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July 2014

Chicago Gourmet and Chef Jose Garces Hosted 1st Annual

Paella Cook-off to Benefit the IRA Educational Foundation

On June 23rd, executive chef Jose Garces and Chicago Gourmet hosted the first Annual Paella Cook-off at Mercat a la Planxa. The Iron Chef detailed his desire nearly a year ago to host a paella cook-off and Garces’ dream came to fruition. Eight chefs competed, but it was Gemini Bistro's Jon Keeley who emerged victorious in the judge's eyes.

Mercadito Hospitality's Guillermo Tellez took home the award for the "People's Paella." Both Keely and Tellez won a personalized paella pan and will be among the judges for the 2015 event. Check out a video of the 1st Annual Paella Cook-off here, courtesy of

Ten ProStart students assisted chefs from Girl and the Goat, Sunda, Frontier and others with prep and at service stations. The IRA Educational Foundation benefited from this unique culinary event.

Chicago Gourmet, showcasing more than 150 of Chicago’s finest restaurants and chefs, as well as hundreds of renowned vintners, spirit makers, and premium breweries from around the world, takes place September 26 - 28 in beautiful Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. Tickets to Chicago Gourmet are still available. Purchase your tickets today!


Government Relations Update

How Restaurateurs Can Talk to Elected Officials About Minimum Wage and Tip Credit

The Illinois Restaurant Association has prepared talking points for members to use when speaking with elected officials about the minimum wage and tip credit.

Click here to read the talking points.

The time is now to get involved. Call your elected officials office. Attend a town hall meeting. Introduce yourself to your elected officials at events. Invite them to tour your restaurant.

Here are tips on how to talk to elected officials and some suggestions on restaurant-specific priorities to bring up.

Keep it simple and short. Introduce yourself and your restaurant. Be polite and thank him or her for meeting with you.

Talk about your restaurant. Lawmakers want to hear about you and your business. Tell your story. How did you get started in the industry? What was your first job? How many people does your restaurant employ? How much tax revenue does your business generate? What are your biggest challenges? How will legislation change the way you do business?

Engage. After you connect with your elected officials, keep the conversation going on social media. Start by thanking them for their time via Facebook or Twitter.

Op-Ed By Sam Sanchez and Scott DeFife

In July, Board Member Sam Sanchez and the NRA's Scott DeFife published an Op-Ed in the Chicago Sun-Times about the current minimum wage issues in the City of Chicago and Illinois. The restaurant industry is the largest private sector employer in the state of Illinois and it is critical that we continue to get our message out there about the negative impacts a large minimum wage increase would have on our businesses and the communities they are in. Click here to read the article.


IRA Golf Classic


The 2014 IRA Golf Classic is Wednesday, August 6 at St. Andrews Golf and Country Club, 2241 Illinois Rt. 59, West Chicago 60185. Enjoy a day of 18 holes of golf (including cart), networking, silent auction, raffle, and a wide array of fantastic food and beverages.

Please visit our Golf Classic page for more information. If you have questions regarding sponsorship packages or donations, please contact Tom Kokinakos at 312.226.7611 ext. 811 or


IRAEF Update

IRA Educational Foundation Awards $150,000 in Scholarships

In June, the IRA Educational Foundation hosted the Annual Scholarship Awards Luncheon at the Chase Tower for 135 students, parents, teachers and donors. The event was generously sponsored by Eurest and attended by keynote speaker, Jim Kallas, Compass Group/Eurest Division President and Sam Toia, President and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association. The event was a celebration of the talent and commitment of the 67 high school and college students who are pursuing careers in Culinary Arts or Hospitality Management at 25 colleges and universities. Forty high school ProStart students were among scholarships recipients, including 18 CPS high school students who received $43,500 in awards.


ProStart Culinary Camp Hosted by Le Cordon Bleu

Led by Chef Leigh Uhlir, the five-day ProStart Culinary Camp (6/16-6/20) at Le Cordon Bleu was attended by ProStart students from across the city. Students were taught by chef instructors and focused on teaching new skill sets related to cooking techniques, baking and pastry. The camp helps students hone their culinary skills to prepare for the 2015 ProStart Invitational competition. The last day of camp featured a culinary competition that simulated the Invitational.


ProStart Students A Hot Commodity at 'Chefs on the Grill' Event

On June 19th, seventeen local chefs competed in the seventh annual “Chefs on the Grill” event at The Plaza at Millennium Park. The Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s ProStart program was the charity for this fun, al fresco culinary extravaganza. Each chef, assisted by two ProStart students, created a grilled dish and a cocktail pairing. Over 400 attendees enjoyed the wide array of offerings and voted for their favorite.


Q&A With Marc Schulman

The IRA recently had the opportunity to speak with Eli’s Cheesecake owner Marc Schulman about his years in the industry, his favorite moments in the Taste of Chicago history and what’s new with the IRA Centennial restaurant today.

Eli's Cheesecake is the only vendor to have been involved with the Taste of Chicago since its inception. What is your favorite thing about this annual food festival?

Of course, celebrating our birthday with Eli’s giant 1,000 pound cheesecake! And, spending five days outside in a t-shirt with my fellow restaurateurs…it’s like food camp. I also like meeting our customers and hearing what they have to say about our product.

Is there a one staple item at the Taste (besides your cheesecake of course!) that you have to get every year?

Robinson’s boneless rib sandwich, corn on the cob, watermelon and pizza. It is so much fun to walk down Columbus and Jackson taking in the crowds and deciding what new item (or old favorite) to sample.

Eli's has been in the food business for over 70 years -any advice for achieving longevity in the restaurant/hospitality business? Biggest reward, biggest challenge?

It is an inspiring story about what can be achieved in the restaurant business! My dad went into the restaurant business accidentally in 1940 when he found his favorite west side (Ogden & Kedzie) coffee shop had gone out of business. Here we are 74 years later with a great history of achievements—first in the restaurant business, and most recently with Eli’s Stage Delicatessen and Eli’s the Place for Steak, and then my Dad introducing his signature Cheesecake at that first Taste of Chicago on July 4, 1980. Without Taste and without restaurant heritage, we would have never had the opportunity to grow into a national leader in supplying cheesecake and desserts to leading restaurants nationally.

What are the most memorable moments in Eli's history?

Being with my parents, Eli and Esther, and my wife Maureen, at the Ceremony for Chicago’s 150th Birthday Cake at Taste of Chicago in 1987. When Mayor Washington couldn’t attend at the last minute, Bozo stepped in and read the resolution citing my parents for their contribution to Chicago and for creating the very special cake. We had so many friends of my parents in attendance and a huge crowd for the cake cutting so my parents really saw the success of Eli’s Cheesecake.

You're known for making some giant cheesecakes around town. What are your thoughts on going for the Guinness Record?

At Taste alone, we sold over 5.2 million slices of Eli’s Cheesecake so that has to be a record in itself. The biggest Cheesecake we ever created was for Bill Clinton’s first inaugural in Washington DC in 1993. That Cake weighed over 2,000 lbs. and was red, white and “Bill” in honor of the new President.

What other exciting things does Eli's have happening this year?

We turned National Cheesecake Day into a week of celebrations from July 30th to August 2nd. We travel around the City in our Cheesecake Mobile bringing slices to the staff and families at Lurie Children’s Hospital (on the former site of Eli’s the Place for Steak) and right across the street at Seneca Park and the Eli M. Schulman Playground.

We also host a Classic Car Show at Eli’s Cheesecake with over 200 entries benefitting the New Horizons Center and have a “Meet the Maker” Day at our Thursday Farmers Market profiling the great local suppliers who make our cheesecakes and desserts so great. We also just introduced Eli’s Vegan Cheesecake with Tofu from Phoenix Bean on the north side of Chicago.


Don't Miss It

August 19: Illinois Restaurant Association and COSI (Cycle of Success Institute) host Restaurant Workshop

This unique, hands-on event that will give you and your management the tools needed to grow sales and be more profitable, and to help develop a “team driven” motivated work force. The event will also include a presentation by John Mautner, the Founder of COSI. Space is limited. Register at or call 312.787.4000.

$25 IRA members / $45 non-members (Cost includes 3 tickets, breakfast, presentation, workbook & expert coaching).

*We suggest the owner/president and 1-2 key leaders to attend.  


News & Notes

Greater Chicago Food Depository Graduates Chicago's Community Kitchens Students

On June 27, Sam Toia attended the Greater Chicago Food Depository's (GCFD) graduation ceremony for students in the Chicago's Community Kitchens (CCK) program. The program gives unemployed and underemployed the opportunity to intern in the Food Depostory's kitchen and train for a successful career in the foodservice industry.

Also in attendance at the graduation ceremony were chefs Carlos Gaytan of Mexique, Bill Kim of Belly Q, and Giuseppe Tentori of GT Fish & Oyster.


New Members

The Association is pleased to welcome:

Avero LLC
Chop Shop
Crossroads Public House
Devon Seafood Grill
JHB Technologies
Juicy Lucy's Fresh Juice Cafe
MOD Construction
R&R Energy
Vinyl Social Food & Drink
Zeiler Insurance

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