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The Official Publication of the Illinois Restaurant Association

A Message from the President & CEO


National culinary accolades, a hard-fought soda tax repeal, 10 years of Chicago Gourmet, and $178,500 awarded in scholarships – all highlights of the work of the Illinois Restaurant Association in 2017. These successes would not have been possible without the support of our members, Officers, Board of Directors, Chairman Jim Kallas and all our corporate sponsors. A special thanks to Dan Gilroy, US Foods; Gary Salvestrini, Sysco Chicago; Angela Ihry and Wayne Rich, Heartland Payment Systems; Colleen Van Ham and Mike Telesky, UnitedHealthcare; Toby Brunson and Michael Schwind, Reinhart Food Service; Chris Cunning, Illinois Gaming Systems; John Willard and Rob McMillion, Gordon Food Service; Mike Coker, Coker Service, Inc.;Tim McGrail, Pepsi; Darwin Claude, Edward Don; Mike Carroll and Brittany O’Toole, Coca-Cola; Kevin Pribilsky and Gwen Dougherty, Performance Foodservice


I’ve often said Chicago is the culinary capital of the United States. In 2017, Condé Nast Traveler and Bon Appétit magazine agreed. Condé Nast named Chicago America’s Best Restaurant City in May, and in August, Bon Appétit followed suit, heralding Chicago as its Restaurant City of the Year. These accolades for our city and state are testaments to some of the most talented restaurateurs and hard-working team members in the business.


On the legislative front, our top priority – and victory! – was the repeal of the Cook County Sweetened Beverage Tax. The Association also worked to make jobs more accessible to young men and women through pragmatic legislation in Chicago and hiring initiatives in Cook County, kept operators up to date on the latest regulations, and protected state funding for tourism bureaus that help put more heads in beds in hotels and diners in seats in restaurants.


IRA membership continues to grow, and our Education department is providing classes and training programs to meet all the certification needs of foodservice professionals in Illinois. The IRA Educational Foundation is building futures through job training, scholarships, mentoring, and so much more.


Chicago hosted the James Beard Foundation Awards again in May, recognizing the best and brightest in our industry throughout the country. Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet undoubtedly staked its claim as the premier food and wine festival in the United States, as we celebrated 10 years of decadence with ten spectacular ancillary events. The IRA also continued to celebrate Illinois’ rich culinary diversity and future through the success of Taste of Chicago and the IRA’s Chef’s Table – our 40th Annual Restaurateurs for Education event.


It has been my honor and privilege to serve the IRA for the past five years. As we wrap up 2017, I’d like to thank you for being a part of the Association. We want the IRA to be your first call for advice, referrals, training programs, legal questions on industry regulations, or whatever else you may need. We are here to serve you.


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.  



Sam Toia

President & CEO

Illinois Restaurant Association


Strong Growth for the Association


Membership continued to expand throughout Illinois under the direction of Membership Committee Chair Kevin Vaughan. We thank all our members for supporting the IRA's many initiatives, as membership is the foundation of everything we do. We also proudly welcomed Coker Service Incorporated (CSI) and Illinois Gaming Systems as our newest Corporate Sponsors in 2017.

Throughout the year, the membership team held roundtables in Central Illinois, and hosted several seminars and webinars on paid sick leave, minimum wage, and the Cook County soda tax.

The 4th Annual Meet the Experts event brought together more than 375 people for an evening of networking and speed coaching with 30 industry experts at Old Crow River North. A special thanks to Nick Kokonas from the Alinea Group and Tock for kicking off the event as the keynote speaker, and IRA Second Vice Chairman Sam Sanchez for hosting. On August 30, we welcomed 175 people to the Wrigley Rooftops for a Membership Mixer. Special thanks to Stacey Loukas from Wrigley Rooftops and Cubby Bear for hosting us! Save the date for next year's outing August 27, 2018.


If you would like to become more engaged in the Association, sign up for a committee to help advance the mission, events, and resources offered by the IRA.



Protecting the Best Interests of the Hospitality Industry


Throughout 2017, the IRA achieved several legislative goals and addressed regulatory challenges at the local, state, and federal levels.

The repeal of the Cook County soda tax was one of the most significant victories for the restaurant and hospitality industry in recent years. The IRA was proud to lead press conferences, rallies, and email campaigns as a member of the Can the Tax Coalition that pushed for repeal. In October, the Cook County Board finally voted to rescind the tax, effective December 1, 2017.

Locally, the IRA worked with Former IRA Chairman Alderman Tom Tunney and Alderman Rod Sawyer to pass a City of Chicago ordinance that permits 18-20 year olds to sell and serve, but not pour, alcohol in restaurants and grocery stores. The Association also testified in favor of certain municipalities opting out of Cook County’s $13 minimum wage and paid sick leave laws and opposed a ban on cashless restaurants in Chicago, among other legislative efforts.

On the state level, the IRA was a key member of the coalition of hospitality and tourism groups successfully advocating to increase state funding for Choose Chicago. The Association also opposed the $15 minimum wage increase that was ultimately vetoed by Governor Rauner, testified in support of maintaining Live Theatre tax credits, supported allergen awareness training requirements for restaurant managers, and promoted the TRUST Act to limit workplace disruption and protect Illinois’ immigrant community.

The IRA also held productive Lobby Days in Springfield and Washington D.C., attended the NRA/CSRA Government Affairs Conference in New Orleans, and hosted several IRA PAC events that help support elected officials who understand the issues of the restaurant and hospitality industry.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) successfully lobbied to maintain the traditional Department of Labor (DOL) overtime standard and reinstate the traditional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) joint-employer standard benefiting franchisees. Other top priorities on the national level include lifting tip pooling restrictions between front of house and back of house employees, maintaining the FICA 45(b) tax credit, and comprehensive immigration reform.



Classroom and Online Training Solutions


2017 was a busy year for the Education department. We trained more than 3,500 people in food safety sanitation and responsible alcohol service. We renegotiated a contract with El Valor Community Center to provide sanitation certification classes to Spanish-speaking parents, and we continued sanitation training for CPS culinary students and corporate customers.


Rolling BASSET certification enforcement for alcohol servers and ID checkers took effect for additional counties in July 2017, with the remaining Illinois counties taking effect in July 2018.

Allergen awareness training became law in Illinois, which requires Certified Food Service Sanitation Managers working in Category I restaurants to receive ANSI-accredited allergen awareness training within 30 days of hire, and every 3 years thereafter. The law takes effect January 1, 2018 with enforcement beginning July 1, 2018. Click here to register for ServSafe Allergens training available online in English and Spanish. Until December 31, 2017, training is available for a special discounted price of $15 with the code: ILALLERGEN


Check the IRA website 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!

Educational Foundation

Building the Next Generation of Culinary Leaders


This year, the IRA Educational Foundation (IRAEF) continued to grow the Illinois ProStart® program and worked to connect culinary students with industry professionals. Most notably, the IRAEF:

  • Awarded a total of $178,500 in scholarships to 70 students pursuing a post-secondary education in culinary arts or hospitality management.
  • Hosted the 16th Annual ProStart® Invitational at McCormick Place, where approximately 75 students showcased their talents in the rigorous statewide Culinary and Management competition.
  • Provided almost 900 students with classroom-based job readiness and soft skills training.
  • Delivered more than 300 work-based learning experiences where students received hands on training with employer partners on Job Shadow Day.
  • In conjunction with our partners, offered 200 CPS ProStart® students jobs and internships.

To provide opportunities for ProStart® students to be exposed to careers in the industry, the IRAEF relies on our employer partners, sponsors and donors. 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 or contact Ann Leider, IRAEF Executive Director, at


Special Events

Year-Round Festivities for the Foodservice Industry


The IRA's 2017 special events brought out industry leaders, golfers, dancers, families, and foodies alike for a wide array of culinary activities.

The IRA officially kicked off its 103rd year of service at the 2017 Annual Meeting and Luncheon, held at the Union League Club. Jim Kallas, Division President of Eurest a Division of Compass Group, was sworn in as Chairman of the IRA Board. Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined us as keynote speaker to discuss the importance of Chicago's restaurant scene as a driving force in its tourism industry. 

The IRA again managed the beverage and restaurant operations at the Taste of Chicago, which featured highly sought-after “pop-up” restaurants, exciting musical acts, a celebrity Chef du Jour area, refreshing beverage offerings and a day of Latin flair - Sabor de Chicago. This year’s Mad for Plaid Golf Classic presented by Anheuser-Busch and Sam Adams featured more than 300 golfers enjoying a full day of golfing, networking, and sampling of a wide array of delicious food and beverages.

Finally, we ended the year with the 40th Annual Chef’s Table presented by Old Crow Smokehouse and Sysco—Chicago. More than 650 foodservice professionals joined together for a Studio 54-inspired celebration and culinary showcase at Morgan MFG Friday, November 3. The event exceeded expectations, 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 2018!



DECADENCE. Pop the Cork – We’re 10!


Cheers to the 10th Anniversary of Chicago Gourmet! Known as one of the country’s top food and wine events, the festival expanded the celebration this year by holding city-wide events starting Tuesday, September 19 to Sunday, September 24, 2017. The festival is produced by the Illinois Restaurant Association, with generous support from title sponsor Bon Appétit magazine and presenting sponsor Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Illinois.

Chicago Gourmet was enjoyed by more than 14,000 ticketed attendees and raised more than $123,000 in charitable funds. The marquee main event in Millennium Park and the Grand Cru tasting, presented by Celebrity Cruises, were accompanied by a packed roster of ancillary events.

This year, the festival featured 184 sponsors and wine, spirit, beer, and gourmet food exhibitors who provided indulgent tastings for attendees. More than 290 top talent, chefs, & restaurants participated in the various events throughout the week. Notably, Chicago Gourmet hosted what is believed to be largest gathering of Master Sommeliers at a public event. We also hit a new impression record as Chicago Gourmet's public relations and marketing efforts garnered an astounding 1.3 billion impressions this year. But records are meant to be broken, and we are up for the challenge. Next year is our eleventh annual Chicago Gourmet, and it is sure to be major…

Save the Date for the 11th Annual Chicago Gourmet and 9th Annual Hamburger Hop on September 28-30, 2018 in Millennium Park. Visit for more information.


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