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Meet the 2018 Experts Recap
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On Wednesday April 4th, the IRA presented our 5th Annual Meet The Experts at River Roast, featuring keynote speakers Chefs John Hogan and Tony Mantuano from Levy Restaurants


More than 350 people from all over Illinois participated in power networking and 15 minute speed coaching sessions with some of the biggest restaurateurs in the business; plus experts in HR, insurance, law, accounting, PR, and more. Thank you to our sponsors, including: River RoastReinhart FoodserviceStahl CowenTaft Stettinius & Hollister LLPCliftonLarsonAllenHUBIGS Energy, Best Imaging Solutions, and HRP Chicago for making this year's event the best yet.




Thank you to our 2018 Experts:


Serafin Alvarado

Master Sommelier

Southern Glazer's Wine and Spirits

Serafin Alvarado’s love of wine began more than decade ago, as a room service waiter for Hilton Hotels in his native Puerto Rico.  It was the beginning of a career path that would ultimately lead him to achieve the remarkable distinction of becoming a Master Sommelier (M.S.) in 2005, achieving the status that only 149 other North Americans have reached after passing the rigorous M.S. examination.  Serafin has also turned his passion for wine into a successful career, working in positions in wine service, wine sales and most recently, wine education, joining Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Illinois, the largest wine wholesaler in the United States headquartered in Miami, Florida, as Director of Wine Education.  In October of 2005, Serafin received the Bill Rice distinguished Sommelier of the Year Award for his contribution to the culture of food & wine in the city of Chicago.  Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine included Serafin Alvarado among 40 outstanding individuals, local to the Chicago area, who have made a major impact in their respective industries before the age of 40. Former winners include professional actors and athletes, presidents and CEOs of major Fortune 500 companies, and high ranking political figures. Crain’s calls these rising stars “The Top 40 Under 40”.  Most recently, Johnson & Wales University recognized Serafin as their 4th Distinguished Visiting Master Sommelier. 



Joe Baez




Joe is a principal with CliftonLarsonAllen LLP with 16 years of experience working with a wide range of closely held companies. He specializes in companies within the food and beverage industry as they deal with the challenges of a dynamic, constantly changing marketplace. Through this experience Joe has gained a comprehensive understanding of the concerns confronting owners and managers of restaurants, franchises, suppliers, processors and distributors. He brings extensive expertise in performing and supervising audits, reviews and compilations for closely held companies with sales from $1 to $300 million, including assisting with the development and implementation of proper internal control procedures. In addition, Joe has significant experience in performing due diligence procedures in business acquisitions and other transaction advisory consulting. Joe graduated with a bachelor of science in accounting from Illinois State University. He is a Certified Public Accountant, licensed in Illinois, and is a member of the Illinois Society of Certified Public Accountants and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. In addition, Joe is active in the Chicago chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth and the Illinois Restaurant Association.



Amy Biller


Folkart Management


A key member of the leadership team, Amy manages all the office operations for Folkart Restaurant Management. As an owner and operator of some of Chicago’s most prominent neighborhood taverns and restaurants, from the all new Mordecai adjacent to Wrigley Field to Gideon Sweet on Randolph Streeet, Folkart’s behind the scenes operations are a material part of its success.  Whether Amy’s managing payroll, analyzing new software or working with a local vendor, she brings the same passion to managing Folkart’s business that our GMs and Chefs bring to entertaining our many guests.  Prior to joining Folkart, Amy was a pastry chef at Charlie Trotter’s. Amy has B.A.s in business and graphic design from Valparaiso University and graduated from The French Pastry School in Chicago.


Norman Bolden


Norman's Bistro


Norman H. Bolden is a Chicago native who was raised and currently resides in Chicago’s 4th Ward.  He is a veteran community activist and leader with a proven track record for working side by side with fellow residents and stakeholders. Norman’s career path at WGCI Radio spanned over 25 years, which earned him an early retirement.  Not one to rest on his laurels, he immediately began working full throttle on his business ventures that he had been nurturing for over a decade.  In the North Kenwood community that he loves so much, he opened Room 43, an entertainment venue in the same building where his father formerly owned a radio and television repair shop. Norman also owns and manages an anchor property at 43rd and Ellis that houses several other small businesses and Norman’s Bistro, his upscale restaurant. The Outstanding Young Men of America, Gannett Radio, and the Near North Health Service Corporation are a few major organizations that have acknowledged Norman for his outstanding achievements and generosity during many years of business and community service. He is a current Board member of Near North Health Services and continues to serve on the Board of Komed Health Center in North Kenwood.  In 2012, Norman Bolden won numerous awards and accolades including: Chicago Defender Men of Excellence, Who’s Who of Black Chicago and Creativity United’s, Un-Sung Hero for his outstanding work as owner of Norflo Holding Corporation.  One of Norman’s favorite quotes is, “If you can believe it, then you can achieve it.”  This has become a philosophy which Norman continues to promote with every new challenge he meets.



Gerrin Butler

Director of Food Protection

Chicago Department of Public Health


Gerrin Cheek Butleris currently the Director of Food Protection for the Chicago Department of Public Health. She has been instrumental in facilitating partnerships to develop innovative data and electronic tracking systems, including a system to detect foodborne illness via social media. The last 15 years has been spent in senior management positions at several health departments, which helped develop a passion for food safety, leadership, and public health. During that time, she has made proven and sustained programmatic gains including: increased revenues, data driven decision making, Sanitarian Standardization Program, and lean process development. Gerrin received her B.S. in Environmental Health from Illinois State University and a Master of Public Administration from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.



Clay Carroll

General Manager

Uber Eats

 Coming Soon!


Bruce Finkelman

Managing Partner

16" on Center // Beauty Bar | Bite Cafe | Empty Bottle | Empty Bottle Presents | Dusek’s | Longman & Eagle | MONEYGUN | Punch House | Saint Lou's Assembly | Tack Room | Thalia Hall | The Promontory 


A Chicagoland native, Bruce Finkelman’s celebrated path in hospitality began as a graduate of the University of Missouri’s inaugural Food and Beverage curriculum. A late night drive through Ukrainian Village would foreshadow the start of his next career chapter. With $923 in the bank, Finkelman set out to launch the Empty Bottle. A home to a community of artists and creatives who began taking up residence in the then-desolate Ukrainian Village, The Empty Bottle filled a void in the evolving neighborhood. A year later, the whole operation would move three blocks north to its permanent home on Western and Cortez. Described by Finkelman as a “cat-ridden hole-in-the-wall,” musical acts from all over the globe were welcomed as Chicago’s music scene blossomed. Two decades later it is the only Chicago venue to make Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the nation’s 20 best rock clubs.  Bruce then went on to launch Bite Café and Beauty Bar before opening doors to Logan Square’s Longman & Eagle in 2010.  After beginning their partnership with L&E, Finkelman & Golden partnered once again to restore Pilsen’s stunning Thalia Hall space in 2013. Re-establishing a concert hall in the venue’s historic theatre space, the ambitious project also includes Dusek’s, a beer-focused restaurant in the corner of the building and Punch House, a craft punch bar tucked away in the basement.  When the University of Chicago reached out to Finkelman and Golden for help revitalizing Hyde Park, the duo jumped at the opportunity to open another restaurant and music venue that could foster a renewed sense of community. The Promontory is his vision as a hearth-centered neighborhood flagship, managed and staffed by people whose passion for music and hospitality equals his own. Saint Lou’s Assembly, MONEYGUN, and Revival Food Hall were the next openings for Finkelman and Golden, all in 2016, followed immediately by The Ruin Daily in 2017.  "Revival aims to create a welcoming space that gives people an all-local, chef-driven dining experience in the heart of the city. We truly want to be a beacon in the community where people want to come morning, noon and night." 


Jen Fite

Director of Operations

Frontera Restaurants

Jen Fite has been there virtually since the beginning Rick Bayless’ meteoric rise to the top of the food world.  Beginning with a job as a hostess at Frontera Grill, her role (and influence) in Frontera restaurants has grown with the celebrity chef’s every new endeavor: New cookbook? She closed the deal with the publisher. New TV show? She helped produce it. Philanthropy to local farmers? Check. Publicist? Yep. Bodyguard tor Rick Bayless? More times than she cares to admit.  While she still assumes many of those duties, Jen has become the director of operations for the Frontera restaurant group in Chicago, preparing hundreds of employees to thunder through the next project. (There’s always a next project.)  Through it all, she’s gained valuable experience in the hospitality industry, which she has now seen, literally, from all sides.



Zach Friedlander


Aloha Poke Co.


The co-founder and operating partner focuses Aloha Poké Co.’s menu on the standard composition with various ways to customize, and keeps quality ingredients and quick, attentive service at the top of his priority list. His dedicated team of employees maintains the fast-casual restaurant’s hospitality mantra, hinging on simplistic preparations and a constant ear to the guest’s needs, while providing streamlined and speedy service. Their calm demeanor behind the busy counter traces back to Friedlander’s laid-back management style. “I don’t mind a mistake here and there,” he says, “as long as we learn from it. I’m a pretty relaxed manager—it’s all about elevating oneself personally and professionally, and striving for autonomy, with the right guidance.” Encouraged by a close friend, Friedlander took the leap and founded Aloha Poké Co. in March 2016, inspired by the relaxed vibe and fresh, raw cuisine of Hawaii’s surfside poké shacks. Within its first year, the brand expanded from its first location in The Loop’s French Market to Lakeview’s dynamic Belmont Street and again into The Loop, at the Revival Food Hall.  Friedlander resides in Chicago’s Wicker Park/West Town area, and when he finds time away from work, he enjoys spontaneously buying a plane ticket to a faraway country and exploring it with no reservations. 


Janet Isabelli




Janet has served as a public relations consultant to dozens of the nation’s premier destinations for more than 17 years. Before founding IMR in 2011, she held the position of VP at Wagstaff Worldwide, where she led the company’s Midwest office for nearly a decade. Previously, she served as the Assistant Director of College Programming at the University Chicago, where she oversaw large-scale events for students of The College.In her tenure, Janet has represented internationally recognized entities such as Soho House Group, InterContinental Hotels, Trump Hotels, the Illinois Restaurant Association, the James Beard Foundation and numerous others. The media relations campaign for Chicago’s annual, premier epicurean event – Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet – falls under her agency’s care, as well as those for countless, award-winning restaurants and chefs.A Chicago native since 1995, she has contributed to many of the city’s leading non-profit organizations including Chicago Gateway Green, Lookingglass Theater, CASA of Cook County and the Ferrer Foundation.She was named one ofCrain’s Chicago Business’“40 Under 40” emerging business professionals in 2007 and one ofNewcitymagazine’s “Food & Drink 50″ in 2011 and 2013.Chicago Womanmagazine also named her one of the city’s most influential women in food in 2015.Janetholds undergraduate degrees in Spanish Language and Literature and Law, Letters and Society from the University of Chicago,where she remains active in the alumni community.



Jim Kallas

Division President

Eurest: A Division of Compass Group


Over the past 29 years, Jim Kallas has held a number of management positions on both region and division levels within Eurest, a division of the world leading food service provider Compass Group.  Currently as Central Division President, Jim’s sphere of responsibility includes Café and Staff dining rooms for many of the Fortune 500 companies with operations reaching many cities across the United States.  He manages over 450 staff dining rooms with revenues in excess of $500 million.  Jim began his career in foodservice in the Chicago area and the eight years prior to his career with Compass Group he was involved in the resort and restaurant industry on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. Kallas is a proud member of the Washburne Culinary Institute Advisory Board and Chairman of the Illinois Restaurant Association.  He is a member of the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management, Union League Club, City Club of Chicago, Les Amis d’Escoffier and Disciples Escoffier International USA.



Phil Kuhn

Senior VP


Phil is Senior Vice President at HUB International, the country’s largest privately held insurance agency, overseeing new business development. Specializing in the hospitality industry, his core competencies include carefully assessing his clients’ insurance and risk management issues, identifying and analyzing risk, strategically engaging the right resources, programming for savings potential, and delivering quantifiable results. A long term member of the IRA, he has extensive experience working with restaurants, taverns, and related industries.HUB’s specialty hospitality practice is unique to the insurance industry. The HUB team of hospitality and restaurant experts understands that business operators face a multitude of complex and unforeseen risks and exposures for both guests and employees, making this a complex industry to insure. HUB offers industry-leading insights and innovative solutions for all of your insurance needs – risk services, claims, business, employee benefits, human capital management, and personal insurance.





Adrienne Lo

Dir Of Ops/Managing Partner

Fat Rice



Growing up in a Chinese American household, Adrienne learned at an early age that food and hospitality were central to the family unit. She has travelled the world extensively, furthering her respect for heritage as expressed through cuisine. As co-founder and general manager of X-marx, a travelling supper club, Adrienne displayed this expertise through her creation of comfort and conviviality among strangers in diverse locations. Currently she is co-owner and director of operations at Fat Rice, The Ladies’ Room and The Bakery at Fat Rice, where she employs this knowledge to lead her front of house servers, a space known for its unique and inviting atmosphere and incredible service.  Adrienne received the Zagat’s 30 Under 30 Trailblazer Award for young professionals who have helped define Chicago’s next wave of culinary greatness.


Donnie Madia

Managing Partner/Owner

One Off Hospitality Group


Among the city’s most acclaimed restaurateurs, Chicago-born Donald J. Madia has mastered the art of collaboration to execute his unerring instincts for style, atmosphere and hospitality. His unique blend of visionary inspiration, attention to detail and sense of unlimited possibilities informs all he touches, as evidenced in Blackbird, avec, The Publican, The Violet Hour, Big Star, Publican Quality Meats, Nico Osteria, Dove’s Luncheonette, Publican Quality Bread, Publican Tavern O’Hare and Publican Anker.  His gift for connecting talented individuals and business acumen was recognized by the James Beard Foundation in 2015, when he was awarded Outstanding Restaurateur. A consummate family man, Madia carries on the tradition of warmth and hospitality learned from his mother, Clara, and her twin sister, Rita.  “I’m only as good as my partners and the immense amount of great talent we have around us,” says Madia in regards to the success of his restaurants. “I pull you up, you pull me up. I love that analogy and I live my life by it.” At his core, Madia is a family man, dividing his time between his One Off family, his wife Estelle and their son Bronson. Madia also had been actively involved with pediatric cancer research non-profit Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, both on a national level and locally in Chicago. 


Alexander Pappas

Alex Pappas


Stahl Cowen


Alex is a member of the firm’s Real Estate and Finance department. His practice is focused on real estate transactions, commercial leasing, asset backed financing, joint ventures, and land development. He has been involved in notable mixed use, retail, hotel, multi-family residential, office and hospitality projects throughout Chicago and the metropolitan area. Outside of being an attorney, Alex is also an integral part of his community. He is a key member of the Chicago-Kent School of Law’s incubator program, where his role includes advising start-up law firms on how to identify markets, develop a company brand, and seize business opportunities. Additionally, he is an adjunct professor of Real Estate at Kendall College’s School of Hospitality Management, and is regularly invited to speak at a variety of seminars in the Chicago area, including continuing legal education courses for other attorneys.What makes Alex an asset to any business is the hands-on approach he takes with each of his clients. Rather than trying to maximize fees, he centers his practice on fostering company growth through creating unique opportunities for brand expansion. Alex provides his clients with a much broader role than simply serving as a legal advisor; he is a partner in their success. As such, he has been elected into the Illinois Super Lawyers Rising Stars Selection for 2015, 2016 and 2017.


Alyssa Patt

Director of Operations

Heisler Hospitality


With twenty years of experience in the hospitality industry, Alyssa Patt has a deep understanding of what it takes to successfully run a restaurant and bar day-to-day. A Detroit native and graduate of San Diego State University, Patt moved to Chicago in 2005. She was part of the opening bar team at the acclaimed Girl & the Goat restaurant and served as General Manager for four years, prior to joining Heisler in 2015. 

Erin Phillips

Operations and Education Director

Boka Restaurant Group

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Erin graduated from Baldwin Wallace University with a bachelor’s degree in education. Upon graduation, Erin found herself back in the restaurant industry where she was able to apply her passions for teaching and developing others to find their true potential in the environment she knew and loved.  As the Director of Operations, Erin manages multiple teams and is able to extend her hospitality in numerous dining rooms. While embracing the unexpected and handling problems with ease, Erin creates welcoming atmospheres for both guests and team members alike. With an emphasis on kindness and respect, Erin’s management style is the perfect fit at Boka Restaurant Group, where hospitality is of utmost importance.  When she’s not overseeing some of Chicago’s hottest restaurants, Erin enjoys gardening, cooking, home brewing, reading and collecting records.

Julie Rhew

Director of Strategic Events

Boka Restaurant Group

                                   Coming soon!


Dee Robinson


Robinson Hill

Dee Robinson is the founder and CEO of Robinson Hill, Inc., a concessions management firm based in Chicago with locations  in  non-traditional venues focusing on airports. The company owns and operates a range of licenses and franchises such as Ben and Jerry’s at Chicago’s Navy Pier, Lebanese Taverna Express at Reagan National Airport, Einstein Bros Bagels at both Loyola Medical  Center and Hyatt Place Hotel in Chicago, Lalo’s Mexican Restaurant at Navy Pier, and two concepts at Midway Airport scheduled to open by 2020. In addition, Robinson Hill manages and oversees Hudson Group news and gift stores at O’Hare International Airport via a joint venture with  Hudson Group; restaurants in partnership with  OTG Management at O’Hare airport and formerly Reagan National; and with Potbelly Sandwich Works at Boston Logan Airport.  Ms. Robinson is a board Director for Wintrust Bank. She also serves on the Risk Management and Audit Committees; the Illinois  Gaming Board;  the  Meridian  Healthcare  Advisory Board, Kendall College Advisory  Board,  and  the Committee for Amazon HQ2. Ms. Robinson is an active member of Economic Club, The Chicago Network, Business Leadership Council, Executiveb Club, EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization), and Chicago Yacht Club’s  Finance and Power Fleet Committees. Other involvements include the Airport Minority,  Advisory Council, Executive Club’s Mentorship initiative Chaîne des  Rotisseurs,  Women’s Foodservice Forum, and the National, Illinois, and Virginia Restaurant Associations. Other activities include the Kellogg and Penn Alumni Clubs, the Penn Club of NY, and various political and civic host committees.


Meg Sahs

Managing Partner

Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio

Meg Sahs developed a passion for the culinary industry at an early age. Growing up, Sahs always made time to assist her mother in cooking meals for their family of seven; but it was ultimately an appreciation for hard work and an innate entrepreneurial spirit that would lead Sahs on a fruitful journey down the path to professional satisfaction. Today, Sahs brings refined business knowledge and years of hospitality expertise to the table as Managing Partner of Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio, which she owns with her business partner and longtime friend Chef Sarah Grueneberg. Since opening Montverde in November 2015, the restaurant has received acclaimed reviews from various outlets, including three out of four stars by The Chicago Tribune. In 2016, Monteverde received accolades including: one of Food & Wine’s “America’s Best Restaurants,” a top 50 finalist in Bon Appetit’s “Best New Restaurants” list, Eater’s "21 Best New Restaurants in America,” GQ’s “12 Best New Restaurants,” Eater Chicago’s "Restaurant of the Year” in the 2016 Eater Awards, the  “Worth the Wait” award in Chicago Tribune Dining Awards, and named one of Chicago Magazine’s “15 Best New Restaurants.” In 2017, Monteverde was named one “America’s 38 Essential Restaurants" by Eater and then awarded “Restaurant of the Year” in the 2018 Jean Banchet Awards. Sahs serves on the Illinois Restaurant Association Advisory Council as well as a board member of The West Central Association. 


Hilary Saurer

Director of Sales

River Roast 


As the director of sales for River Roast, Hilary Saurer is responsible for sales related to group events while working closely with the operations team. Saurer is deeply involved with the organization and execution of events hosted at River Roast with the goal to make each one unique whether it's a corporate luncheon or a wedding celebration.  Saurer knew she wanted to work in the hospitality industry at a young age and created a notable career for herself in Chicago. Previous to River Roast, Saurer worked with Levy's Ravinia Festival team and BMO Harris Bradley Center team. She joined the River Roast family in March 2008 where she has won a variety of awards including the Ambassador Task Force Award for Choose Chicago and the Levy Dream Team award for Impact Player of the Year. Hilary loves helping River Roast's guests create some of the most important moments in their lives by providing them memorable experiences that will last a lifetime.



Mindy Segal


Hot Chocolate


Mindy Segal opened “Mindy’s HotChocolate” Restaurant in 2005 after years of dedication to her craft and working in some of Chicago’s finest restaurants including: Ambria, Charlie Trotter’s, Marché and MK. In 2012, Mindy was awarded the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for “Outstanding Pastry Chef.” Her best-selling cookbook “Cookie Love” was released through Ten Speed Press in the Spring of 2015. In 2016, Mindy collaborated with Cresco Labs, Illinois’ largest cannabis cultivator and launched “Mindy’s Edibles.” She is now giving back to those suffering from chronic conditions by reinventing the cannabis-infused sweets industry with her innovative product line.  Segal opened “HotChocolate Bakery” in 2016 in Revival Food Hall in downtown Chicago and it has appeared on all of the “best bakery” lists in the city. She has appeared on The Today Show, The Martha Stewart Show, The Steve Harvey Show, The Food Network and in numerous publications including: Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, and The New York Times.




Susan Shelton

General Counsel and Secretary 

Portillo's Hot Dogs



Susan Shelton currently serves as General Counsel for Portillo’s Hot Dogs, LLC. As General Counsel, Susan oversees and directs the company’s legal team responsible for all aspects of Portillo’s legal affairs, including contracts, corporate governance, litigation and compliance. In addition, Ms. Shelton is responsible for oversight of the Risk Department and serves as the legal advisor to senior management and as corporate secretary. Susan joined the company in 1998, after having served as one of the company’s outside attorneys for 10 years. Susan holds a B.A. from Wheaton College and a J.D. from the DePaul University College of Law. 


Lauren Slipkowsky

Senior Account Manager



With more than 18 years of human resource experience, Lauren demonstrates expertise across the employee lifecycle spectrum and has supported a multitude of hospitality organizations in various capacities. Lauren’s work at HUB includes HR outsourcing as well as project management, with specialization in talent management, engagement, workforce management, training, and labor relations.  Lauren thrives working with all levels within an organization, contributing as a true competent, trusted business partner. Prior to working at HUB, Lauren specialized in the hospitality industry holding HR leadership roles at Aramark and the Drake Hotel. Her experiences include the hiring of new management teams, managing labor relations and union negotiations, as well as coordinating staff onboarding and reorganization. Lauren earned her Master’s degree in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago and her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Smith College in Northampton, MA.  Lauren has her Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification from the Human Resource Certification Institute and is a SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP), and is certified as a Competent Communicator through Toastmasters. 



Jay Stieber

Chairman, National Restaurant Association

Executive VP & General Counsel, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises


Jay Stieber is executive vice president and general counsel of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, which operates over 40 concepts in more than 120 locations in 11 states. He is a partner and member of the Executive Committee and has been with Lettuce since 1995.  Stieber is a former chairman of the Illinois Restaurant Association and serves on its Executive Committee. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Board of the Chamber’s PAC. Stieber is a graduate of DePaul University and earned his Juris Doctorate from Northwestern University School of Law.



Chuck Taylor




Chuck is a principal with CliftonLarsonAllen LLP. He has extensive experience providing tax, accounting and business solutions to a wide variety of closely-held businesses and their stakeholders ranging from entrepreneurial start-ups to large multi-national corporations. He is highly skilled in tax consulting and planning for the unique situations encountered by business owners and executives operating in the restaurant and other food related industries. Chuck offers comprehensive tax strategy and overall planning programs for multiple-entity companies, including those in transition and/or new business ventures. He supplies hands-on assistance with the complex areas of multi-state and local sales and use tax issues. In addition, Chuck has in-depth knowledge of corporate structuring and restructuring issues to capitalize on favorable tax positions. He holds a Master of Taxation from DePaul University and a BS in accounting from Indiana University. Chuck is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Indiana CPA Society, and the Illinois Restaurant Association.


Shannon Trotter

Executive Director

Chicago Liquor Control Commission


Shannon Trotter serves as the City of Chicago Local Liquor Control Commissioner, having been appointed in March 2017.  Ms. Trotter has spent her entire professional career working for the City of Chicago where she brings a wealth of legal expertise and a reputation for creative problem-solving. As Local Liquor Control Commissioner, Ms. Trotter handles a wide range of duties and responsibilities which include reviewing all liquor and public place of amusement license applications; overseeing special event liquor permits; and regulating and imposing liquor license discipline .Ms. Trotter works closely with members of the hospitality industry to help maintain Chicago’s well-deserved reputation as a world-class culinary destination with a bevy of beverage options. Since being appointed Local Liquor Control Commissioner, Ms. Trotter played an integral role in licensing the Park at Wrigley, the City’s first Sports Plaza. She was also responsible for licensing all concessionaires at Midway Airport as part of the Midway Concessions Redevelopment Program.  She is committed to creating new and innovative licensing options to help small businesses launch and grow in the City of Chicago. Prior to 2017, Ms. Trotter spent 17 years in the Building and License Enforcement Division of the City of Chicago Law Department working with various city departments, community groups, elected officials and other stakeholders on the enforcement of license violations, municipal health and misdemeanor code violations.  As a Senior Corporation Counsel of the License Enforcement Unit, Ms. Trotter was responsible for the prosecution of license disciple and appeal cases, and helped draft new license ordinances and amendments to the Municipal Code. In her tenure at the Law Department, Ms. Trotter handled high profile license discipline cases working closely with the Chicago Police Department to find innovative solutions to address crime and problem businesses.  Ms. Trotter was awarded the Chicago Police Department’s Problem Solving Award in 2016.  Ms. Trotter graduated from The John Marshall Law School, and was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 2000.  She earned her bachelor’s degree from DePaul University in 1997.  



Jason Vincent



Working in a kitchen is deeply engrained in Chef Jason Vincent, who started cooking at age 15 at a pizza restaurant in Cleveland, OH. Jason studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and then moved to San Sebastian, Spain, where he cooked at Michelin three-starred Arzak. This formative experience taught him the importance of proper technique and how to transform ordinary ingredients into an extraordinary dish. After moving back to the States, Jason honed his skills at a number of notable restaurants around the country, including James Beard Award winners Fore Street in Portland, ME, and Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. In 2005, Jason moved to Chicago to helm the kitchen at Lula Café and eventually went on to help open its sister restaurant, Nightwood, where his uncomplicated yet refined Midwestern menu earned national acclaim. While at Nightwood, Jason received the highest culinary accolades, including Food & Wine "Best New Chef;” COCHON 555’s “King of Pork;” a JBF semifinalist nomination for "Best Chef: Great Lakes;” and Michelin Guide's "Bib Gourmand” award.  In 2014, after 25 years working in restaurants, Jason very thoughtfully and deliberately decided to take a break from the industry to begin planning a place of his own. During his hiatus, he spent precious time with his young family and traveled for inspiration and a fresh perspective. Giant is the result of this “pause,” a representation of Jason as a chef, a father, a husband and a friend. His concept for Giant is simple—a special little neighborhood spot with great service and honest, unpretentious and delicious food.


Patrick Wartan

Industry Chair/ Attorney

Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP


Patrick is chair of Taft’s Food and Beverage team.ptsac He has extensive experience counseling multi-unit restaurant/bar operators on matters relating to financing arrangements, liquor licensing, mergers and acquisitions, real estate and general corporate governance in jurisdictions from coast to coast. With a background in the foodservice industry, he works with his clients to foster their growth by strategically overseeing all aspects of their operations to ensure that they are on a path to success. His business acumen and operational knowledge allow him to be a partner to his clients rather than just a legal advisor. Patrick is an adjunct professor at Kendall College and teaches a course on Hospitality Law. He serves on the advisory council of the Illinois Restaurant Association. General Corporate and Securities Patrick serves as outside general counsel to businesses of all sizes. He advises and represents a wide variety of businesses in a full range of legal matters, including business formation, funding, acquisitions, business transactions, employment concerns, contract disputes, commercial litigation and negotiations. Entrenched in the business community, Patrick makes it a priority to introduce his clients to centers of influence within their respective industry. He is a frequent speaker on topics such as start-up growth and operations, foodservice issues and other current regulations impacting his clients’ businesses. Patrick is an adjunct professor of law at Chicago-Kent College of Law and teaches a legal writing course. Patrick was selected for inclusion in Illinois Super Lawyers Rising Stars in 2016-2018. He is a member of the Chicago Bar Association, State Bar of California and American Bar Association.


Kyle Welch


Chicago Scoops



Kyle is the co-founder of Chicago Scoops LLC, the largest domestic franchisee of the Cold Stone Creamery brand and serves as president. Scoops owns and operates 42 locations in 11 states throughout the United States and started as a single unit operator in May 2014. Prior, Kyle worked for Sizzling Platter LLC, a restaurant management company, as an internal efficiency consultant leading process improvement projects, market acquisitions and new store openings. Kyle is a certified lean six sigma green belt. Mr. Welch holds a degree in hospitality business from Michigan State University and is an active member of the Northern Illinois Franchise Association, the Illinois Restaurant Association and Young President’s Organization (YPO) Chicago. Kyle currently serves on the Auxiliary Board for College Possible Chicago and enjoys running One Scoop At a Time, an internal charity organization, of Chicago Scoops LLC. Kyle is an avid basketball player and enjoys spending his time mentoring and training future leaders within his communities

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