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July 2013

The Illinois Restaurant Association on Immigration


The Illinois Restaurant Association is urging the Illinois delegation of the United States House of Representatives to follow the lead of the Senate and pass a bill by August to reform the U.S. immigration system.  A huge overhaul of immigration policy was passed by the United States Senate last week, despite an uncertain future in the House of Representatives.

The bill that cleared the Senate offers a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country.  The legislation also includes many security provisions, such as tough border security, that must be in place before immigrants can gain legal status. The measure further requires a mandatory workplace verification system for employers, trying to ensure no jobs are given to immigrants who are not authorized to work in the United States. It would raise the caps on high-skilled workers, and also include a new visa program for lesser-skilled workers.  

Despite strong bipartisan support for the Senate bill, the leader of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, John Boehner, said the measure was dead on arrival in his chamber.  Boehner said House Republicans would write their own bill.

The Wall Street Journal ran a piece this weekend after interviewing IRA President Sam Toia and Chicago restaurateurs.  Billy Lawless, executive Board Member and Chicago Restaurateur was quoted in the paper:

Billy Lawless, a Chicago restaurateur and founding member of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, estimates that nearly one-third of Chicago-area restaurant workers are undocumented.  Restaurant owners are looking for a system that allows them to hire these workers legally.

"Most documented workers won't wash dishes, won't bus tables," he said. "For a long time, a blind eye was turned to this issue."

The coalition of Illinois businesses advocating for immigration legislation believes its lobbying efforts helped to sway Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), who initially opposed the bipartisan Senate immigration bill. On Thursday, he voted to support the bill as it passed the Senate. Now the coalition will focus its lobbying efforts on House lawmakers.

The IRA asks all of our members to call their Representatives in Congress, remind them that we support a comprehensive immigration bill, and ask them to please support the Senate bill.  The vitality of our industry and ability to hire workers depends on it.  


Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation Recognizes New ProStart Schools and Hosts Culinary Camp

 In June, the IRA Ed Foundation celebrated the first year of the new ProStart schools, Fenger and Juarez High Schools.  The events served as the launch of a new HMSHost partnership which will provide mentoring, scholarships, and resources for both schools.  

  • On June 6, HMS Host chefs demonstrated cooking techniques that included demonstrations on fish cookery, contemporary plating, and molded chocolate desserts for the ProStart students at Juarez


  • On June 12, Fenger ProStart students hosted a luncheon for HMSHost which announced the partnership and a new mentored internship program.  The event was attended by Brad Maher and Robert Bratton of HMS Host, Alderman Carrie Austin, who is facilitating a local community partnershp program, and Johnnie Turner of CPS.
  • On June 19, students served lunch for local community businesses that will provide ProStart students with summer internships.

ProStart Culinary Camp, held June 24 - 28, was attended by ProStart students from across the city and held at Le Cordon Bleu.  Students were taught by chef instructors and focused on teaching new skill sets related to cooking techniques, baking, and pastry.  The camp helps students prepare them for the 2014 ProStart Invitational competition, the workplace and college.  The last day of camp featured a culinary competition that simulated the Invitational.  



ProStart Culinary Camp 

ProStart students from across the city recently participated in a five day ProStart Culinary Camp at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.  Chef instructors taught students new skill sets to help prepare them for the 2014 ProStart Invitational competition, the workplace and college.  The camp ended with a competition that simulates the Invitational.


Q & A with Tony Hu


The IRA recently had the opportunity to speak with chef and restaurateur Tony Hu about the recent opening of his unique River North space, Lao 18.  


What is the concept behind your latest outpost, Lao 18?

Lao 18 is a home that I have created for guests to have an authentic Chinese experience.  I am excited to bring Chinatown to the River North neighborhood.


What makes it unique from your other Chicago restaurants?

Lao 18 is different from my other restaurants because a lot more thought has been put into the design of the space. There are four design elements that set Lao 18 apart from my other restaurants:

The cloud that sits above the dining room represents peace, good luck and health for my guests.

The rice bowl and chopsticks located in the front dining room symbolize family and sharing.

People in China carry around birdcages (which are located above the booths in the dining room) to showcase their success in life-they are a symbol of status. 

The tiles along the staircase are old elements from China.


Is there a dish on the menu that is your favorite?  What is the spiciest item?

My favorite dish is the Sweet Chili Chicken.  The spiciest is the Fei Teng Black Cod.


What elements are important in creating a successful restaurant space?

Good service and great food.


What is the biggest challenge?  Biggest reward?

The biggest challenge is keeping my loyal guests satisfied, but at the same time attracting new guests in this new neighborhood. The biggest reward is having my guests take an interest in Chinese culture.


What inspires you to come up with new dishes?  

I frequently travel to China to refresh my ideas and research – it is my job as a chef to provide my diners with a variety of new and interesting dishes. There are three parts to the Lao 18 menu including signature dishes from China, very traditional and authentic plates, and more Americanized offerings.  


Do you have any advice for those interested in creating the kind of network you have created in the restaurant industry?

Have self-confidence and never give up. Surround yourself with good partners and keep traveling and researching new ideas for your cuisine. 


If you ever opened a restaurant that was not Chinese cuisine, what kind of food would it be?

It would be French food because I enjoy the culture.

On Tuesday, June 18, a sampling of the Taste of Chicago’s new and favorite restaurants previewed their menu items, which will be offered at the 33rd Annual event on July 10-14. The successful event took place at Daley Plaza and featured the sights and sounds of Taste, including chef demonstrations by Judson Todd Allen, “The Architect of Flavor”, Executive Chef Healthy Infused Cuisine, and Tony Priolo, Executive Chef/Owner Piccolo Sogno and Piccolo Sogno Due.
Click here to view the story from WGN.

News & Notes

Behind the Scenes at Nick's Pizza & Pub


The Illinois Restaurant Association would like to thank Nick Sarillo, owner of Nick's Pizza and Pub, for generously hosting our "Behind the Scenes" event on June 24th. Sharing his trust-and-track approach method of leadership was very insightful, and the Illinois Restaurant Association presented Nick with the NRA’s Good Neighbor Award.  

A promising amount of operators whose commitment to rebuilding the McHenry County chapter is strong and we hope this to be the first of many dinners that provide behind the scenes access to our Member Restaurants.

The night became historic when the Blackhawks hoisted in the Stanley Cup – engraining the event in our memories.

If you would like to work on such an event, please email Eric Fine at

Illinois Restaurant Industry at a Glance

Restaurants are a driving force in Illinois’s economy. Here are the facts.


Don't Miss It

Second Annual IRAEF Fundraiser 
On August 20th, guests are invited to join us at the Wrigleyville Rooftopsat 1032 W. Waveland for the Cubs vs. Washington Nationals.  Doors open at 6:30pm.  Tickets are $75.  100% of tickets sales benefit the IRA EdFoundation for ProStart programming.  ProStart students will be manning the food stations to showcase their skills.  Please contact Jenna Zera at for more info.

Taste of Chicago
Taste of Chicago 2013 – to be held July 10-14 in Grant Park – will host a diverse lineup of 35  five-day restaurants and 12 pop-up restaurants that will participate throughout the highly anticipated food and entertainment festival. Admission to Taste of Chicago is free, and tickets for food and beverages can be purchased in strips of 12 tickets for $8. Tickets will also be available for purchase beginning July 1 at Dominick’s grocery stores throughout the Chicagoland area.  For event details visit

Chicago Gourmet
The Illinois Restaurant Association is pleased to announce  Chicago Gourmet 2013, presented by title sponsor Bon Appétit magazine in conjunction with presenting sponsor Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois. The sixth annual celebration of food and wine takes place Saturday, September 28 (12 to 6 p.m.) and Sunday, September 29 (12 to 5 p.m.) on the grounds of Chicago’s iconic Millennium Park.  Tickets are available here.

IRA Annual Golf Classic

Registration is open for the 2013 Golf Classic! The event will be held on Wednesday, August 7, at St. Andrews Golf and Country Club. Join us for a great day of golfing, networking and sampling a wide array of fantastic food and beverages. 

Don't miss out on the Early Bird Special through July 15. Save $100 on your foursome by registering today!

Donations for the silent auction are also needed. Click here  for the sponsorship and silent auction package. Please visit our Golf Classic page for more information. If you have questions regarding sponsorship packages or donations, please contact Gina Stefani at or 312-929-0114.

Membership Mixer

The IRA will be holding a Membership Mixer on Wednesday, July 24 at new corporate sponsor, Resource Point of Sale's loft-building headquarters, 1765 N. Elston Ave. The event will be held at 5:00pm and is free to all IRA members.

If you would like to attend, please RSVP to Daniela at or (312) 380-4138.

Chicago Gourmet Wine & Spirits Dinner Series

South Water Kitchen: "Fire & Ice"

On Wednesday, July 17, 2013, join Chef Roger for his choice five- course dinner at South Water Kitchen. Each dish has the perfect blend of flavors, with courses like watermelon carpaccio and bourbon braised pork belly, to create that blissful summer moment when fire meets ice. Each course is complemented by five unique wines. Cost is $55 per person. Space is limited! Reserve your seats now. For the menu click here.

Upcoming dates and locations include: 

July 25, 2013:        Quay Restaurant & Bar

August 8, 2013:     Lockwood Bar & Restaurant

August 14, 2013:   Deca Restaurant & Bar at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago

August 28, 2013:   Hearty


New Members

The Association is pleased to welcome:


Millennium Park   |   Sept 26 - 30