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March 2013 

Illinois Restaurant Association Annual Meeting


The Illinois Restaurant Association held its 2013 Annual Meeting and Installation of Officers on February 26 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. The three-course luncheon included remarks by President Sam Toia, and a keynote address by special guest Dawn Sweeney, President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association, who shared valuable industry insights with attendees. Chairman of the Board John Colletti spoke of the year’s exciting events spearheaded by the Association, including Taste of Chicago, Chicago Gourmet, the annual Golf Classic, and From the Chef’s Table.

A hearty congratulations and thanks to our new Officers, Board of Director Members, and new Advisory Council Members. We also congratulate the following individuals and businesses in receipt of special honors:

Sara Rowe ProStart Company of the Year
Dan Gilroy, US Foods

Vendor of the Year
Mary Barranco, Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois

Restaurateur of the Year
Glenn Keefer, Keefer’s Restaurant


Q&A with Dawn Sweeney


The Illinois Restaurant Association had the fortune of recently talking with one of our valued partners, Dawn Sweeney – President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association. In addition to delivering an insightful keynote address at the Association’s Annual Meeting in February, she graciously took the time to elaborate on initiatives spearheaded by the National Restaurant Association, the state of the industry, what not to miss at this year’s NRA Show, and more.

What initiatives led by the National Restaurant Association are you most enthusiastic about? How can restaurants in Illinois and throughout the U.S. get involved?

As you know, the National Restaurant Association is a hybrid organization – a traditional trade association that advocates and represents our industry in Washington; and works with our major chain members, state restaurant associations and local restaurant members at the state, municipal and local levels. And we’re also a philanthropic organization and a business enterprise.

This wide scope of what we do and how we work allows us to serve our industry in the most comprehensive ways possible. We lead with advocacy and that’s a powerful way to serve an industry. Then we add our development of products and services to strengthen businesses, and our Foundation’s efforts to foster the next generation of restaurant professionals through the ProStart program and scholarships…making us as sound, creative and dedicated to the future as the industry we serve.

We’re very pleased to offer so many services to members that help with day-to-day operations. To call out just one that we’re extremely proud of – our Kids LiveWell program, which offers innovation in children’s menus.

Kids LiveWell developed as a convergence of industry trends around nutrition and healthful options and calls from advocates. It’s an example of our industry being proactive on a complicated issue like childhood obesity. We launched with 19 brands. Today, less than two years later, we have 110 brands participating, with more than 30,000 locations in every state in the nation – including many locations here in Illinois.

Have you seen the restaurant industry start to rebound from the economic downturn? How does the national industry forecast lean over the next five years?

One of the ways we’re working on gaining the attention of national and local leaders is through promoting the fact that restaurants and foodservices make up the second-largest private sector employment block in our country. With 980,000 operations, we are a major job creator – and in the current economic climate, creating jobs is vital.

Job growth in the U.S. has been stagnating.  But when we look at eating-and-drinking places, which account for roughly three-fourths of the total restaurant-and-foodservice work force, restaurant industry job growth outperformed our overall economy in each of the last 13 years.

That’s something we’re all proud of – even in a challenging economy we are putting people to work, and not only do we create jobs, we create a strong economic multiplier through the construction and supply chain. In addition, our industry trains nearly a quarter of workers in their first job.

We project the industry to continue to grow over the next ten years – by 2023, we anticipate a million more industry employees than today.

Obviously, we encourage operators to join the National Restaurant Association or the Illinois Restaurant Association (membership depends on how many locations you operate and where they are – but the benefits are open to all). And stay in touch! We have multiple ways for members to interact with us and with one another. is a great starting place.

What are you most excited about at this year's NRA Show? Whether attending for the first or 10th time, what's not to be missed?

There is almost too much going on to pick out just a few favorites! We are excited about many of the offerings at the 2013 Show, including the return of our Kitchen Innovations Awards and Operator Innovations Awards. We have a lineup of great chef talent with us this year. Industry notables like Rick Bayless, Anne Burrell, Maneet Chauhan, Cat Cora, Mike Isabella and Marcus Samuelsson, among others, will be at the World Culinary Showcase. Anthony Bourdain will be a featured speaker and on hand to sign his latest best-seller.

Throughout the four days of the Show, more than 70 Education Sessions will feature insights on topics like digital menu innovation, sustainability, coping with the health care law, and becoming a successful franchisee, just to name a few.

The Show is just not to be missed if you’re an industry insider! The energy level is always amazing and the creativity and forward-focused offerings are business-changing. So mark those calendars for May 18-21 in Chicago.

What are the most rewarding elements of your job?

I have the good fortune to work with a remarkable group of people, both within the industry and at the NRA who have come together to execute on an inspirational vision. We’re achieving remarkable results. It is very rewarding to lead a dedicated team that “gets” the vision for the future and that serves such a diverse and creative industry.

Serving as CEO in an organization devoted to success is like surfing a forty foot wave – thrilling, terrifying and it makes you feel fully “alive!” When I look over a meeting room filled with energized colleagues, I’m just electrified by what we can accomplish. It’s a great intellectual and emotional high.

March is Women's History Month. Can you tell us about a woman in history (or a woman making history today) that you find inspiring?

A few years ago, I took a trip to Guatemala with Save the Children, on whose board I serve. While there, I met a health worker who walks six miles each way through rough terrain in order to work every day saving newborn lives. She’d been doing this for over twenty five years. I’ll always remember her as a living embodiment of inspiration.

The 2013 NRA Show takes place May 18-21 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. Visit for details and to register today


Springfield Lobby Day


The IRA’s annual Springfield Lobby Day took place Wednesday, March 6, in partnership with the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association (IHLA) and the Illinois Council of Convention and Visitor Bureaus (ICCVB).  The events included a freshman member reception on Tuesday evening and a full day of educational and lobbying activities on Wednesday.  

Wednesday began with speeches to the delegation by Controller Judy Baar Topinka and Senate President John Cullerton.  President Cullerton spoke of the importance of pension reform and current legislation affecting the minimum wage and tip credit.  President Cullerton appears sympathetic to our position that the raising the minimum wage and eliminating the tip credit would have detrimental and irreversible impacts on the hospitality industry. 


The delegation then headed to the capitol building for meetings with House and Senator leadership.  The delegation lobbied each member in favor of preserving the tip credit and holding the line on the minimum wage.  Included in those meetings, an excellent visit with Governor Pat Quinn, who met with the full delegation. We also made a strong case that concealed weapons should not be allowed in any establishment that serves alcohol or the adjacent property.  Other issues we discussed included the negative affects the Affordable Care Act will have on our industry, the importance of clear and respectable food handler regulations, and sensible immigration reforms.


The day ended with a reception in honor of the entire Illinois General Assembly.  Dozens of elected officials came to the event.  This allowed us to talk to many officials we missed during the day. 

Thank you to our restaurant industry delegation for participating in this important event:

Springfield lobby day was extremely successful and we hope you will join us in Washington D.C. for the NRA Public Affairs Conference April 17 - 18.  Lobbying and government affairs is one of the most important things we do as an Association and there is no better advocates for the industry than owner-operators.  For more information on the Public Affairs Conference please contact Andy Peters at 312-380-4134 or  For more information and to register for the conference please Click here.  


12th Annual Illinois ProStart® Invitational:

Technology Center of DuPage and Elgin High School Take Top Honors

On Saturday, February 23, the 12th Annual Illinois ProStart® Invitational was hosted by the IRA Educational Foundation and sponsored by SYSCO Foodservice-Chicago at Kendall College. Talented teams from across the state competed in the Culinary and Hospitality Management competitions. The Technology Center of DuPage Culinary team won the state championship for the second consecutive year. Elgin High School won the Management competition their unique concept Sol de Dorado, featuring the cuisine of Argentina. Both teams will advance to compete in the National ProStart InvitationalÆ in Baltimore, Maryland April 19-21. First through third place winners have already won scholarships and prizes.

Culinary Competition
1st Place: Technology Center of DuPage
2nd Place: Oswego East High School
3rd Place: Elgin High School

Management Competition
1st Place: Elgin High School
2nd Place: Oswego East High School
3rd Place: Rich South High School

Congratulations to all!

ProStart® is developing the best and brightest talent into tomorrowís industry leaders. These students have proven their talent and commitment to the industry by competing and succeeding in the Illinois ProStart Invitational®. 


Illinois Governor’s Conference on Travel & Tourism

The Illinois Restaurant Association was a proud sponsor of the 2013 Illinois Governor’s Conference on Travel & Tourism, held February 27-March 1 at the Donald E. Stephen’s Convention Center in Rosemont.

Association President Sam Toia introduced industry leaders Jimmy Bannos and Jimmy Bannos Jr. (Heaven on Seven, The Purple Pig), and Niall and Kristie Campbell (Firefly Grill) for a Meet the Chefs panel presentation. He also moderated the Appetite for Travel panel with esteemed industry leaders John Colletti (Gibson’s Restaurant Group), Phil Stefani (Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants), Maureen Larson (Lettuce Entertain You), Billy Lawless Sr. (The Gage, Henri) and Jay Lovell (Lovell’s of Lake Forest). Both sessions spotlighted the relevance of culinary tourism in Illinois, as well as these leaders’ efforts and ideas to continually attract visitors to our state’s dynamic restaurant offerings.

The Association was honored to be among these esteemed industry experts and play a role in such a pivotal conference.


Upcoming Events


Millennium Park   |   Sept 26 - 30