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The Official Publication of the Illinois Restaurant Association
March 2016

Zero Percent and Eliminating Food Waste and Hunger...One Partner, One Donation at a Time


According to U.S. hunger relief organization Feeding America, one in six people in the greater Chicago area will face food insecurity this year. Other statistics show that anywhere between thirty to fifty percent of all food produced is discarded.

Since 2012, IRA member Zero Percent has been committed to finding a smart solution to food scarcity by eliminating the waste that is all too commonplace in our industry. Founded at the EnterpriseWorks incubator at the Research Park at University of Illinois by CEO Raj Karmani, Zero Percent is an organization partnering with restaurants, grocery stores, corporate cafeterias, and other foodservice entities to coordinate donations of excess food and arrange pickups. Food is then transported to charitable organizations located in all corners of Chicago to provide fresh, nutritious meals for those in need.

Since moving the enterprise to Chicago in September 2013, Karmani has signed up approximately 100 partner businesses (and growing), including several members of the Illinois Restaurant Association (Eurest, The Signature Room at the 95th, Goddess and Grocer, and Farmer’s Fridge, among others). They utilize Zero Percent’s platform to contribute food that would otherwise go to waste. Depending on food quantities donated, restaurants pay approximately $60-$100 dollars per month to partner in – far less than the dollar amount that would be spent finding independent ways to reduce waste.

Zero Percent’s strategy has carried immense impact. To date, 903,000 meals have been routed to 315 nonprofit organizations from 400 donors. These numbers reflect more than one million pounds of rescued food.

The model, however, wasn’t entirely perfect. After launching Zero percent, it wasn’t long before Karmani realized that delivery to organizations located in Chicago’s food deserts – primarily on the South and West sides – posed a challenge. Between staffing, transportation, and gas, the costs of conveying the food was too much to bear, blocking food access to those with the highest need.

Micro-Donations for Change
In a recent article in ChicagoInno, Karmani said, “We realized that a lot of non-profits that were signing up [for Zero Percent] in Chicago were much farther away from these sources of food. You would have these great restaurants and grocery stores in the Loop or near downtown, and these non-profits that were signing up were 15-20 miles south or west of downtown.”

Enter, a new crowdfunding platform that launched February 2016. With the understanding that hunger in Chicagoland was very much a distribution problem – not a supply issue as one might think – Karmani and his team at Zero Percent introduced the online platform to encourage micro-donations of $1 to $5 for charities located in food deserts to help them cover the cost of food transport. Based on valuable statistics gleaned from delivering more than one million pounds of food since 2013, a $5 donation can go a very long way, providing 15 meals for those in need…and in the process, preventing 18 pounds of landfill waste and conserving nearly 2,500 gallons of water.

The donation process is easy and customized to the preference of the donor. When visiting the site, one can choose to donate based on cause (education, family, arts, housing) or elect a specific charity. Restored Hope, Douglas Park Youth Services, The Floured Apron, Young Life and People Loving People are just a few of the 250+ charities that have signed up to receive food. is not a nonprofit itself, but rather a fundraising platform for any charity looking to source excess fresh, nutritious food and disburse it to their communities. 100% of the donation money goes to the selected charity to offset the costs of transporting food. Karmani estimates that if 50,000 people donate $5 per month, will have the ability to make fresh food accessible to every community and neighborhood in Chicago.

The results are monumental, and greatly touch our future generations. DNA Info recently spoke with Robbin Carroll, founder of I Grow Chicago, which runs Peace House in Englewood. The charity receives a shipment of fresh food about once per week. “It’s awesome for us for so many reasons,” she told Reporter Paul Biasco. “Feeding people is really important, but what I’ve come to find that as much as they talk about food deserts, there’s really exposure desert.” She went on to explain that several of the of the neighborhood children attending Peace House had never tried or even seen many of the fruits or vegetables – such as strawberries – being delivered. Because of Zero Percent and, the kids now have favorite fruits and veggies and look forward to eating and expanding their knowledge with every fresh meal.

A New Kind of Restaurant Week
As a way to herald the launch of, Karmani and his team introduced the first annual Restaurant Giving Week, which was held February 22-28, 2016. Tapping into its network of partner businesses, Restaurant Giving Week was organized as a “give one, get one” customer experience. Those that donated $5 to a local charity during the week received a donation receipt to redeem a free treat at participating Restaurant Giving Week businesses. Of the 30 participating restaurants offering complimentary treats, several were Illinois Restaurant Association members, including Eastman Egg Company (who featured a scratch biscuit slider); Freshii (who offered a fresh made juice at any location); Hannah’s Bretzel (who gave a breakfast sandwich or breakfast bowl); Lou Malnati’s Gold Coast (who presented a chocolate chip cookie pizza); Farmer’s Fridge (who dispensed fresh salad from its automated kiosks); Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams; Cheesie’s Pub & Grub; and more.

Restaurant Giving Week raised $5,000 for 30 charities from 500 individuals and 30 Chicago businesses. I Grow Chicago represents one Restaurant Giving Week success story – the organization received enough in donations to fund meal transport for the next six months. In total, funds raised from the initiative will provide more than 15,000 meals to those in need. Karmani anticipates far greater participation in 2017 as continues to gain momentum.

It’s an annual tradition worth repeating.

For more information about becoming a partner to Zero Percent, visit

For more information about rescuing food and to make a micro-donation, visit

Flavor Profile

Meet Jack Weiss, Coco Pazzo Restaurants

This month, the IRA had an opportunity to connect with Jack Weiss, Owner of the venerable Coco Pazzo, Coco Pazzo Café and Tre Soldi restaurants in Chicago. Jack shared insights gleaned from his decades of experience in the business, including his thoughts on the evolution of Italian cuisine and the unique opportunities that exist in Chicago's food scene.

  • Tell us a little about your history. How did you get where you are today?
    • I am originally from New York and grew up in Brooklyn and Long Island participating in high school sports, fishing and cooking at home with my mother. I studied marketing in college and continued on to earn my MBA at CCNY’s Baruch College graduate school, attending night classes while working full-time. After graduation, I lived in Manhattan and while continuously exploring and enjoying the restaurant scene, I had the good fortune of meeting a young Florentine, Pino Luongo, who was opening his first restaurant in Greenwich Village. We joined forces and I found my true life’s passion. We went on to open many restaurants together throughout New York and in other major cities.

      In 1992, I moved to Chicago to open Coco Pazzo in River North and since then, it has served as a beloved neighborhood establishment. Over the years, Coco Pazzo has received numerous accolades and awards for its classic, yet contemporary Tuscan menu, expansive all-Italian wine list, beautiful setting, and impeccable service. The Italian government even bestowed Coco Pazzo with the Italian Seal of Approval based on authenticity.

      In 1995, I opened Coco Pazzo Café in the Streeterville neighborhood. Just off the Magnificent Mile, the Café offers a casual Tuscan menu that changes with the seasons and is reminiscent of the cafés that line the piazzas in Florence. The décor includes Modigliani style murals and a copper-topped bar with a wonderful outdoor patio that’s open when weather permits.

      In 2013, I opened Tre Soldi in Streeterville, a casual Trattoria and Pizzeria featuring Roman inspired cuisine and wine in a modern, comfortable and contemporary setting. It has become the perfect venue for professionals at Northwestern Hospital, visitors staying in nearby hotels and local residents.
  • In your opinion, how has Italian dining evolved over the years?
    • I feel that Italian dining has gone through a renaissance over the past few decades. When I arrived in Chicago there were very few exceptional Italian restaurants to be found. At that time, most Italian restaurants served an abundance of food that was not necessarily refined, healthy, or properly-portioned. Coco Pazzo was at the forefront of the Italian food revolution, being the first to focus on Tuscany and serve cuisine incorporating authentic Italian ingredients, proper portion sizes, and traditional cooking techniques. Over the past ten years, Italian cuisine has become very trendy because many have discovered that Italian food is healthy, expressive, and offers great variety in terms of the repertoire of ingredients, recipes, and spirit.
  • To what do you attribute your success in the industry?
    • I attribute my success to my strong foundation in business theory—understanding theoretical framework, abstract thinking, problem solving, and case analysis are invaluable skills that I gained in my MBA program. I also had the good fortune to work with many talented chefs and restaurateurs from Italy who shared their knowledge and skills with me. That experience, combined with the passion and desire to travel, read, research, and experiment with the food and culture of Italy – especially Tuscany – allowed me to stay focused on the very clear vision I had for the Coco Pazzo restaurants. I love to cook all cuisine, however, because the varying ingredients and techniques are fascinating and provide great perspective for the Italian kitchen.
  • What is your biggest reward working in the restaurant business?
    • The biggest reward in the restaurant business has been all of the wonderful relationships I have established with my colleagues and patrons. I meet the most fabulous people in this industry, including my wife, who I met when I arrived in Chicago and who is still the Wine Director for all three restaurants. In a restaurant, people are generally relaxed, stimulated, and open in a way unlike anywhere else. One of my biggest thrills was seeing many of the lunch and dinner meetings for the Obama campaign in 2008 orchestrated from Coco Pazzo!

      Over the past decade, there has been an abundance of world-class chefs and restaurateurs heading to Chicago as opposed to the east and west coasts. The economic feasibility of opening restaurants in Chicago, the support from the community, and the vibrant food scene create unique opportunities that don’t exist on the coasts. Chicagoans are very receptive to new ideas and kindly share their unbiased opinions rather than express "attitude". I feel so fortunate that the community has embraced the Coco Pazzo restaurants (and me personally) over the past 24 years.
  • What do you see as being the most valuable resources/services that the IRA provides you?
    • The Illinois Restaurant Association has been invaluable in terms of providing key information about Illinois legislation and how it relates to our industry, most importantly regarding fiscal and legal issues. The Association is deeply involved in lobbying for the policies that support the growth and well-being of the industry. I have also always enjoyed networking with members of different disciplines and serving on committees related to specific needs of our industry.
  • What are you looking forward to in 2016?
    • I am looking forward to increased growth in River North and Streeterville due to additional business and residential development. I am also hoping for Chicago leadership figures to formulate and implement policies and programs with the express purpose of building a better city with a more meaningful and positive public image, especially as it relates to tourism and conventions. We in the Illinois Restaurant Association must be involved in this process for our own economic welfare!

  • Do you have any advice for aspiring restaurateurs?
    • Follow your passion. Take the time to build a strong foundation of technical skills and theoretical disciplines while cultivating and developing your creative expression. Study with a mentor or others who have passion and vision. Build relationships with coworkers and patrons. Give back to the community, and support institutions in which you have particular interest.



Be at the Table with Leaders in Washington


On April 12-13, the Illinois Restaurant Association will join hundreds of politically-active restaurateurs from around the country in Washington, D.C. to lobby our congressional leaders on top issues of concern to the restaurant and hospitality industry. Don’t miss your chance to influence the national conversation during this presidential election year at the 2016 NRA Public Affairs Conference

In Washington, there are several legislative and regulatory proposals currently under consideration that will have significant impacts on the restaurant industry. Congress needs to hear what matters to restaurants, and how they can promote the growth and vitality of your business. This year, our top lobbying issues include:

Stopping New Overtime Regulations
In fall 2015, The U.S. Department of Labor approved new rules proposed by the Obama administration that would guarantee overtime pay to salaried employees who earn less than $50,440/year, up from the current threshold of $23,660/year. Despite more than a quarter-million comments in opposition, the Department of Labor intends to rewrite federal overtime laws and implement new regulations before President Obama leaves office. The NRA is pushing back strongly against this proposal, using all avenues - regulatory, legislative, and legal - to block action.

Reining in Joint-Employer Changes
Last August, the National Labor Relations Board created a new standard in the Browning-Ferris ruling that holds companies liable for the labor and employment practices of franchisees, independent contractors, third-party vendors, suppliers, and other parties over whom they have no control. This drastically altered the traditional franchisor-franchisee joint-employer model. If implemented, this new standard would have significant negative impacts on the restaurant industry. The NRA is lobbying Congress and regulatory agencies to rein in these radical changes.

Preserving the 45(B) FICA Tax Credit
The 45(B) credit reimburses food and beverage employers for a portion of FICA taxes they pay on reported tips and is a critical tool in encouraging accurate tip reporting. In February, President Obama proposed eliminating the 45(B) tax credit as a part of his 2017 budget.

The NRA Public Affairs Conference is a two-day event featuring lobbying visits to Capitol Hill, guest speakers, education sessions, political analysis, and receptions with legislative leaders. It is an excellent opportunity to engage in the national political process and connect with industry professionals from around the country.

Although the NRA hotel room block at the JW Marriott has sold out, there are still hotel rooms available through the IRA. For more information about the conference, hotel rooms, or any other questions, please contact Matt Quinn, IRA Government Relations & Communications Manager, at (312) 380-4122 or

Click here to register for the NRA Public Affairs Conference today.

A La Carte

Pepsi Spire Innovates Beverage Options


Restaurateurs now have the ability to create more than 1,000 personalized beverage variations with the PepsiCo Spire. The Spire is a portfolio of innovative fountain beverage dispensers that incorporate Pepsi’s powerful brand lineup, pouring an extensive range of brands from PepsiCo’s diverse portfolio of carbonated and non-carbonated beverages. These include Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Sierra Mist, Brisk Iced Tea, Tropicana and Lifewater, as well as an assortment of zero-calorie flavor shots, including cherry, lemon, vanilla, strawberry, raspberry and lime. This array of offerings allows guests to create their customized beverage with just the push of a button!

From a business standpoint, PepsiCo’s Spire was determined to design a portfolio of products that kept customers in mind. The Spire is available in three different models:

  • Pepsi Spire 1.1: a countertop self-service unit with a 10-inch touchscreen
  • Pepsi Spire 2.0: a countertop self-service or crew-service unit with a 15-inch touchscreen
  • Pepsi Spire 5.0: a self-service model with a 32-inch touchscreen that can either serve as a countertop or freestanding unit

Pepsi’s Spire captures evolving trends while incorporating an extensive portfolio of most loved brands. The Pepsi Spire 2.0 and 5.0 are “smart” equipment, allowing operators to identify popular beverage trends and gain real-time insight on consumers. Another crucial detail? All units can run on existing plumbing systems and back-office infrastructure and are designed to be easily and quickly repaired.

About PepsiCo
PepsiCo products are enjoyed by consumers one billion times a day in more than 200 countries and territories around the world. PepsiCo generated more than $66 billion in net revenue in 2014, driven by a complementary food and beverage portfolio that includes Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Pepsi-Cola, Quaker and Tropicana. The corporate offices of Gatorade, Quaker and Tropicana are located in downtown Chicago at PepsiCo’s Plaza Office. PepsiCo's product portfolio includes a wide range of enjoyable foods and beverages, including 22 brands that generate more than $1 billion each in estimated annual retail sales.

At the heart of PepsiCo is Performance with Purpose - our vision to deliver top tier financial performance over the long term by integrating sustainability into our business strategy, leaving a positive imprint on society and the environment. We do this in part by offering a wide range of products; increasing the number of our nutritious foods and beverages; reducing our environmental impacts; and supporting our employees and the communities where we do business; all of which will help position the company for long-term sustainable growth. For more information please visit

Interested restaurant partners, please contact IRA Board Member Tim McGrail, PepsiCo’s Foodservice Senior Sales Manager for Restaurants, at (773) 893-2319.



Neighborhood Hot Spot: Woodie’s Flat


Located in the heart of Old Town, Woodie’s Flat has quickly become a staple in the neighborhoodproviding live music, local beers, and that “Cheers “ where-everyone-knows-your-name vibe. Woodie’s has rolled out an exciting contemporary new menu, nearly doubling the size of the old menu with a huge variety of options. From health-conscious items like Edamame Hummus to rich indulgences like the Dive Bar Suicide Fries—fresh cut french fries topped with beer queso, shredded cheddar, home-made stout chili, giardiniera relish, scallions and finished off with a fried egg—there’s something for everyone to enjoy. The new menu also features an expanded section of unique tacos, oversized sandwiches, and all natural burgers!

Orchestrated by Big Onion Tavern Group Executive Chef Jim Heflin, the new menu has patrons excited. “I love seeing the reactions of people trying the new menu for the first time. It’s usually very quiet, which is a good sign,” jokes Heflin. “We pride ourselves on treating our guests as if they are in our own home, and to provide the quality of food that I would serve to guests at my own house is truly an honor.”

Chef Jim’s new favorite item on the Woodie’s menu? The Mac & Cheese Stuffed Fried Chicken (pictured). It represents all the flavors of comfort food guests love rolled into one entrée. Woodie’s has taken stuffed chicken to the next level and the customer feedback has been phenomenal. It has created a nice buzz!

Erik Baylis, Big Onion Tavern Group’s owner, has cemented the late-night hot spot as not only as the place to be, but also as a top-tier choice to enjoy delicious dinner or a quality late night snack. By focusing on quality ingredients – including all-natural, hormone-free beef and chicken – Woodie’s has quickly made a name for itself on Wells Street.

Grab some friends and stop into Woodie’s to try out the new menu, grab a few drinks, and create lasting memories. Cold beers await!

Woodie’s Flat
1535 N. Wells St.
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 643-0093
Follow on social media @WoodiesChicago

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