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IRA History

On the sixth day of February in 1914, a group of Chicago restaurateurs came together to elect what was first known as the Restaurant and Lunch Room Men, and to establish dues of $5.00 per house.

The Restaurant and Lunch Room Men Association continued to change and evolve over the years, expanding its missions and objectives until the early 1980’s when the Illinois Restaurant Association, serving 2,500 members and representing 6,000 units throughout the state, came into being.

In the first year, a dues structure of $1.00 per month per member, and fifty cents per month for additional stores was passed-which in those times was expensive.

The forming of the Association was based primarily on government affairs. One of the first courses of action was to form a Government Affairs Committee made up of, amongst others, Mr. Pixly, Chairman, Mr. Phillip Henrici, and Mr. John R. Thompson, to work toward the abolishment of free luncheons in saloons at the City Council level.

By 1926, the Association had evolved into the Chicago Association of Restaurateurs and had 112 members operating 177 restaurants. Among other services offered there was an employment service that, in 1926, furnished 5,047 dishwashers and yardmen, 2,903 waiters and 1,787 co-ops from what appeared to be a daily call room.

In May 1927, another key event occurred when the officers of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) requested that the Association cooperate in holding a regional N.R.A. convention in Chicago. The Chicago Association agreed that every assistance would be rendered to the National body to ensure the success of that sectional Convention. Based upon this assurance, the National Restaurant Association held what was known as the Middle State Restaurant convention in Chicago in 1928.

In fulfilling its pledge of cooperation, the Chicago Restaurant Association distributed 7,200 pieces of mail to Chicago area operators and to operators located in the six surrounding states. For the first time in the history of the National Restaurant Association, the same site (Chicago) was selected as the convention site in the consecutive years due to the record breaking attendance experienced. So was born a great love affair between the National Restaurant Association and Chicago.

With Chicago’s favorite hobbies being eating, drinking, and politics, the Association played an active role in shaping the city’s and state’s decisions affecting the restaurant industry. The Association’s State Government Affairs Committee expanded through the 30’s and 40’s. Labor relations in the 30’s became a major function of the Association and those specialized labor activities remained important through the 1970’s.

Through the years, famous Chicago restaurant names like Harding, Roth, Marquis, Klingeman, Berghoff, Binyon, and hundreds of other key restaurant families, generation after generation, have supported the Association’s effort to protect and promote the industry’s interests.

In the last decade the Association changed its name form the Chicago Restaurant Association to the Illinois Restaurant Association, in order to enhance the Association’s statewide legislative and membership programs.

The Government affairs staff increased from two regional lobbyists in 1978 to four registered lobbyists today. The increase indicates the shift of legislation from the national scene to the state and local level that took place in the 1970s and 1980s.

Correspondingly, the Illinois Restaurant Association membership increased from approximately 1,200 in the 1970s to approximately 2,300 members representing approximately 6,000 restaurants statewide today.

In 1982, the Association for the first time created its own annual Regional Trade Show which attracted close to 10,000 attendees, thereby providing the Foodservice Industry in Illinois a forum to discuss common interests. In 1988, the IRA combined this show with the Annual National Restaurant Association Show attracting over 75,000 attendees to this Chicago based event each May.

In 1984, the Association resurrected the Taste of Chicago through a management contract with the City of Chicago. Under the joint management of the City and the Association, the Taste has grown to a $3.5 million beverage operation and an $8.5 million food sales operation. The Taste of Chicago has become Chicago’s premiere tourism event.

The 1990s brought the development of a full line of member services and benefits, exciting new programs and the strongest political action in our Association’s history. We look forward to expanded services and continued membership growth in the 21st Century.

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