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2014 Year in Review

Letter from the President & CEO

Dear IRA Members,

2014 has been an outstanding year, and our achievements would not have been possible without the tremendous support and dedication of our members, Officers, Board of Directors, our Chairman of the Board Ken Raskin, and our corporate sponsors. Many thanks to the following sponsors: Dan Gilroy, US Foods; Gary Salvestrini, Sysco Chicago; Corey Frank, Heartland Payment Systems; Eric Cronert and Scott Baggett, Reinhart Food Service; Clinton Wolf, United Healthcare; Austin Chavez, Resource Point of Sale; Tim McGrail, Pepsi; Darwin Claude, Edward Don; Brian Larsen, Gordon Food Service; John Heil, Heil & Kay Insurance; and Mike Carroll, Coca-Cola.

Our centennial year started with a celebration honoring our industry’s Living Legends and ended with our annual From the Chef’s Table event to benefit the next generation of industry leaders. The Association has been very active on all fronts in 2014, especially in our advocacy for the best interests and economic vitality of our members and our industry on the local, state, and federal levels.

The IRA has been on the forefront of the minimum wage issue in Illinois, as we worked for a statewide, reasonable minimum wage. Other crucial issues included Illinois’ happy hour laws, liquor server training, implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and immigration reform. We look forward to working with our incoming Governor to foster the continued development of a dynamic restaurant and hospitality industry across Illinois.

Hats off to our Membership Department, who grew our base by over 11% and engaged members through informative programming, networking events, new benefits, and educational opportunities.

The IRA provided food service training to over 3,800 people in food safety sanitation and responsible alcohol service throughout the year. This vital training becomes even more important in 2015 as enforcement of the Illinois Food Handling Regulation Enforcement Act begins on January 1.

The Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation helped hundreds of students pursue a career in hospitality by offering learning opportunities and over $150,000 in scholarships. This holiday season, we ask that you to consider making a tax-deductible gift to our Educational Foundation. As always, we thank you for your continued and generous support of the future leaders of our industry.

The 7th Annual Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet sold out in record time, attracted over 12,600 attendees, and raised a total of $113,000 for charitable funds – the most in the festival’s history. We also showcased Illinois’ rich culinary diversity through the success of banner events such as Taste of Chicago and Blues Fest.

The City of Chicago has become an international culinary tourism destination. We have dozens of Michelin-starred restaurants, and hundreds of celebrity chefs and vibrant neighborhood restaurants across our city. For the first time, Chicago will host the 25th Annual James Beard Awards this May. The James Beard Awards are the highest honor for food and beverage professionals working in North America. We welcome the James Beard Foundation to Chicago as we continue to solidify Chicago’s position as a culinary capital of the world.

The IRA will continue advocating, educating, and promoting the restaurant and hospitality industry as we enter into our 101st year of service in 2015. The following is a recap of our activity in 2014. Be sure to stay up to date with us by visiting and following us on Facebook and Twitter. Happy Holidays on behalf of the entire IRA team. I wish you all a safe and prosperous New Year.


Sam Toia
President & CEO
Illinois Restaurant Association


Government Relations

After years of working with State Senator Kimberly Lightford on a reasonable minimum wage bill, the State Legislature adjourned without passing any such legislation. The IRA lobbied aggressively for a reasonable minimum wage that was uniform throughout the entire state. In the end, the City's unilateral action virtually eliminated the possibility for such action. The IRA and our business partners will continue to work diligently on this issue at the state and city level.

In March, the IRA held a meeting with the Chicago and Illinois Liquor Commissioners. Issues discussed included recent violation notices about happy hour laws, specific details of PPA licenses, and time to permit. The IRA continues to work with stakeholders to clarify the Illinois Happy Hour Law and to make changes to Chicago’s PPA ordinance.

Chicago specific issues included exempting restaurants from the plastic bag ban, lobbying against mandatory paid sick leave, and fighting efforts to increase ethanol in gasoline.

The Illinois General Assembly passed the Secure Choice Savings Program Act, a retirement savings program that private-sector employees are automatically enrolled in unless they opt out. The State also mandated Alcohol Server Training for Cook County starting in 2015.

On the Federal level, healthcare remained a key issue. The “Save America Workers Act” passed the house and stalled in the senate, changing law's definition of "full-time" from 30 hours to 40 hours. Also, a Senate bill was introduced called the Auto Enroll Repeal Act, which would repeal the requirement that employees with more than 200 full-time employees that offer enrollment in one or more health benefits plans enroll automatically all new full-time employees in one of those plans.

Late in the year, President Obama took executive to protect immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents, provided they pass a criminal background check and have lived in the U.S. more than five years. The IRA has been on the forefront of immigration reform. A special thank you to Executive Committee Member Billy Lawless, Sr. for his tireless efforts on this issue.

The IRA also held two very successful lobby days (one in Springfield and one in Washington DC) and numerous PAC events. Thank you to our guests, sponsors, and hosts for all of our fundraisers. The IRA PAC supports candidates who support the foodservice industry. An investment in the PAC is an investment in the future of your business.


Happy Hour/PPA

During this holiday season, we ask that our restaurateurs and bar owners review Illinois' happy hour laws to ensure that you are not in violation. Please familiarize yourself with the happy hour regulations.

Many of our members who have been ticketed in the past few years have shared with us that using language to promote meal and beverage packages that includes the words "free", "complimentary", "unlimited", or "open bar" has been red flags for investigators.

Chicago Minimum Wage

The Minimum wage in Chicago will go to $10.00 an hour on July 1, 2015. The Minimum Wage for workers who receive gratuities will go to $5.45 at that time.

Click here to read the ordinance.

Pregnancy Accommodations

Illinois employers with one or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees and new mothers – including leaves of absence - under a new law that will go into effect on January 1, 2015. Notice posting will be required and employers also may need to revise employee handbooks or policy manuals in anticipation of the effective date of the new law.

Click here to read the law. The IRA will update our members on how to implement these new requirements in 2015.

Tax Rates
Some municipalities and counties in the State of Illinois have changed their sales tax rates for 2015. To see if you are affected, click here.




The Membership Department worked diligently in 2014 to grow throughout Illinois while continuing to engage and retain our base. Membership growth continues to be a focus of the Association, and we are pleased to say annual dues revenue is up 11.4% year over year. Thank you to our Committee Chairs Dan Costello and Glenn Keefer for all their hard work. A special thank you to new IRA Sponsor UnitedHealthcare, whose partnership is continuing to bring in new members.

In 2014, the Membership Department created additional programming/events, outreach, and benefits for our members. Enthusiasm is strong as a result of positive events throughout the year like “Connect to Concierges” in January hosted by The Grid, the “Heil & Kay Safety Event” at Manny’s in June, the two Health Insurance Council Events in September and November hosted by Hubbard Inn and Marcelo’s Father & Son, and the hugely successful speed coaching event, “Meet the Experts”, hosted by Untitled Chicago.

“Meet the Experts” welcomed over 300 attendees in May for one-on-one consulting opportunities with local business leaders. The event was so successful the IRA will once again produce it in 2015. A big thank you to Kevin Brown, President and CEO of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises for being the keynote speaker, and to Axia Law and CliftonLarsonAllen for sponsoring. Keep an eye out for this event in 2015!

In addition, the IRA has been the “Officiating” body of The Aurora Culinary Champions. We continue to collaborate with local tourism bureaus and chambers of commerce throughout Illinois.

We are always looking for ways to add value to your membership, topics of concern, and things that we, as an Association, can do to help solve the problems that you face every day in the restaurant and foodservice industry. If you know of a restaurant or operator that would like to join the Association, please refer them to the IRA Membership Department. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or if you would like to host a Membership Event, please call Eric Fine at 312.380.4115.

Here’s to a successful 2015!



2014 brought many important changes in food service awareness. New regulations took effect on July 1, 2014 which reduced Food Service Sanitation Manager Certification training requirements from sixteen to eight hours, consolidated first-time and recertification training into the same eight hour class, and introduced new Food Handler Certification requirements for all other restaurant employees who handle ready-to-eat food, food service equipment and utensils. Click here for more information on these important changes.

In addition, the IRA trained over 3,800 people in food safety sanitation and responsible alcohol service throughout the year. We completed our fifth year partnering with the Mexican government on the Bi-National Sanitation Certification Program, training 155 students this year and over 500 students to date. We negotiated a new contract with El Valor Community Centers to provide sanitation certification classes to Spanish speaking parents, and we increased our contracts with Chicago Public Schools and Whole Foods Market. We are preparing for the new Alcohol Server training requirements which take effect in Cook County on July 1, 2015 and will keep you abreast of all training solutions in the weekly President’s Report and on the IRA website.


IRAEF Update

In 2014, the IRA Educational Foundation (IRAEF) focused on growing the ProStart® program and increasing partnerships. ProStart® is the IRAEF’s two-year high school program that connects curriculum and industry. Most notably, the IRAEF:

  • Awarded $150,000 in scholarships to 67 students pursuing post secondary education in culinary arts or hospitality management.
  • Provided over 325 work-based learning opportunities for ProStart students at its annual Job Shadow Day. Over 60 employer partners participated.
  • In conjuction with its partners, offered over 100 ProStart® students summer job opportunities. Special thanks to HMS Host, Park Grill, Savor Chicago at McCormick Place, Mercat a la Planxa, Piccolo Sogno, Quartino, White Castle and the many other employer partners.
  • Provided almost 1,000 students with classroom-based Job Readiness Training.
  • Provided over 100 ProStart® students with the opportunity to assist chefs at industry events to gain real-world experience. Events included:
    • Chicago Gourmet
    • The Hamburger Hop, the kick-off event for Chicago Gourmet on the Harris Theater Rooftop
    • The 37th Annual Chef’s Table Restaurateurs for Education event at the Hyatt Regency Chicago
    • The 1st Paella Cookoff at Mercat a la Planxa
    • Chefs on the Grill at the Park Grill
    • The 3rd Annual Wrigleyville Rooftop Fundraiser

In addition, our Post-Secondary School partners provided many development opportunities to our students and teachers. Special thanks to our post-secondary school partners Kendall College, Washburne Culinary Institute, Le Cordon Bleu, and Robert Morris University, and the many other partners that made these accomplishments possible. Events included:

  • ProStart Invitational at Kendall College: Approximately 65 students competed in the rigorous 14th annual statewide Culinary and Management competition for scholarships, prizes and the opportunity to compete against 46 states at the National Invitational.
  • Hospitality Camp: Students were taught a class by Washburne Hospitality instructors and assisted with running the front of house and back of house operations at Sikia Restaurant.
  • Culinary Camp at LeCordon Bleu: Approximately 30 students participated in the week long camp to hone their skills and prepare for the ProStart Invitational.

Upcoming 2015 Key Program Initiatives include:

14th Annual ProStart Invitational®: February 28th at McCormick Place
Sponsored by Sysco, Chicago. Student teams will compete in a Culinary competition and/or a Management competition.

Job Shadow Day: March 18th
Please support ProStart® students by partnering with us to provide job shadow opportunities in your business.

Get involved with ProStart® students to help develop tomorrow’s industry leaders! Give back by participating in key initiatives and providing internships, mentoring students, judging or donating to the Scholarship program. Please contact Kathy Summers at or (312) 380-4147 to get involved.

Chicago Gourmet

The seventh annual Chicago Gourmet was held in Millennium Park Friday, September 26 to Sunday, September 28, 2014. Produced by the Illinois Restaurant Association, Chicago Gourmet again partnered with title sponsor Bon Appétit magazine and presenting sponsor Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois.

The weekend was enjoyed by 12,614 attendees, the largest showing since the event’s inception, and raised a total of $113,000 for charitable funds, the most in Chicago Gourmet’s history. Tickets to the weekend's Chicago Gourmet main event, Grand Cru and Friday night's Hamburger Hop sold out.

The fifth annual Hamburger Hop was held Friday, September 26 and presented by returning headlining sponsor Allen Brothers and the new Lagunitas Brewing Company and attracted 1,100 attendees.

The weekend festival featured over 45 sponsors and more than 165 wine, spirit, beer and gourmet food exhibitors from around the world providing samples on the Great Lawn. Over 200 chefs and restaurants offered delicious tastings in the 11 tasting pavilions, ranging from BBQ to seafood to global street food.

Hosted by Master Sommeliers and elite wineries, the exclusive Grand Cru presented by COUNTRY Financial offered 400 attendees each day the opportunity to taste some of the finest wines in the world paired with decadent bites from James Beard award winning chefs from Chicago and the Midwest.

New this year, Chicago Gourmet honored one of Chicago’s most beloved chefs, Charlie Trotter, with a Tribute Dinner on Saturday, September 27, 2014. The evening welcomed 190 attendees at the Trump International Hotel and featured some of Charlie’s most esteemed friends and colleagues for one night of food, wine and stories. The evening raised $30,000 to benefit Charlie Trotter's Culinary Education Foundation.

Chicago Gourmet's public relations and marketing efforts garnered 756 million impressions this year - a 27% increase from 2013.

Save the Date: the 8th annual Chicago Gourmet and 6th annual Hamburger Hop will be held September 25-27, 2015 in Millennium Park. Visit for more information.


Special Events


The IRA produced many successful events in 2014. The Centennial year celebrations kicked off in February at the Hyatt Regency at the Annual Meeting, an installation of Officers luncheon, inducting Ken Raskin as the 2014 Chairman of the Board. In honor of the centennial, Industry Living Legend awards were presented to champions of the culinary industry that have left an indelible mark on Illinois’ cuisine and culture:

Rich Melman, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises
Outstanding Restaurateur Award

Rick Bayless, Frontera Grill / Topolobampo / XOCO
Outstanding Chef Award

Kathryn Thanas, Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant
Humanitarian Award

Gary Salvestrini, Sysco Chicago
Sara Rowe ProStart® Company Award

Joe Turano, Turano Baking Company
Outstanding Vendor Award

Frank Sgro, Italian Village
Outstanding Service / Guardian of Achievement Award

Other events included managing the beverage concessions at Blues Festival and the beverage and restaurant operations at the Taste of Chicago. The Taste of Chicago once again featured highly sought-after “pop-up” restaurants and a celebrity Chef de Jour area.

The Golf Classic took place on a beautiful August day and exceeded budget. Approximately 300 golfers enjoyed a great day of golfing, networking and sampling a wide array of fantastic food and beverages.

Finally, we ended the year with the 37th Annual Chef’s Table Restaurateurs for Education event presented by Home Run Inn. The Roaring 20’s celebration hosted over 600 industry professionals who enjoyed 29 chef stations and 5 mixology stations, courtesy of Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois.

Thank you to all our members who sponsored, attended, and supported events this year!

Platinum Sponsors


Gold Sponsors


Silver Sponsors


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