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The Official Publication of the Illinois Restaurant Association
December 2015

A Letter from our President & CEO


Hosting the 25th Anniversary of the James Beard Foundation Awards, modernizing culinary and hospitality laws, raising a record amount of scholarship funds for the future leaders of our industry, and another sold-out Chicago Gourmet – all highlights of the work of the Illinois Restaurant Association in 2015. Our 101st year of service has been a remarkable one, and our accomplishments would not have been possible without the support and dedication of our members, Officers, Board of Directors, our Chairman Patrick Donelly, and our corporate sponsors. Many thanks to the following sponsors: Dan Gilroy, US Foods; Gary Salvestrini, Sysco Chicago; Wayne Rich, Heartland Payment Systems; Eric Cronert and Michael Schwind, Reinhart Food Service; Clinton Wolf, United Healthcare; Austin Chavez, Resource Point of Sale; Brian Mavraganes, Option One Energy; Tim McGrail, Pepsi; Darwin Claude, Edward Don; Scott Schupbach and Rob McMillion, Gordon Food Service; John Heil, Heil & Kay Insurance; and Mike Carroll, Coca-Cola.

The Illinois Restaurant Association achieved legislative victories in 2015 that support a thriving and dynamic restaurant and hospitality industry in our state. The IRA was instrumental in the passage of the Culinary and Hospitality Modernization Act, a pragmatic, pro-business law that passed with broad bipartisan support. We also lobbied to restore funding to Choose Chicago and all the tourism and convention bureaus in the state of Illinois. Of course, tax increases and labor mandates are perpetual concerns for the restaurant industry. The IRA will continue to actively promote business-friendly public policies by educating our elected officials on the crucial importance of our industry to the state of Illinois.

In May, Chicago hosted the James Beard Foundation Awards - the Academy Awards of the restaurant world - for the very first time. Hosting the JBF Awards was truly another testament to how Chicago has become a culinary capital of the United States and a gastronomic hub. We look forward to hosting the Awards in 2016 and 2017 as well.

Bon appétit presents Chicago Gourmet is undoubtedly staked its claim as the premier food and wine festival in the United States. Nearly 14,000 people attended this year’s festival, where they savored unforgettable tastings, wines, spirits, and beers from the finest culinary talent and mixologists in Chicago and across the country. We also continued to celebrate Illinois’ rich culinary diversity and heritage through the success on Taste of Chicago, Blues Fest, and Chef’s Table.

Our Membership department is making considerable strides to expand our base throughout the state with innovative programming, roundtable events, and unrivaled service to our members. I hope all of you will make the Illinois Restaurant Association your first call for advice, referrals, training programs, or questions on industry regulations. First and foremost - we are here to serve.

We continue to train a world-class hospitality workforce in Illinois, and give opportunities to the restaurant leaders of tomorrow. The IRA frequently offers classes in responsible alcohol service and food handler sanitation, among other training solutions. The IRA Educational Foundation provided hundreds of students with job placements, mentoring, and a record total of $176,000 in scholarships in 2015. 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 IRA is looking forward to ringing in the New Year in style as a sponsor of the inaugural Chi-Town rising event. We hope to see you out in the street dancing and singing to the sounds of the musical group Chicago.

We will continue to promote, protect, educate, and advance Illinois’ restaurant and hospitality industry in 2016 and beyond. The following is a recap of our activity in 2015. Be sure to stay up to date with us by visiting and following us on Facebook and Twitter. Check out the latest Chicago Gourmet news at, and visit our Chicago Gourmet Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Happy Holidays on behalf of the entire IRA team. We wish you all a safe and prosperous New Year.


Sam Toia
President & CEO
Illinois Restaurant Association


Connecting the Best in the Business

The IRA Membership Department continues to work throughout Illinois to develop, engage, support and promote the efforts of IRA members and the Association as a whole. We are glad to report that for the second consecutive year our membership dues revenue tallied double digit growth. Thank you to Committee Chair Sam Sanchez for his time, leadership, and support towards making this goal a reality.

Advisory Council member Clinton Wolf of UnitedHealthcare greatly pushed our partnership with UHC forward. Thank you to UnitedHealthcare for their continued commitment to serve the foodservice industry in Illinois and offer health insurance savings for businesses and employees through the IRA.

"Meet the Experts" has quickly become the flagship IRA Membership event. In its second year, we welcomed IRA member Kevin Boehm from BOKA Restaurant Group to tell his incredible story. Sponsors Axia Law, CliftonLarsenAllen, Signature Bank, and Reinhart Foodservice exceeded our expectations yet again with an exceptional group of industry experts. Thank you to Chop Shop/1st Ward Events and their staff for hosting this great event.

Stemming from our successful passage of the Culinary and Hospitality Modernization Act, Membership Committee Chair Sam Sanchez and his restaurant team organized and hosted our "Happy To Be Heard" event in August, which was attended by more than 500 people. This event was generously sponsored by BDO Worldwide, Beam Suntory, Food Industry News, Laner Muchin, Iris Worldwide, and Food Industry News.

The Membership team has been working to improve the relationships between restaurateurs, tourism professionals, and their local government representatives. A special thanks to Joe Taylor and Molly Otting-Carlson of the Quad Cities CVB, Jim Garrett of Chicago Southland CVB and Gina Gemberling of the Springfield CVB for hosting and participating in IRA events in their respective areas. On a hyper-local level, the membership team has participated in and supported neighborhood specific roundtable meetings around the state, including Quad Cities, Ravenswood, and Lincoln Square. These roundtables have had a multitude of formats including guest speakers and moderated forums covering a broad range of industry-wide and local topics.

Stay tuned for a brand new free program for IRA members through the City Colleges of Chicago partnership with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses. This program provides owner/operators with free bi-monthly classroom business curriculum geared towards expanding and growing your businesses. For more information on these or any other programs please call Eric Fine at (312) 380-4115 or email


Advocacy on Every Level


2015 marked a huge step forward for Illinois’ restaurant industry and a major legislative victory for the Illinois Restaurant Association with the passage of the Culinary and Hospitality Modernization Act - a measure that ended the 25-year ban on happy hour in Illinois. This legislation brings Illinois’ culinary and hospitality laws into the 21st century with a very balanced, pragmatic approach that includes statewide alcohol server training, meal and party packages, food and wine pairings, happy hours, infusions, and other reforms that will help our industry thrive. We thank our leaders in Springfield that secured this bill's passage, especially Chief Sponsors State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (12th) and State Senator Tony Muñoz (1st).

With the state budget impasse, funding for tourism and convention bureaus around Illinois was frozen in mid-2015. This meant that Chicago and Illinois were not promoting all the world-class restaurants, hotels, museums, and attractions we have to offer. This was especially devastating for Choose Chicago, as 40% of their annual budget is derived from state funds. The IRA was a key member of the coalition of hospitality and tourism groups that successfully advocated to restore state funding to all Illinois tourism bureaus.

IRA President & CEO Sam Toia served on the City of Chicago’s Working Families Task Force in the second half of 2015. The Task Force has examined three central areas: paid sick leave, scheduling practices, and additional family supports. Two dozen municipalities and states have passed paid sick leave legislation, and the issue has reached national significance in the 2016 elections. Throughout the proceedings, the IRA has urged the Task Force to develop reasonable, business-friendly recommendations that fully recognize the cumulative effect that recent taxes and mandates have had on Chicago's business community in the past 18 months. The Task Force recommendations are expected to be released in early 2016.

At the county level, the IRA opposed an unprecedented proposal to increase the minimum wage for large employers in Cook County. Other issues in Chicago and Cook County included defeating a proposed soda tax in the Chicago City Council, setting restrictions on mobile food carts in Chicago, and fighting the sales and hotel tax increases in Cook County.

The IRA also held successful Lobby Days in Springfield and Washington D.C., attended the NRA/CSRA Government Affairs Conference in Las Vegas, and hosted several IRA PAC events. As always, it is crucial that the IRA supports elected officials who understand the issues of the restaurant and hospitality industry.

Nationally, we continue to work with the NRA to urge Congress to take action to halt the implementation of new overtime rules for salaried employees from the Dept. of Labor, which are currently set to be finalized by mid-2016. The proposed rules would guarantee overtime pay to salaried employees who earn less than $50,440/year. The current threshold is $23,660/year. National Labor Relations Board overreach, and the restoration of the joint-employer model for franchises are also top concerns.

Important Reminders

New Sales Tax Rates

Please be sure to familiarize yourself with sales tax changes in various municipalities and counties throughout Illinois. In Cook County, the sales tax will increase 1% starting January 1, 2016.

Click here to review all changes in local sales tax rates to see if you are affected.

Happy Hour/New Years Eve

During this holiday season, we urge all restaurateurs to review Illinois’ happy hour rules to ensure that you are in compliance with new regulations on happy hours, meal packages, and party packages allowed by the Culinary and Hospitality Modernization Act. Please contact Matt Quinn at (312) 380-4122 or with any questions.

BASSET Certification Enforcement

Enforcement of BASSET certification requirements for Cook County alcohol servers and ID checkers will begin on January 1, 2016. We will keep you abreast of all IRA training solutions in the weekly President’s Report and on the IRA Education department webpage.

CO2 Alarm Enforcement

The Illinois State Fire Marshal's Office and municipal fire inspectors are now enforcing a regulation adopted in 2012 that requires the installation and maintenance of a carbon dioxide monitor for safety in any location that stores CO2 for beverage dispensing. Failure to have proper CO2 monitoring systems at your establishment could result in a $500 fine.

Click here to read the NBIC regulations on CO2 monitoring systems. Click here to download the required signage.


Training Solutions in the Classroom, Online and On-Site


2015 was a very robust year for the Education Department. Enforcement began on new regulations for Food Service Manager and Food Handler Certification, new BASSET certification requirements were introduced for alcohol servers, and attendance in IRA classes significantly exceeded 2014. The IRA trained over 4,000 people in food safety sanitation and responsible alcohol service throughout the year.

In addition, the IRA renegotiated a contract with El Valor Community Centers to provide sanitation certification classes to Spanish speaking parents, continued sanitation training for CPS students, and increased our contract with Whole Foods Market to cerfify over 300 food service sanitation managers.

Thank you to all our members who make the IRA your source for workforce training and education.



Building the Hospitality Workforce of Tomorrow


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

  • Awarded a record total of $176,000 in scholarships to 61 students pursuing a post-secondary education in culinary arts or hospitality management.
  • Hosted the 14th Annual ProStart® Invitational at McCormick Place, where approximately 75 students competed in the rigorous statewide Culinary and Management competition for scholarships, prizes and the opportunity to compete against 46 states at the National Invitational.
  • Provided over 300 work-based learning experiences students with employer partners on Job Shadow Day – March 18, 2015
  • In conjunction with its partners, offered 110 CPS ProStart® summer jobs and internships. Special thanks go to: HMS Host, Park Grill, Savor Chicago at McCormick Place, Mercat a la Planxa, Piccolo Sogno, Quartinos, White Castle, Bacinos, Connies, 7 Lions, Home Run, Piccolo Sogno, Publican, White Castle, Buffalo Wild Wings and our many other employer partners.
  • Provided almost 900 students with classroom based Job Readiness Training.
  • Provided hundreds of ProStart® students with the opportunity to assist chefs at industry events to learn more about the industry at events year-round, including: the James Beard Awards, NRA Show, Hospitality and Culinary Camps, 1st Annual Paella Cook-Off at Mercat a la Planxa, Hamburger Hop, Chicago Gourmet, Chef’s Table, field trips, and much more.

To provide opportunities for ProStart® students to be exposed to careers in the industry, the Foundation relies on our employer partners, sponsors and donors. We are greatly appreciate of all our industry partners, especially:

  • SAVOR Chicago: Host Sponsor for 2015 and 2016 ProStart® Invitational at McCormick Place
  • Compass/Eurest Dining: Sponsor of the annual IRA Educational Foundation Scholarship Luncheon
  • HMS Host: Adopted three CPS schools and supports these schools with mentoring, field trips, summer jobs, and scholarships

Save the Date: The 15th Annual ProStart® Invitational is on February 6, 2016 at McCormick Place, sponsored by Sysco - Chicago.

To learn more about how your organization can get involved with the ProStart® Program, please contact IRAEF Executive Director Kathy Summers at

To make a donation to support career exploration, workforce development, ProStart® Invitational or scholarships, please click here.


A World-Class Celebration of Chicago's Culinary Landscape


Cheers to the eighth Annual Chicago Gourmet, held in Millennium Park Friday, September 25 to Sunday, September 27, 2015! 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 13,875 attendees, the largest showing since the event’s inception, and raised over $100,000 for charitable funds. Tickets to the weekend's Chicago Gourmet main event, Grand Cru, and Friday night's Hamburger Hop sold out in record time.

The sixth annual Hamburger Hop presented by Buckhead Beef and Lagunitas Brewing Company and attracted over 1,100 attendees and kicked off the weekend of decadence.

The 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 240 chefs and restaurants offered delicious tastings in the 11 tasting pavilions, ranging from Global Beer, Bourbon & BBQ presented by COUNTRY Financial to the Supreme Lobster & Seafood Company Tasting Pavilion and the Mexico Tasting Pavilion.

Hosted by Master Sommeliers and elite wineries, the exclusive Grand Cru presented by Eimer Stahl offered 500 attendees each day the opportunity to taste some of the finest wines in the world paired with decadent bites from Bon Appétit Magazine’s Best New Restaurants Collective.

Chicago Gourmet produced a new set of culinary experiences in 2015:

  • A Toast to Charlie hosted by Emeril Lagasse offered 200 guests the opportunity to savor an intimate, four-course lunch with a culinary legend. All proceeds went to the Charlie Trotter’s Culinary Education Foundation.
  • 550 guests came out for an exciting evening of punches, pig roasts, and head-to-head competition at the first ever Punch Kings, Pigs n’ Tiki, presented by COCHON 555 and Chicago Gourmet.
  • The inaugural Rise & Shine Gourmet presented by UnitedHealthcare welcomed 500 attendees for a sunrise yoga class, family fun run, and brunch tastings.

Chicago Gourmet's public relations and marketing efforts garnered an astounding 890 million impressions this year.

Save the Date for the 9th Annual Chicago Gourmet and 7th Annual Hamburger Hop on September 23-25, 2016 in Millennium Park. Visit for more information.


Year-Round Festivities for the Foodservice Industry


The IRA's special events brought out industry leaders, golfers, gamers, families, and foodies alike for a wide array of culinary activities in 2015. The year kicked off at the Hyatt Regency Chicago for the IRA Annual Meeting and Installation of Officers luncheon, inducting Patrick Donelly as the 2015 Chairman of the Board. The meeting featured keynote speaker Evelyn Sanguinetti, Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, and the presentation of the 2014 Industry Awards to three incredible supporters of the Association and the hospitality industry:

  • Sara Rowe ProStart® Company of the Year: Brad Maher, HMS Host
  • Vendor of the Year: John Tomasiewicz & Gina Novak, American Express
  • Restaurateur of the Year: Hank Meyer, BJ's Market & Bakery

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 presented by Sam Adams and Anheuser-Busch 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 38th Annual Chef’s Table Restaurateurs for Education event presented by Eurest – a Division of Compass Group, Sam Adams, and Sysco – Chicago. The Retro Las Vegas celebration hosted over 600 industry professionals who enjoyed 30 chef stations and 6 mixology stations, courtesy of Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois. Gaming tables, live music from DJ Megan Taylor, Vegas showgirls, and a premium silent auction were all highlights of the lively evening. The event exceeded budget, and all proceeds from the event directly benefited the IRA Educational Foundation.

Thank you to all our members who sponsored, attended, and supported events this year. We'll see you in 2016!

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