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The Official Publication of the Illinois Restaurant Association
january 2018


Meet Jay Stieber, Industry Advocate and 2018 National Restaurant Association Chairman


Throughout his 30-year career, Jay Stieber has made an indelible mark on the hospitality industry. Whether serving as the 2009 Illinois Restaurant Association Chairman or in his role as Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Jay’s genuine commitment to and passion for his work shines through every day in his advocacy for restaurants. With his recent, impressive appointment as Chairman to the National Restaurant Association, Jay will continue to advance the industry on a national level.

We recently spoke with Jay about his industry insights and what he plans to accomplish as Chairman of the National Restaurant Association.

  • Tell us a little about your history. How did you get where you are today?
  • By education and training, I am a CPA and an attorney. I spent the early part of my career working in tax consulting with a public accounting firm and then served as CFO of several companies. About 30 years ago, I became the CFO and general counsel for a company in the hospitality business, serving in that position for about six years. During that time, I met the Lettuce Entertain You team. Eventually, I joined them and have been with the company for 24 years. I am a Partner and currently serve as Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises.
  • What do you enjoy most about your involvement with the Illinois Restaurant Association?
  • The IRA is a very respected organization that represents the industry on both the state and local level extremely well. What I have enjoyed most was not only being part of that, but the relationships I have built with other board members and industry individuals along the way

  • You’ve long been an advocate for the restaurant industry. How would you encourage restaurateurs to get engaged with their elected officials?
  • A restaurateur who wants to be an advocate on behalf of the industry should seek out opportunities to meet and interact with elected officials on all levels – from federal and state to city and county. On the federal level, one good option is to attend the NRA-hosted Public Affairs Conference held in D.C. each year, which presents a tremendous opportunity to meet federal legislators. On the state and local level, it is all about not being afraid to put yourself out there. Events and fundraisers are one way to get started, but there is also no reason that any restaurateur can’t pick up the phone and call a local official, such as an alderman, to start a conversation. Invite them to your restaurant. Allow your officials to place a face to your name, and have your voice heard.
  • What has been the most exciting part of watching the restaurant industry evolve over the years?
  • The restaurant industry itself is a very dynamic one, in which the landscape is constantly changing. There is always something new and different. In most recent years, we have seen technology take on a much larger role in the restaurant industry in areas such as delivery, ordering systems, and payment methods. I am eager to see what is to come.
  • What advice do you have for restaurateurs looking to expand?
  • Be conservative in your projections and be sure that you have the necessary resources in terms of personnel and finances. Be careful about where you expand geographically, and do so in a logical format relevant to your home base.
  • What are you most looking forward to as NRA Chairman in 2018?
  • First and foremost, I am extremely honored to have been asked to assume the role of Chairman of the National Restaurant Association. This board is made up of talented, quality people and it is a huge honor. What I am most looking forward to is the opportunity to travel around the country and meet other restaurateurs. I am thrilled to have the chance to tell the story of the restaurant industry, the opportunities we provide, the philanthropic efforts that our restaurants give to the community, and the ability to advocate on behalf of the industry
  • What are your goals as you begin this new role?
  • The NRA itself has goals of working on advocacy, the image of the restaurant industry, and building engagement. My goals are centered around programs that accomplish all of these things. One area we are going to ramp up is our grassroots efforts, in which we are hoping to have meetings with 200 legislators in 2018 in their home district to discuss the industry and the opportunities we provide. Across the nation, this industry employs more than 14 million people, so it is vital our board members are reaching out to groups and advocating for these people.

The IRA is excited to continue collaborating with Jay and the NRA to promote the best interests of the restaurant industry on the local, state, and federal levels. To learn more about Jay and the NRA's Leadership team, click here. To visit a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant today, click here.


Events for Every Palate


From celebrity chef events and industry leader gatherings, to feasting under the sun – and everything in between – the Illinois Restaurant Association has a lot cooking in 2018. We are proud to produce and support numerous events year-round. Highlights include:

Annual Meeting
– Thursday, February 1
We kick off the year with our Annual Meeting and Luncheon, featuring the installation of the 2018 Officers and Board of Directors, along with keynote speaker Michael J. Sacks, Chairman and CEO of GCM Grosvenor and Vice Chairman of World Business Chicago. Industry awards will be presented for Vendor of the Year, Restaurateur of the Year and Sara Rowe ProStart® Company of the Year. Click here to register today.

ProStart Invitational – Saturday, February 24
The Illinois Restaurant Association will welcome culinary and management teams comprised of high school ProStart® students statewide to compete in the 17th Annual Illinois ProStart® Invitational, a day full of culinary and restaurant management competitions. The winners will compete in the national invitational this April in Providence, RI.

Job Shadow Day
– Wednesday, March 21
An exciting day in which restaurants, hotels and businesses come together to offer ProStart® students the opportunity to gain a real-world view of the industry through a four-hour experience that includes an introduction and orientation to the operation, hands-on learning experiences, a Q&A session and more. Click here to sign up to get involved. 

Meet the Experts – Spring 2018
This annual event offers restaurant operators the chance to meet one-on-one with experts in a variety of fields such as staffing, marketing, real estate, licensing and more – all over food, drinks and a casual evening primed for conversation, networking and learning. Contact Eric Fine at (312) 380-4115 or to learn more. 

NRA Public Affairs Conference – Tuesday-Wednesday, April 17-18
Taking place in Washington D.C. for the 32nd consecutive year, the Public Affairs Conference provides the chance for restaurant industry individuals to make a difference with its largest grassroots lobbying event. Click here to register today. 

James Beard Foundation Awards – Monday, May 7
For the fourth consecutive year, culinary stalwarts will flock to Chicago to celebrate and honor industry accomplishments at the James Beard Awards. Save the date for one of the year’s most highly anticipated events and celebrations galore! The Illinois Restaurant Association is honored to co-host the James Beard Awards alongside Choose Chicago.

Springfield Lobby Day – Tuesday-Wednesday, May 15-16
The IRA joins IHLA and ICCVB for Springfield Lobby Day 2018, featuring meetings with legislators, guest speakers, and lobbying efforts in support of the issues that matter most to members of the restaurant industry. Contact Matt Quinn at (312) 380-4122 or to learn more. 


NRA Show 2018 - Saturday-Tuesday, May 19-22

The National Restaurant Association offers four incredible four days of networking, education, and innovation with more than 60,000 foodservice professionals and over 2,000 exhibitors at McCormick Place in Chicago. Register now and save $40 for a limited time. 

Taste of Chicago – Wednesday-Sunday, July 11-15
Thousands of locals and visitors alike flock to Grant Park to taste bites from more than 60 restaurants. The IRA manages restaurant and beverage operations for the annual event, which showcases familiar favorites and new food trucks, pop-ups and 5-day vendors! Want to apply to be a restaurant vendor? Contact Lisette Medina at (312) 380-4145 or

Golf Classic – Wednesday, August 1
Join hundreds of industry professionals for a day on the links. Attendees enjoy a full day of gourmet bites and cocktails, raffles prizes and silent auction, and networking at St. Andrews in West Chicago. Click here for a 2017 recap. For more information about sponsorship opportunities, contact Samantha Vitale at (312) 380-4111 or

Cubs Game Membership Mixer – Monday, August 27
Cheer on the Cubs with the IRA at Wrigley Rooftops. Tickets includes food, beverage, and viewing of the Cubs-Mets game at 7:05 p.m. For more information about tickets and sponsorship opportunities, contact Eric Fine at (312) 380-4115 or

Hamburger Hop – Friday, September 28
Taking place on the Harris Theatre Rooftop, this annual kick off to Chicago Gourmet weekend features 15 chef participants serving up mouthwatering takes on an American classic and vying for champion bragging rights. Click here to learn more. 

Chicago Gourmet – Saturday-Sunday, September 29-30
Named one of the country’s best wine festivals by USA Today 10Best in 2017, this IRA-founded event includes 200+ chefs presenting their cuisine via cooking demos, tasting pavilions and seminars. The weekend, which always draws a sold-out crowd, also features wine and spirit tastings, celebrity chef book signings and more. Chicago Gourmet benefits numerous charitable partners each year, including the IRA Educational Foundation. Click here to learn more. Stay tuned for the exciting ancillary event lineup!

Chef’s Table – Friday, November 2
This annual event unites Chicago’s food service industry professionals to support the leaders of tomorrow, featuring bites from some of the city’s best restaurants. Proceeds benefit the IRA Educational Foundation Scholarship Initiative and statewide ProStart® program. Click here for a recap of 2017 Chef's Table. 

Stay up to date on IRA events year-round at



Allergen Awareness Training Now Required - Are You Compliant?


Food Service Sanitation Managers working in Category I restaurants are now required to obtain ANSI-accredited allergen awareness training within 30 days of hire, and every three years thereafter. The law took effect January 1, 2018, with enforcement beginning July 1, 2018. After July 1, 2018, health inspectors will require proof of ANSI-accredited allergen training during routine health inspections.

Click here to download an FAQ on Illinois' allergen awareness training law and ServSafe Allergens training. Click here to register for ServSafe Allergens training available online in English and Spanish. Enter your IRA Member ID number to receive a discount on your purchase.

Please call the IRA Education Department at (312) 787-4000 or contact Mary Wilkie, IRA Director of Education, at with any questions.



Hit the Town for Chicago Restaurant Week


Chicago Restaurant Week 2018 returns January 26 through February 8 with two weeks of dining deals. The 11th annual culinary celebration features special prix fixe menus starting at $22 for brunch or lunch, and $33 and/or $44 for dinner.

Wondering how to get in on all the fun? It’s easy:

  • Browse the list of Chicago Restaurant Week participants below
  • Check out their special brunch/lunch/dinner menu offerings
  • Make your reservations early to ensure you have a seat at the table by clicking on the restaurant name

More than 370 restaurants take part (including 115 new participants for 2018!), so get a taste of Chicago’s restaurant scene: Italian, French, Spanish, Chinese and more! Between the neighborhood favorites and downtown hotspots, you can feast on delicious multi-course menus all across the city and suburbs. Throughout Chicago Restaurant Week, diners can make an impact on our neighbors in need and donate to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

And to kick things off, join the preview party, First Bites Bash, Thursday, January 25 to celebrate the culinary community in style. Click here to purchase tickets today. 


Kuma's Corner: Harshing Your Mellow Since 2005


The story of Kuma’s Corner began in 2005 with the opening of its flagship location at the corner of Belmont and Francisco in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood. From its origins as a corner bar with solid American bistro fare, Kuma’s Corner has grown to five locations offering the finest burgers available on this planet or any other.

Kuma's Corner prides itself on putting customers first, with a team that feels extremely fortunate to have hosted thousands of dedicated eaters from locales near and far. As such, the Kuma’s Corner team feels it is their obligation to give back to the communities that support them and their love for meat and heavy metal. They support purveyors that are local and homegrown. They also take great pride in supporting the Chicago heavy metal music community at large.

Opening it's newest location at 852 W Fulton Market in May 2017, in the ever-growing West Loop neighborhood, the "more refined" 3,800-square-foot Kuma's seats 99 guests inside and another 32 outdoors. It is dimly lit with neutral concrete floors and dark wooden features throughout. This new location not only offers the same metal-themed burgers and a curated rotating draft beer list (32 taps), but takes this one step further through a creative craft cocktail and wine program to suit the clientele of the West Loop.

With plans for opening more locations in the Chicagoland area and nationwide, Kuma's Corner will always continue to support our community, eat beef and bang our heads.

For more information, visit


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