Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Register
The Official Publication of the Illinois Restaurant Association
JUNE 2016

Raising the Bar: The Evolution of the Craft Beverage Program


In recent years, consumers have increasingly moved away from mass-produced goods in search of locally-sourced, artisanal offerings, and alcoholic beverages are no exception. From wine, to beer, to cider, the new drinking generation is in search of distinct and rare experiences – and there seems to be no shortage of interesting offerings coming to market. This month, we take a look at IRA members throughout the state with uniquely- curated beverage programs that have evolved with this ever-changing landscape.

Craft Beer
According to the Brewers Association, the American beer landscape in the 1970s shifted in favor of the widespread popularity of light lagers. As such, the traditions and styles of beer from American immigrants began to disappear, and as the variety diminished, homebrewers popped up around the country, with these beer enthusiasts reintroducing lost flavors to the American beer market. And thus, craft beer was born.

Steve Palmer, owner of Palmer Place in LaGrange has been immersed in the craft beer scene since the early ‘80s. He recalls that having a large selection of imported beers was a sort of “original” craft beer trend. Even in the mid-80s, Palmer Place offered hundreds of compelling beers from more than 30 countries, from breweries like Samuel Smith, Bass, Hofbrau and Chimay, introducing unique flavors and styles to the market.

“Back then, to be a craft bar made you really unique,” explains Palmer. “Today, having local craft beer is an absolute must.”

Once local craft beers made their mark with brewers like Chicago’s Goose Island, the favor began to shift back toward unique brews, with consumers clamoring for locally sourced options.

Duke’s Alehouse in Crystal Lake has also been a part of the booming craft beer scene, boasting one of the largest selections of craft beers in McHenry County. The operators have taken pride in their beverage offerings for years, with constantly rotating beers on tap and by the bottle. And with more than 300 options, Duke’s finds success in the ever-changing offerings, even if it requires incessant menu and website updates, and increased daily staff training.

“The current market is totally saturated with craft breweries popping up left and right,” explains Bar Manager Thomas Dycha. “We try to incorporate the really small breweries as much as we can to help them earn a bit of name recognition.”

That business model has proven successful over the years, with many craft breweries that have started small, but have now exploded into popular favor, like Three Floyd’s who brews the elusive Zombie Dust Pale Ale that always sells out. Duke’s Alehouse has supported Three Floyd’s for years, and Duke’s is usually the only bar in their area to get their hands on the popular brew.

Craft Cocktails
The cocktail has been a part of American culture for centuries, and the popular category has not been exempt from changing consumer interests. The “origin story” of a cocktail is now a selling point, driven by the marketplace’s obsession with locally sourced goods. Not only are consumers interested in quality ingredients and rare liquors, they long to discover the newest combinations, hear from the creators themselves and to be a part of something exclusive.

Head Bartender Julia Momose and the team at GreenRiver place focus on Chicago with their cocktail menu, relying on local ingredients and drawing inspiration from the city’s deep history. The menu is organized by key ingredient (for example rye, corn or barley) and each section details distinct characteristics of the cocktails, aligning with personality types of some of Chicago’s historical figures.

“Our menu celebrates Chicago, incorporating historical elements and taking inspiration from key figures in the city’s rich history,” explains Will Sears, General Manager. “Each category has a story, developed with imagination, unique combinations, and use of fresh, Chicago ingredients.”

With names like Mr. Dooley (for the fictional Chicago cartoon character) and Easy Eddie (for the Chicago lawyer who convicted Al Capone), the cocktail menu pays homage to Irish immigrants who helped to shape the Chicago of today, and provides guests with the much-desired backstory and inspiration for the specialty craft cocktails.

Duke’s Alehouse has found success in capitalizing on social, food and health trends when developing craft cocktails, pulling inspiration from current fads to create relatable cocktails. This summer, for example, guests can sip on a cocktail based on the popular lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup cleanse. Duke’s adds in tequila, whiskey, and chili liquor to the fresh ingredients, morphing the health detoxifier into “The Intoxified”.

Chez Willy’s in Galesburg experiments with infused vodka to enhance their cocktail program, from house-made horseradish infused vodka used in bloody marys, to orange and lemon infused for select martinis and cocktails. And with their light champagne mojito that substitutes brut for rum, Chez Willy’s provides another great example of creative and unique beverage offerings from establishments throughout Illinois.

Drink Up
Beverage programs have become key factors in the industry, both increasing revenue opportunities and creating an imaginative and inventive space for restaurateurs and their employees – all the while quenching consumers’ thirst for variety and locally sourced goods and ingredients.

Flavor Profile

Meet Court Conn, Owner of Conn's Hospitality Group

This month, we caught up with Court Conn of the iconic Conn's Hospitality Group in Springfield, IL. Founded in 1948, the group operates several establishments including Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery, Wm. Van’s Coffee House, and the Inn at 835.

  • Tell us a little about your history. How did you get where you are today?
    • I literally grew up inside a restaurant…actually several of them at once. My father, Roy Conn, was a restaurateur at heart. He had multiple locations in downtown Springfield, and several of them were open 24 hours a day. Being family, I was expected to pitch in whenever and wherever necessary. I started out being the chief bottle washer in the dish room, advancing to a short order cook during my high school years. After graduating high school, I attended college in Corpus Christi, TX, majoring in restaurant management.

      But, being young with a great sense of adventure, I found getting my pilot’s license to be more rewarding than schooling. I obtained my instrument rating and I decided to join the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. After active duty in the Navy, I finally returned home and joined my father full time in the family businesses.
  • To what do you attribute your success?
    • There are a lot of traits that contribute towards a person’s success, but I personally credit hard work, determination, willingness to take risk and a desire to serve people are key reasons I have been able to achieve the success I have today.
  • What is your biggest reward working in the restaurant industry?
    • The many hats I get to wear while making people feel welcome in our many establishments. I can’t think of any other industry where I could play the roles of set designer, entertainer, coach, cheerleader and host all in one position!
  • What do you see as being the most valuable resources/service that the IRA provides you?
    • The Illinois Restaurant Association’s ability to monitor, interpret and navigate the weirdness of governmental interference, and the lobbying efforts made to represent our industry are incredibly valuable. The continued shifting in the legislative landscape makes it more and more challenging to be a business owner. We go to great expense and risk in our industry as we strive for quality and consistency in service and F&B while trying to maintain profitability. The ever-changing governmental regulations make that a difficult task. The IRA and NRA give our industry a strong voice that commands attention. Without this loud, unified representation, the restaurant industry could not remain as strong of a leader in Illinois' and the U.S. economy.
  • What are you looking forward to in 2016?
    • 2016 is a year of growth for Conn’s Hospitality Group, as we add a second microbrew pub in the family of businesses CHG operates. Our employee count will increase significantly this year, and I will continue keeping a watchful eye on the swings in labor rules and health care.

  • Do you have any advice for aspiring restaurateurs?
    • Be willing to work hard, take calculated and reasonable risks, stay your course and don’t be afraid to ask for help. All that, while still being thoughtful and conscious of yourself and your family’s well being.

To learn more about Conn's Hospitality Group, visit



Coming Soon: New Secure Driver's Licenses and IDs in Illinois


The Office of the Illinois Secretary of State has recently announced a transition to a new process called Central Issuance for issuing Illinois driver's licenses/ID cards in accordance with REAL ID requirements mandated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Restaurants and bars can expect to see different forms of identification this month, and establishments should prepare their staff accordingly.

Under the new Central Issuance process, applicants visiting Driver Services facilities will no longer be issued a new permanent DL/ID card at the end of the application process. Instead, they will leave the facility with a temporary secure paper document, which is valid for 45 days and will serve as their DL/ID for driving purposes and proof of identification. For air travel, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) states that it will accept the temporary document in conjunction with the old DL/ID to board an aircraft until the permanent card arrives in the mail. Therefore, the facility employee will return the old DL/ID card back to the applicant after punching a hole in it.

Meanwhile, the applicant's information will be sent to a centralized, secure facility in Illinois. After fraud checks have been conducted to ensure the applicant's identity, a higher quality, more secure DL/ID will be printed and sent via U.S. mail within 15 business days to the applicant's address.

Click here to read the letter from Secretary of State Jesse White that outlines the changes. Click here to read the secure driver's license brochure. Click here to read the FAQ.

  • What does this mean for restaurants?
    • The new temporary secure paper document driver's licenses and IDs will begin to be issued in late June. As recently issued Illinois driver's licenses and IDs do not expire for four years, businesses in Illinois can now expect to see these different forms of identification until 2019 - current Illinois DLs/IDs, temporary secure paper document DLs/IDs, and the new highly secure driver's license issued by the centralized manufacturing facility.

  • Should restaurants accept the temporary document as proof of identification?
    • The temporary secure paper document is an official state document. However, it is up to the management of each establishment to determine whether or not they will accept a temporary DL/ID as a valid identity document. The Secretary of State's office maintains that according to experts in the industry, in other states that have implemented central issuance, businesses became comfortable with the temporary secure paper DL/IDs and readily accept them after a short transition period.

  • Will BASSET certification classes address these new forms of identification?
    • The Secretary of State’s office is working with the Illinois Liquor Control Commission to ensure that the new policies are implemented in Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training (BASSET) training certification classes. Click here to confirm the Illinois counties that currently require BASSET training for bartenders, servers, and ID checkers. Click here to sign up for an online BASSET certification course.

The IRA is in communication with the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State about further implementation guidelines. Please contact Matt Quinn, IRA Government Relations & Communications Manager, at (312) 380-4122 or with any questions.



A La Carte

Five Tips for Workplace Wellness Programs from UnitedHealthcare


UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. The company offers a full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than one million physicians and care professionals, and 6,000 hospitals and other care facilities nationwide.

UnitedHealthcare is a Platinum Sponsor of the IRA and supports numerous events produced by the association annually. The group is also an active participant on the IRA’s Health Insurance Council, whose blog serves as an invaluable resource for all Affordable Care Act and other health insurance and benefit information for restaurant and food-service operators.

June is National Employee Wellbeing Month – an opportunity for companies in Illinois to implement, evaluate and refine their employee wellness programs. Investing in wellness programs helps to support employees’ desire to improve their health and creates a happier, healthier workforce.

In recent years, some wellness programs have started to give employees wearable devices at no additional charge, helping provide a more accurate and comprehensive summary of the user’s daily activity, sleep patterns and other health markers. Trends such as these are important to note when upgrading programs.

UnitedHealthcare of Illinois Medical Director, Dr. Kwame Foucher shared his insights on the latest in employer-sponsored wellness programs and how companies can build upon the programs they offer. Below are five tips for employers to help improve and enhance wellness programs:

1. Offer Incentives: More employees may participate in wellness programs when companies offer incentives, such as gift cards, lower health insurance premiums, cash bonuses and discounts on various health products and services. Some programs featuring wearable devices enable employees to earn up to $1,500 per year in incentives by meeting specific daily walking goals, while employers can achieve premium savings based on participants’ combined results.

2. Gather Biometric Data: Biometric screenings may give employees a better snapshot of their current health, including weight, body mass index and blood glucose, and offering them on-site and at health fairs can encourage more employees to participate. Some advanced programs include Bluetooth-enabled devices, like wireless scales, blood pressure monitors and thermometers, which can transmit the participant’s vital signs in real time.

3. Keep Data Secure: Companies that want to incorporate fitness trackers and other connected devices should first ensure that their health plan will keep the data secure. Using the latest encryption technology, medical-grade connectivity for data transmission are key security measures. Management should never have access to individual employee data; instead, the health plan should report aggregate data to help the company assess the overall value of its wellness program.

4. Generate Support: Select respected leaders within the organization to head a wellness committee as “wellness champions”, motivating peers to participate. Promotional emails, flyers and in-person meetings to discuss goals are an integral part to continued employee participation and satisfaction.

5. Track Results: Evaluate the success of the wellness program each year, taking note of employee engagement and medical costs. While engagement can vary, some companies have achieved participation rates of more than 85 percent!

Following these tips, including the adoption of new technologies such as fitness trackers, may help maximize the benefit of employer-sponsored wellness programs – and improve the health of the company and its workforce.

For more information about UnitedHealthcare and its benefit programs, visit




McHenry County Chapter of the IRA is Alive and Strong!


After weathering all of the ups and downs in the industry and economy, the McHenry County Chapter of the Illinois Restaurant Association (MCRA) stands strong as the only remaining chapter of the Illinois Restaurant Association. The group is highly active and works diligently to serve the restaurateurs in and around McHenry County.

MCRA has been in existence for over 20 years, with past presidents including Perry Moy of Plum Garden, Bill and Tammy Linardos of The Grove Pub and Grill and Billy's Beef, Terry Pirro of the former Pirro's Restaurant, Bernice Zubrzycki of 31 North Banquets and the leadership list goes on. Many restaurateurs have also served on the board over the years, including Steve Theophanous from Around the Clock, Andy Andresky from 1776 and Karen Brim from Port Edward, along with many Associate Members from Sysco, Reinhart Foodservice, US Foods, Performance Foodservice, Gordon Food Service and others.

Current board members, who continuously work to keep the chapter active, are Jason Doren with VGM Client Rewards, Mark Wells with Heartland Payment Systems, and Marla Davis with KRW Insurance. These board members have served on a voluntary basis, offering their own time to better the hospitality industry in McHenry County. The goal is not only to help promote businesses in the area, but to also share successes and gain valuable information to help each individual business, all while having fun and networking with fellow industry members. MCRA works closely with the McHenry Community College to connect culinary students with potential future employers. The chapter also works with the health department to host seminars that educate workers and keep the community safe and healthy.

With many exciting events planned for this year, the chapter welcomes the local restaurant community to take part! If any restaurants are interested in joining or would like to host an event, please contact Jason Doren at or (815) 603-2289.

Visit the McHenry County Chapter on Facebook and watch for upcoming events!

Platinum Sponsors


Gold Sponsors


Silver Sponsors


      Quick Links

Hear From Us

Sign up for email updates from the
Illinois Restaurant Association.

Contact Us

33 W. Monroe, Ste 250
Chicago, IL 60603
Toll Free: 800-572-1086
Ph: 312-787-4000
Fax: 312-787-4792


Follow Us

  • Copyright © 2018 Illinois Restaurant Association. All rights reserved.
Association Management Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal