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Seasonings January 2014
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January 2014

Centennial Celebration 

The Illinois Restaurant Association celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2014

The Illinois Restaurant Association is proud to celebrate its 100th year of advocacy in 2014. 

"We are thrilled to usher in the Centennial year and have brought together a stellar committee of industry leaders to help us pay homage to Illinois’ restaurant history as a whole and the role the IRA has played since its inception,” said Sam Toia, Illinois Restaurant Association CEO and President. "We are enthusiastic about contributing to the industry’s continued growth and look forward to the next 100 years of service!”

The IRA will recognize this significant milestone throughout 2014 in a variety of forums - including a curated display of artifacts in conjunction with the Chicago Culinary Museum and Chef’s Hall of Fame and an online photo and menu collection.

In addition, the IRA will feature historic restaurant profiles and contests all year via its Facebook and Twitter channels, and will recognize exceptional members whose lifework has enriched the state's robust restaurant community through the presentation of the Restaurant Industry Living Legend Awards.

Founded in 1914, the IRA continues to advocate for the largest private sector employer in the state. By providing restaurant operators and suppliers with lobbying efforts, valuable business services, networking events, marketing support, educational opportunities and more vital tools to succeed, the IRA serves the needs of this important industry and supports fundraising for the future leaders of the foodservice industry.

Call for Photos and Restaurant Memorabilia

Also to commemorate 100 years, the IRA is calling for photos and menus from its members depicting the life and times of the restaurant and hospitality industry throughout the decades.

Click here to submit photos to be included in the IRA's collection. For more information, please email

Nominate a Restaurant Industry Living Legend Today!

The Illinois Restaurant Association is recognizing its exceptional members with the Restaurant Industry Living Legend Awards. The awards will honor the men and women whose lifework has enriched the State's robust restaurant community.  Nominate someone today!

Categories Include:

Recipients will be honored at the Association's Annual Meeting and Luncheon held on February 27, 2013 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. 


Q&A With Kathryn Thanas 

The IRA recently had the opportunity to speak with restaurateur and IRA Centennial Committee Chair Kathryn Thanas about the history of Lou Mitchell’s, one of Chicago’s oldest dining institutions, her passion for her work and her favorite moments and traditions in the hospitality industry.

What are the major milestones in Lou Mitchell's history? How do you view your role?

In 1923, my Uncle Lou’s father started the business.  When Lou entered the business years later, the fun really began.  He created the "magic” and traditions that continue to this day. 

He perfected breakfast and served it all day! Everything was made fresh from scratch; the daily lunch specials, homemade marmalade, pastries and baked bread, freshly squeezed juices, private blend coffee and Lou’s signature syrup.

The donuts, still made on the premises, were hand cut, yielding a donut hole. To this day, they are passed out to ease waiting customers and entice the appetite.  

Uncle Lou retired and after an interim sold the business to me, trusting that the Thanas family would continue and enhance the core values and traditions.

I am so grateful for so many wonderful people and events that I have experienced because of this business. Over the years, the media, both locally and internationally, have frequently visited to take the pulse of America’s Heartland by interviewing our customers on current events. We’ve also been a time-honored whistle stop on the campaign trail of most elected officials. To my delight, I had a taste of the movie business when "The Weatherman” shot a scene on our premises. We have been graced with hosting the U.S. President, celebrities and all the rest.

In 1997, we received the honorary street sign for "Lou Mitchell’s Way” installed on the pole outside 565 W. Jackson. We are considered a widely known landmark sitting on Route 66 and in 2002, we were inducted into the Route 66 Hall of Fame of Illinois.

In 2006, we were entered in the National Register of Historic Places and later that year, three generations of my family went to New York to receive the honor of one of five finalists of "America’s Best Family Restaurants”. 

To what do you credit the success and family-run longevity of the restaurant?

I thank the Lord every day for his grace on this business and for the blessing of my daughter Heleen who serves as general manager, and my son Nicholas, who heads business development and is an IRA Board Member.

Our dream is to ultimately franchise Lou Mitchell’s, duplicating what has made this family-run business a success. First, that excellence is a constant effort with attention to detail and a quality that stands out. It is also celebrating everything with great food, fun, and continuing all the traditions of gracious hospitality. All this, with one purpose in mind – making the customer happy – is what brings people to Lou Mitchell’s. 

How has the IRA been a part of Lou Mitchell's legacy over the years?

Lou Mitchell’s was a member of the IRA, however, in 1997, my dear friend and mentor Ann Rose of Tastee Freez brought me on Board. Being a board member enabled me to see the inner workings of this great organization. My respect for their endeavors, concerns and accomplishments went through the ceiling! Borrowing the phrase, "If it is wrong, fight against it, if it is right, fight for it,” is what I saw as IRA’s mission. 

Our industry offers an opportunity for anyone to enter in, become a trained employee, acquire skills and move through the ranks to their ability and interests. Our industry represents the best of the best and the IRA covers our back. They are the greatest advocates for our industry. They stand and fight in the gap for all of us. This need can only escalate given the culture we are in and as new rules and regulations come at our industry from sources that truly have no understanding or experience of what can work or harm the need to be equitable to all.

Our industry is truly unique in many ways. We import food, manufacture it, deliver it to the customer who then consumes it on the premises (except of course for take-out).  The people are then exported, well fed and happy!

How did the complimentary donut holes and boxes of milk duds tradition start?

A tradition in Greek homes is to welcome a guest with something sweet, thus the Milk Duds. Why this choice of sweets?  Because they were made in Chicago and the creator was a friend and customer of Lou’s. Uncle Lou penned, "We are glad you are here.”

What's your favorite dish on the Lou Mitchell's menu? 

We are best known for our omelets, pancakes, waffles, pot roast and turkey dinner.  But one of my favorites is the "Sour Cream Special.” It is so satisfying, you can skip lunch and possibly even dinner.

As the IRA Centennial Chair, what do you most look forward to in this celebratory year? What does this seminal year mean to you?

I am humbled, honored and challenged to be chairing this Centennial celebration alongside an outstanding committee; it is very exciting. 

My sincere desire is that the enthusiasm and gratitude for our industry reaches event greater heights…that those who are not yet members recognize the value of supporting the IRA by enrolling. There is strength in numbers. Our industry is valuable and deserves to be heard and protected.

Government Relations 

Be An Advocate

The National Restaurant Association and Illinois Restaurant Association invite you to get more involved in important industry issues by joining the Key Advocate Program and joining us on our Annual Springfield and Washington DC Lobby Days. 

Key Advocates serve as the lead advocate and liaison between their Member of Congress and the National Restaurant Association on priority industry issues. The Key Advocate volunteers to actively build and cultivate a professional relationship with their Member of Congress about the restaurant industry and, as an industry stakeholder, works with the NRA to identify the best opportunities to engage their members, as well as pertinent content and messaging. To join the program, please click here.

Springfield Lobby Day

Springfield Lobby Day is an important opportunity to meet face-to-face with your elected officials and discuss legislative issues that impact your business. It is important that we have a large delegation of IRA members to meet members and continue to educate all the elected officials on the importance of our industry. Lobby Day is one of the most important things we do as an Association. 


March 5, 2014 (Dinner on March 4th for those who come down early)


Lobby Day’s opening session is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. (registration at 9:30 a.m.) on Wednesday, March 5 at The Inn at 835 (835 South Second Street, Springfield, IL). After the opening session and luncheon, you will spend the afternoon at the Capitol Complex meeting with Members of the Illinois General Assembly.  The day will conclude with an evening reception for Legislators at The Sangamo Club Ballroom from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.




The Illinois Restaurant Association has reserved a room block at the Abraham Lincoln Springfield DoubleTree Hotel for March 4th.  Single and Double rooms will be available for $99 by calling (217) 544-8800.  Please reserve your room as soon as possible to lock in this rate.  


We look forward to seeing you in Springfield on March 5th!  If you have any questions or need more information, contact Andy Peters at (312) 380-4134 or

NRA Public Affairs Conference

The restaurant industry is facing unprecedented challenges on a variety of legislative fronts from health care and taxes to minimum wage and immigration reform. 2014 will be a critical mid-term election year for restaurateurs large and small. Congress needs to know how all of these issues affect you and your employees. Join hundreds of industry peers for two days in Washington, DC. Learn about the issues, talk with colleagues and share your story with Congress.


April 29-30, 2014 

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC, 20004 

Early Bird Member: $165.00
After March 28th: $185.00

The NRA is reserving blocks at area hotels. Hotel information will be available upon registration.     



IRAEF Update

New HMS Host Partnership With the IRA Educational Foundation is Launched at Juarez High School

On December 5, over 80 students and parents attended a launch event to celebrate and announce the partnership at Juarez High School. IRAEF Board Member Brad Maher, several HMS Host staff including Vice President Essi Pourhadi, and representatives from Chicago Public Schools and Alderman Solis’ office were also in attendance. 

HMS Host and the IRA Educational Foundation held their partnership launch event with HMS Host at Juarez High School.  From left: Rick Iaapica, HMS Host;Harry Lu, HMS Host; Julie Teng, HMS Host; Kathy Summers, Director of the IRAEF; Essi Pour Hadi, HMS Host; IRAEF Board Member Brad Maher, HMS Host


Students learned about the ProStart program and the resources that will be available as a result of the HMS Host partnership including scholarships, mentors, and internships. To create a culture of success, a new recognition program was unveiled that allows students to earn coveted items such as special chef coats and knife kits to reward dedication and commitment.  Each student that attended the event received a chef cap and apron to start their journey in the industry.  Appetizers were prepared and served by senior culinary students.  Special thanks to Principal Ocon for his commitment to ProStart and the partnership.



Don't Miss It

IRA Annual Meeting

The Annual Meeting is Thursday, February 27 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 E. Wacker Drive.  The event will include the installation of Ken Raskin, Manny's Cafeteria & Delicatessen, as the 2014 Chairman of the Board.  Click here to register and for more details.

Governor's Conference on Tourism

The Conference Executive Committee invites you to learn about marketing in the tourism market, group touring and sales, how to target special markets, and more. The 2014 Illinois Governor's Conference on Travel & Tourism is February 3 - 5 at the Palmer House Hilton, 17 E. Monroe. Click here for more information.


News & Notes

Chicago Tribune 2014 Dining Awards

 Congratulations to our Chicago Tribune 2014 Dining Award winning members!

Jodi Fyfe of Paramount Events Featured in Today's Chicago Woman

 Expert Jodi Fyfe, principal at Paramount Events, was featured in an article on "How to Cater Any Event" in the January issue of Today's Chicago Woman.


New Members

The Association is pleased to welcome:

Beggar's Pizza

Benny's Chop House

Cafe Society

Davis Bankcorp



Journal & Topics

Mamma Mia

Mountain Valley Spring


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