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Seasonings December 2016
The Official Publication of the Illinois Restaurant Association
December 2016

A Letter from our President & CEO


2016 proved to be a highly successful year for the Illinois Restaurant Association with continued statewide advocacy for the industry, scholarship funding, unique member programming, and several high caliber events in the heart of Chicago. These successes would not have been possible without the support of our members, Officers, Board of Directors, Board Chair Dan Costello and our corporate sponsors. Thank you to: Dan Gilroy, US Foods; Gary Salvestrini, Sysco Chicago; Wayne Rich, Heartland Payment Systems; Clinton Wolf, United Healthcare; Eric Cronert and Michael Schwind, Reinhart Food Service; Scott Schupbach and Rob McMillion, Gordon Food Service; Tim McGrail, Pepsi; Darwin Claude, Edward Don; John Heil, Heil & Kay Insurance; Mike Carroll and Danny O’Shea, Coca-Cola; and Kevin Pribilsky and Mike Thorsen, Performance Foodservice.

The IRA remained an active voice in lobbying and supporting for the best interests of Illinois restaurant operators. This year, we successfully exempted restaurants from the City of Chicago’s new tax on carry out bags. We kept our finger on the pulse, updating you on crucial issues like the minimum wage increase, soda tax and paid sick leave legislations. On November 22, the federal court put a temporary nationwide halt on the Department of Labor federal overtime rule for salaried employees, yet with the uncertainty of the rule, we urge employers to be ready and refer to the latest compliance materials from the NRA.

In its ninth year, Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet once again took over Millennium Park for a food- and art-filled weekend in September with the theme: Food is Art! Use Your Palate. The event showcased not only artfully crafted cuisines, but also highlighted several local artists whose work was displayed throughout the weekend. Chicago Gourmet’s first-ever Host Chef, Rick Bayless, acted as a culinary ambassador, helping to curate programming including a brand-new event, The Tao of Tacos, which united several chefs from diverse culinary backgrounds to create distinct and delicious tacos.  2017 brings Chicago Gourmet’s 10th anniversary and we can’t wait to celebrate incredible talent from Chicago and beyond at one of the city’s most prized foodie events.  The IRA also continues to play a crucial role in culinary events throughout the year including Taste of Chicago, Blues Fest, the IRA Golf Classic and Chef’s Table.

Chicago hosted the James Beard Foundation Awards again in May, recognizing the best and brightest in our industry.  We are overjoyed by the extension of the awards in Chicago through 2021, a decision that anchors Chicago as a culinary capital of the United States.

We continue to invest in our industry’s future, creating opportunities and enriching programming for the next generation.  This year, the IRA Educational Foundation received an endowment from the Charlie Trotter’s Culinary Educational Foundation with a commitment of a six-figure scholarship fund to continue fostering the culinary dreams of young chefs. From these scholarship opportunities to the IRA’s frequent training and certification courses, we remain dedicated to the development of our industry’s workforce. To date, the IRAEF has provided over 2.7 million in scholarship dollars.

Programming for our members throughout the state was at an all-time high this year.  With member roundtable events, the second annual Meet the Experts networking event and the first Chicago Tech Tour, the opportunities for engagement and networking were bountiful. We are continually working to serve you, our loyal members.

As 2017 nears, we look forward to continuing our work for you – advocating for, protecting and promoting the outstanding restaurant and hospitality industry in Illinois.

Be sure to visit for the latest updates, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  Get the latest on Chicago Gourmet at and follow along on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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

Membership continued to grow and expand throughout Illinois under the direction of Committee Chair Sam Sanchez.

The membership team hosted 20 roundtables across the state in 2016 benefitting members with educational seminars and government relation updates, among other things. Special thanks to Joey Terrell for educating everyone on sustainability at several of these events.

In February, Advisory Council Member Don Williams of McDonald’s Corporation hosted a luncheon with the IRA and the Northern Illinois Franchise Association (NIFA) on Franchising Trends and Directions at Hamburger University at McDonald’s World Headquarters Oak Brook Campus. Thank you to McDonald’s, NIFA and sponsors BDO and Alliant Employee Benefits for helping make the event a success.

The 3rd annual Meet the Experts event was held in May at Fremont in Chicago. Thank you to Tim McEnery, of Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurants who kicked off the event as the keynote speaker. The event, sponsored by Axia Law, CliftonLarsonAllen, Reinhart Foodservice, and Blast Marketing allowed attendees to meet with 40 industry experts in one-on-one speed coaching sessions. Special thanks to Marc Epstein and Four Corners Tavern Group for generously hosting the event at their hot new concept in River North.


On November 16, the IRA, in association with the Illinois Technology Association (ITA) and the National Restaurant Association introduced its first Chicago Tech Tour. The day-long tour featured stops at 1871, Google and ITA. A group of over 50 Members and Corporate Sponsors were bussed to each location and treated to presentations centered around technology and its impact on the restaurant industry.

In other news, Gordon Food Service upgraded its Corporate Sponsorship Level from Silver to Gold and is now offering a promotion for FREE IRA Student Membership!

The IRA welcomes Performance Food Service (formerly Fox River Foods) as our newest Corporate Sponsor!


Promoting the Vitality of the Restaurant Industry

During a contentious election year in 2016, the IRA faced a series of challenges and successes.

Labor issues continue to be at the forefront of our efforts. This year the IRA was able to secure some of the nation’s most business friendly paid sick leave ordinances in Chicago and Cook County and we continue to fight scheduling legislation.

On the national front, the IRA worked closely with the NRA to fight the DOL’s overtime rules. With the recent victory in the Texas courts, placing the overtime rule on temporary hold, we remain vigilant on this issue. Also, fighting for immigration reform continues still to be a focus.

Maintaining funding for the state is key to the economic stability of our industry. We were a key member of the coalition of hospitality and tourism groups that successfully advocated to maintain state funding to Choose Chicago and all Illinois tourism bureaus despite a prolonged budget impasse.

We also held successful Lobby Days in Springfield and Washington D.C. and hosted several IRA PAC events throughout the year. Thank you to the members who attended and supported our efforts. We need our voices heard.

Thank you to our corporate sponsors PepsiCo and Coca-Cola for leading the No Cook County Beverage Tax Coalition in opposing the penny per ounce soda tax. Although this ordinance ultimately passed, thank you to those members who supported this grass-roots effort.

Important Reminders

New Sales Tax Rates

Please be sure to familiarize yourself with sales tax changes in various municipalities and counties throughout Illinois.

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

Happy Hour/NYE

During this holiday season, we urge all restaurateurs to review Illinois’ happy hour rules to ensure that you are in compliance with 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.


Training Solutions in the Classroom, Online and On-Site


2016 was a successful year for the Education Department. We trained over 3,700 people in food safety sanitation and responsible alcohol service throughout the year. We renegotiated a contract with El Valor Community Centers to provide sanitation certification classes to Spanish-speaking parents, continued sanitation training for CPS culinary students, and certified 150 food service sanitation managers for Whole Foods Market. BASSET certification enforcement began for alcohol servers and ID checkers in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, with remaining Illinois counties taking effect in July 2017 and 2018. Check the IRA website and weekly President’s Report for class schedules and updates on food service training requirements. Thank you to all our members who make the IRA your source for workforce training and education!



Building the Culinary 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 $175,000 in scholarships to 70 students pursuing a post-secondary education in culinary arts or hospitality management
  • Hosted the 15th Annual ProStart Invitational®, sponsored by Sysco—Chicago 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 50 states at the National Invitational
  • Provided over 300 work-based learning experiences with employer partners on Job Shadow Day – March 16, 2016
  • In conjunction with its partners, offered 221 CPS ProStart® jobs and internships. Special thanks go to our many employer partners, including HMS Host, Park Grill, Savor Chicago at McCormick Place, Piccolo Sogno, O’Briens, Phil Stefani Restaurant Group, 7 Lions, and Nico Osteria
  • Provided almost 900 students with classroom-based Job Readiness Training
  • Provided hundreds of ProStart® students with the opportunity to assist chefs at year-round industry events including the James Beard Awards, NRA Show, Printer’s Row Lit Fest, Sensory Overload, Hamburger Hop, Chicago Gourmet, Chef’s Table, and Hospitality and Culinary Camps, as well as field trips.

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 appreciative of all our industry partners, especially:

SAVOR Chicago: Host Sponsor for 2016 and the upcoming 2017 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 16th Annual ProStart Invitational®, sponsored by Sysco – Chicago, is on March 4, 2017 at McCormick Place.

To learn more about how your organization can get involved with the ProStart® Program, please contact IRAEF ProStart® Program Manager Kayla Hawkins at

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


Food is Art! Use Your Palate.


Cheers to the ninth annual Chicago Gourmet, held in Millennium Park from Friday, September 23 to Sunday, September 25, 2016! Owned and produced by the Illinois Restaurant Association, Chicago Gourmet again partnered with title sponsor Bon Appétit magazine and presenting sponsor Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Illinois.

Chicago Gourmet produced a new set of culinary experiences in 2016:

  • Acclaimed Celebrity Chef Rick Bayless of Frontera Restaurants—our first-ever Host Chef—helped curate programming to highlight our first-ever theme, Food Is Art! Use Your Palate.
  • Our new Saturday event, The Tao of Tacos, spotlighted 12 leading chefs from diverse culinary backgrounds who each brought a different worldly approach to their canvas, in this case the humble tortilla. And, to complement the tasty tacos, guests enjoyed specialty cocktails from Tequila Cazadores, delicious beer from Lagunitas Brewing Company, and Matua wine.

It was an impressive and successful year for Chicago Gourmet. We hit a new impression record as public relations and marketing efforts garnered an astounding 1.012 billion impressions this year. But records are meant to be broken, and we are up for the challenge. Next year is our tenth anniversary celebration and it is sure to be a phenomenal year!

This year’s sellout weekend fest was enjoyed by 13,694 attendees and raised over $100,000 for charitable funds for Frontera Farmer Foundation, Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, and Pilot Light.

The seventh annual Hamburger Hop presented by Buckhead Beef and Blue Moon Brewing Company attracted over 1,100 attendees and kicked off the weekend of culinary celebrations.

The festival featured over 45 sponsors and more than 178 wine, spirit, beer, and gourmet food exhibitors from around the world providing samples on the Great Lawn. Over 250 chefs and restaurants offered delicious tastings in the 12 tasting pavilions, ranging from BBQ, Beer & Bourbon presented by COUNTRY Financial to the Big Green Egg Tasting Pavilion and the Gelato World Tour Tasting Pavilion.

Hosted by Master Sommeliers and elite wineries, the exclusive Grand Cru offered 500 attendees each day the opportunity to taste some of the finest wines in the world paired with decadent bites by Chicago chefs participating in Shakespeare 400 Culinary Complete Works.

And finally, attendees took to their mats for the second annual Rise & Shine Gourmet, presented by KIND and UnitedHealthcare, at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel Sunday morning. Brunch bites and cocktails were enjoyed by all!

Save the Date for the 10th Annual Chicago Gourmet and 8th Annual Hamburger Hop on September 22-24, 2017 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 2016.

The Illinois Restaurant Association officially kicked off its 102nd year of service at the 2016 Annual Meeting and Luncheon, held at the Union League Club. Dan Costello, President of Home Run Inn Restaurant Group, was sworn in as Chairman of the IRA Board. Rochelle Trotter joined guests to announce Charlie Trotter's Culinary Education Foundation’s commitment of more than $100,000 to the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. These funds are used to provide need-based scholarships to Illinois students seeking post-secondary education in cooking, hospitality, or culinary arts. The meeting concluded with the presentation of the 2015 Industry Awards to three incredible supporters of the Association and the hospitality industry:

Sara Rowe ProStart® Company of the Year: Jim Kallas, Eurest - A Division of Compass Group
Vendor of the Year: Clinton Wolf and Colleen Van Ham, UnitedHealthcare
Restaurateur of the Year: Sam Sanchez, John Barleycorn/Moe's Cantina/Old Crow Smokehouse

Additional involvement included managing the beverage concessions at the Chicago 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 du Jour area.

The Golf Classic presented by Anheuser-Busch and Sam Adams took place on a beautiful August day and exceeded budget. Over 300 golfers enjoyed a great day of golfing, networking, and sampling of a wide array of fantastic food and beverages.

Finally, we ended the year with the 39th Annual Chef’s Table Restaurateurs for Education event presented by Burrito Beach and Sysco—Chicago. Over 600 food service professionals joined together to celebrate the diverse culinary neighborhoods of Chicago at Morgan MFG on Friday, November 4. A night of live music and culinary treats, the event showcased some of Chicago's most renowned restaurants and mixologists. The event exceeded budget, and all proceeds directly benefited the IRA Educational Foundation and ProStart® programs.

Thank you to all our members who sponsored, attended, and supported events this year. We'll see you in 2017!

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