him.

Sam Toia was appointed as president of the Illinois Restaurant Association – the largest foodservice organization in the state – in July 2012. Below is a Q&A with the new president...

What is the Illinois Restaurant Association’s goal?
Our number one goal is to promote, protect, educate and improve the restaurant industry in Illinois.

Why should I become a member of the Illinois Restaurant Association?
We are always working to continually provide our members with important resources. In addition to being part of a thriving community of restaurateurs and business leaders, our members benefit from industry representation at the local, state and national levels of government. They also benefit from our endorsed programs, marketing and publicity opportunities, frequent networking events like our annual Golf Classic and From the Chef’s Table gala, regular news bulletins keeping them informed of the latest industry news, certification and educational opportunities, and more.

What does the Educational Foundation do?
The Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation is our registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization. It works to build the Illinois hospitality workforce through career exploration and development programs, scholarships, and image enhancement. The Foundation works with students at the high school level who are enrolled throughout the program throughout the State. Last year, we raised nearly $130,000 in scholarship funds for students pursuing the industry and our goal is to increase that number from year to year. For those interested in getting involved, there are numerous opportunities to volunteer throughout the year.

What role does the Illinois Restaurant Association play in major culinary events?
The Illinois Restaurant Association is proud to have been selected by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to manage the food, beverage, and ticket management services for Taste of Chicago and some of the city's summer music festivals. The Department is committed to continuously evolving and improving the summer’s festivals, and we appreciate the opportunity to utilize our long-standing experience and knowledge in this area – to make that happen.

Chicago Gourmet is another major culinary event designed by the Illinois Restaurant Association to showcase our world-class dining city. With title sponsor Bon Appetit magazine and presenting sponsor Southern Wine & Spirits, this event continues to be a major initiative for us. In 2012, our fifth anniversary year, we saw more than 11,000 attendees – our biggest turnout yet between the Hamburger Hop on Friday night and the two-day event in Millennium Park on Saturday and Sunday. Over 150 chefs participated in cooking demonstrations, book signings, and tastings, while the country’s top master sommeliers presented educational seminars and tastes of the finest wines in the world. The 2013 event will be held September 27-29, and planning is already underway.

How do you see the restaurant industry continuing to grow in the year ahead?
In 2012, the restaurant industry in Illinois employed over 516,000 people and totaled 20.9 billion in sales. In 2013, we’re looking at a projected 3.7% increase, with 517,900 jobs provided and over $21.7 billion in sales. We are enthusiastic about contributing to the industry’s continued growth in the years ahead.

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