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October 2013

Highlights of Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet


From Left: Adam Rapoport, Editor-in-Chief Bon Appétit magazine, Hugh Acheson, Five & Ten/The National/Empire State South, Lorena Garcia, The Lorena Garcia Group, Art Smith, Table fifty-two

We are pleased to announce the outcome of Chicago Gourmet 2013, presented by title sponsor Bon Appétit magazine in conjunction with presenting sponsor Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois. Tickets for the Hamburger Hop, the festival's Friday night kick-off event, completely sold out this year, as did the newly added Late Night Gourmet, presented by CS magazine. Saturday and Sunday Main Event passes were also entirely swooped up, as were those for the prestigious Grand Cru, presented by The Private Client Reserve of U.S. Bank.
The weekend welcomed a total crowd of 12,456 attendees, the largest showing since the event's 2008 inception.

"We couldn't have asked for a better outcome," said Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia.  "Chicago Gourmet truly showcases the world-class culinary talent our city has to offer. We are grateful to our sponsors and attendees for making Chicago Gourmet a sold-out success, and can't wait to see what 2014 holds!"
Highlights of Chicago Gourmet 2013 included: 

Bottom Row (from Left): Chef Jeff Mauro of Food Network's "Sandwich King", Chef Scott Walton of Howells & Hood, and Adam Rapoport, Editor-in-Chief Bon Appétit magazine

Top Row (from Left): IRA President Sam Toia, Todd Hatoff, President of Allen Brothers Steaks, and Andrew Knowlton, Restaurant Editor Bon Appétit magazine

Hamburger Hop and Late Night Gourmet. A festive launch to the epicurean weekend, the fourth annual Hamburger Hop - presented by Allen Brothers Steaks and Blue Moon Brewing Company - sold out with more than 1,100 guests in attendance. From a field of 15 determined competitors, the two chefs that emerged victorious at the ultimate burger showdown included Chef Scott Walton of Howells & Hood, who received the judge-selected Allen Brothers Award, and Jeff Mauro of the Food Network's hit show "Sandwich King," who took home the People's Choice Award for his creation.

The newly added Late Night Gourmet, presented by CS magazine, welcomed over 600 guests at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel. There, late night revelers ate and danced the night away to the beats of DJ Rock City and Chicago chefs Graham Elliot (graham elliot, g.e.b.), Ryan Poli (Tavernita, Little Market Brasserie), and Billy Dec (Rockit Ranch Productions).

From Left: Andrew Knowlton, Hugh Acheson, Sara Moulton, Adam Rapoport, Graham Elliot, and Hubert Keller

More Chefs. Hubert Keller. Hugh Acheson. Sara Moulton. Gale Gand. Art Smith. Graham Elliot. Lorena Garcia. Takashi Yagihashi. Tony Mantuano. Homaro Cantu. These were just some of the nationally recognized culinary greats who graced the Bon Appétit Main Stage, Barbara's Bookstore, the Great Lawn, the Grand Cru, and more. Star struck attendees had the opportunity to rub elbows with more than 175 of Chicago's top chefs at this year's

More Food. This year, event goers indulged in more food than ever before. The Great Lawn of Millennium Park featured 11 Tasting Pavilions - increased from previous years - where Chicago's finest chefs fed 5,351 hungry fans on Saturday, and 5,402 on Sunday.

Grander Grand Cru. The ultimate wine experience on the Harris Theater Rooftop, the separately ticketed Grand Cru, presented by The Private Client Reserve of U.S. Bank, offered 400 attendees each day the opportunity to taste some of the finest wines in the world, as selected by the event's internationally recognized Master Sommeliers.  New in 2013, the Grand Cru went global with the addition of culinary tastings from 9 internationally renowned chefs, five of whom carry esteemed Michelin stars. Each visiting chef has been paired with a Chicago-based, Michelin-starred counterpart to present a side-by-side tasting. The visiting international chefs are members of the Délice Network, a group of 19 cities across four continents whose mission is to promote the benefits of culinary excellence. Chicago is a proud member of the Délice Network. (Pictured above: Chef Angel Vazquez, Chef Carlos Gaytan, and Chef Svetlana Riskova)

New in 2013. Inventive new offerings this year included the Global Market, where local producers had an opportunity to share and sell their products. The Chef Smackdowns, which took place on the Bon Appétit Culinary Stage in the Global Market, were hugely successful with friendly competitions in categories like tacos, fried chicken, sausage, meatballs, seafood, and ghost pepper. The newly added Dessert Pavilion shined a light on Chicago's fine pastry talent, while the La Femme du Chef Pavilion introduced event goers to many of Chicago's leading ladies in the culinary industry.

Save the date for next year: September 26-28, 2014!


From the Chef's Table 

Ticket's for the Chef's Table are now on sale!  Please join us Friday, November 8 from 6:00 to 10:00pm at the Hyatt Regency Chicago for the 36th Annual Restaurateurs for Education event.  The annual event celebrates and honors the foodservice industry while raising funds that benefit the Illinois Restaurant Association's Educational Foundation (IRAEF). Funds from the proceeds of the event support our student culinary program, ProStart®, and also awards scholarships to our future industry stars, to assist them with their post-secondary education.
The event features: 
• Over 600 Foodservice Attendees
• Food Stations from Top Chicago Restaurants
• Great Networking Opportunities
• Fabulous Silent Auction
• DJ and Entertainment
Click Here to Buy Tickets Now! 
 Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation's Scholarship Initiative  
& ProStart Program

Each year, with your support, the Educational Foundation awards scholarships to students interested in the restaurant/hospitality industry.  To date, over $2.25 million in scholarships have been awarded.  
The cost for this event is $250 for a single ticket and $2,500 for a table of ten.  Enjoy networking with over 600 foodservice professionals, food stations from top Illinois restaurants, fabulous silent auction packages, music and entertainment.
Sponsorships Available:
• Presenting Sponsor - $20,000
• Epicurean Sponsor - $10,000
• Connoisseur - $5,000
• Patron - $3,000
Please register online for the 2013 Chef's Table at or by emailing Andy Peters at


Spotlight on Video Gaming: Gold Rush Amusements


Fred Hoffman of Ala Carte Entertainment sits at one of the Gold Rush Gaming video gaming terminals in his restaurant.  

Back in July of 2009, the state of Illinois legalized the use of video games in licensed bars, restaurants, truck stops, and fraternal and veteran’s establishments. Efforts to get the video games up and running were stalled for a few years, but the machines finally went live in October of 2012, and the presence of video games in all sanctioned businesses has steadily increased. Presently, there are almost 10,000 terminals operating in the state, and millions of dollars of public and private revenue have been generated.  There are a number of different video game operators in Illinois, but foremost among them may be Gold Rush Gaming, based in Glendale Heights and owned by husband-and-wife team Rick and Alisa Heidner.

The company currently operates 488 machines in 110 different locations throughout the state, and with over thirty years of experience in the Chicagoland amusement industry, the Heidner team has built a foundation of trust and success amongst local businesses.

“I’ve known Rick for many years and his integrity is unquestionable,” said Fred Hoffman, CEO of Chicagoland restaurant operator Ala Carte Entertainment. “He has taken video gaming to a new level with his service, machines, inventory and technicians. We talked to a lot of different companies, but nobody could compare with what Rick had to offer.”

Local restaurateurs are beginning to see the benefits video gaming can offer their businesses, and how they can give them an edge in today’s hard-bitten economy.

“If the establishment down the street has video gaming, then it puts you at a disadvantage, “ said Hoffman. “I can’t think of any location I own that I would not put video gaming into.”

Heidner himself believes the machines are an invaluable boon to businesses.

“We have a very high pay-back rate on these machines,” he said.

Available figures on video gaming revenue seem to support Heidner’s claim. The terminals can reportedly bring $25 million annually into the state. As the competitive landscape amongst Illinois restaurant and bar operators continues to evolve, new methods to create and sustain revenue will be critical. The role video game operators like Gold Rush Gaming could play may prove pivotal in determining which businesses flourish, and which ones struggle to survive.


MOD MEX Benefits Culinary Scholarship Programs

Chef Rick Bayless welcomed his esteemed culinary contemporaries – Alex Stupak (Empellón, NYC), Carlos Gaytan (Mexique, Chicago) and Jorge Vallejo (Quintonil, Mexico City) to Chicago for a unique collaboration to benefit culinary scholarship programs provided by the Kendall College Charitable Trust and the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA) Educational Foundation.  Scholarships for Mexican-American students have been offered through the Kendall College Charitable Trust in partnership with Rick Bayless since 2007. In 2013, the IRA Educational Foundation awarded $145,000 in scholarships to 61 deserving students to help advance its mission of building the future of Illinois’ hospitality workforce.
Together, the award-winning chefs presented MOD MEX, a two-day program giving food enthusiasts a rare opportunity to explore, taste, and celebrate the evolution of Mexican cuisine with those who have defined and continue to influence this category. The two-day program began with interactive demos and tastings conducted by each of the four chefs at Kendall College on September 14th.  Dinner on September 15th was an outstanding collaboration by the four chefs on a five-course dinner.  Each course was expertly paired with wine and spirits, and was held at the award winning Frontera Grill.

The IRA recently had the opportunity to speak Nick Sarillo, Owner of Nick's Pizza and Pub, about how Nick got into the restaurant business and tools of the trade he has come to learn.
How did you get into the pizza business?

I was fortunate enough to grow up in the restaurant business with my dad’s restaurants and inherited some amazing recipes and even though I tried to avoid the restaurant business by being in construction for 10 years of my young adult life, I couldn’t avoid the opportunity to bring community and families together around great food. 
October is National Pizza Month…how do you celebrate?

We celebrate nation pizza month all year round! Specifically this month we are highlighting our Nick’s Special pizza for our guests. 
What is "Pizza on Purpose"?

It’s a play on words with a double meaning.  At one level, we are intentionally making great pizza and have great recipes for our sauce, dough, sausage and cheese- all of which are made from scratch. The second meaning is part of an opportunity for every business.  We have made the conscious choice to define excellence (recipe) for our organization's culture.  By defining “why” our company exists (our purpose) our team and our guests understand what makes us different than the restaurant down the street. Our purpose is “The Nick’s Experience” which reads: Our dedicated family provides this community an unforgettable place; to connect with your family and friends to have fun and to feel at home! That’s Pizza on Purpose! 
Last year you penned A Slice of Pie: How to build a Big Little Business.  What inspired you to write the book?

I found a way to create meaning at work and create a positive environment while being profitable and I really wanted to share that.  Not only do I have more fun because my work doesn’t feel like work, but also my team spends their days enjoying their lives instead of just having a job.  The book was really the first part and we’ve actually created the Nick’s University to expand our reach in sharing these concepts with even more people! 
Nick's Pizza & Pub is the sixth busiest independent pizza company in per-store sales in the US.  To what do you attribute your success?

Our team, each and every person that works at Nick’s Pizza & Pub.  I helped us connect with a bigger purpose and supported the use of our values, but the team is the key to the success.
What is your favorite kind of pizza?

Sausage, mushroom, onion and green pepper is my favorite and a tradition for us – also known as the“Nick’s Special!”


News & Notes

IRA Membership Hosts Winning with Social Media


A sold-out, 190 attendees spent an afternoon with the Illinois Restaurant Association to join the social media discussion.  The Illinois Restaurant Association hosted is first Lunch and Learn panel discussion on Wednesday September 11, 2013 at Kendall College.   The event was geared toward owner/operators and their marketing/social media teams.  The event was titled Winning with Social Media and featured a buffet networking luncheon plus a panel discussion focused on how restaurants are using current social media engines as part of their overall marketing.   Our member-panelists addressed the ever-changing social media landscape and shared best practices and lots of lessons learned as they integrate traditional and social marketing efforts.
Illinois Restaurant Association Board Member Glenn Keefer (Keefer’s Restaurant) was the Emcee and worked alongside Moderator, Chandra Ram, Editor-in-Chief of Plate magazine, with the following panelists:
Kimberly Galban & Donnie Madia: One Off Hospitality Group (avec, Big Star, Blackbird, The Publican, Publican Quality Meats, The Violet Hour, Nico- coming soon)
Janet Isabelli: Founder, Isabelli Media Relations
Chris Johnston: Owner, Cheesie's Pub & Grub
Philip Mott: Kendall College
Nick Sarillo: Nick’s Pizza and Pub and author, A Slice of the Pie
Analisa Terenzio: Director of Sales & Marketing, Protein Bar

Special thanks to our event sponsors Axia Law, Clifton Larson Allen CPA and Kendall College for making this event possible.  We are in the process of developing more Lunch & Learn events and welcome your feedback as we grow this piece of programming.  Please contact Eric Fine at or at (312) 380-4115 if you have ideas or for more information, or are interested in a sponsorship or participation in future events.

Blackfinn Ameripub River North

Blackfinn Ameripub River North is officially open. Congratulations to Managing Partner Michael Schultz and the team. “Let the Finn begin!”

Don't Miss It

The hottest Chicago restaurants are teaming up, in association with the Illinois Restaurant Association, to provide mouth-watering samples at BizBash IdeaFest Chicago on November 13 at the Merchandise Mart. Don’t miss this opportunity to join Restaurant Row and show your private event space to hundreds of elite meeting and event planners as they are looking for new venues and solutions for their upcoming events. Visit, or contact Sue Babin at, 312-436-2526 for more information.  *Illinois Restaurant Association members receive special pricing*

New Members

The Association is pleased to welcome:


Millennium Park   |   Sept 26 - 30