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March 2014

A Centennial Celebration of Living Legends at Annual Meeting

On Thursday, February 27, our annual meeting and luncheon was held at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, with a special celebration for our Centennial year. Highlights of the event included a resolution delivered by Alderman Burke, a Living Legends award presentation, and a super-sized Eli’s Cheesecake cut by IRA President & CEO Sam Toia and the award winners. We honored the following six Living Legends for their significant contributions to the industry:

Frank Sgro, Italian Village
Outstanding Guardian of Tradition Award

Joe Turano, Turano Baking Company
Outstanding Vendor Award

Gary Salvestrini, Sysco Chicago
Sara Rowe ProStart® Company Award

Kathryn Thanas, Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant
Humanitarian Award

Rick Bayless, Frontera Grill / Topolobampo / XOCO
Outstanding Chef Award

Rich Melman, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises
Outstanding Restaurateur Award

The meeting also featured the Installation of New Officers, Members of the Board of Directors, and New Advisory Council Members. John Colletti of Gibsons Restaurant Group passed the gavel to new Chairman Ken Raskin of Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen. Additionally, BMI’s Director of Industry Relations Jessica Frost, awarded the Illinois Restaurant Association with a Gold Record award.


Government Relations

Supporting the Industry

Advocacy is one of the most important functions of the IRA and is executed through tactics such as meetings with elected officials, educating stakeholders, and raising money through the PAC. The beginning of the year is a busy time for this activity, including the annual Lobby Day in Springfield.

Springfield Lobby Day

The IRA's Springfield Lobby Day took place on March 5, in partnership with the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association (IHLA) and the Illinois Council of Convention and Visitor Bureaus (ICCVB).

The day started with a legislative update and welcoming remarks by each association’s chairperson including IRA Chairman Ken Raskin. Senate President John Cullerton and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin spoke to the group about important legislative issues. The minimum wage adjustment and tip credit, along with the political battles surrounding them, were discussed at length by both leaders. Jen Hoelzle, Director of the Illinois Office of Tourism, gave an overview of the tourism industry and the groups’ efforts to advance it.

The delegation spent the afternoon meeting in the Capitol with important members of the House and Senate. The delegation lobbied each member in favor of preserving the tip credit and explained what a minimum wage increase would do. The group also made a strong case against paid sick leave, the soda tax, concealed carry in restaurants with liquor licenses, and for a state-wide, consistent policy on alcohol awareness training. Thank you to all our members who attended to help support these important efforts.


IRAEF Update

2014 ProStart Invitational Update

On February 8, the Illinois Restaurant Educational Foundation welcomed high school ProStart students from across the state to compete in the 13th annual Illinois ProStart Invitational hosted by Kendall College in Chicago.

Over 40 industry professionals served as competition judges, including chefs, restaurateurs and other industry professionals. Special thanks to title sponsor Sysco-Chicago, Kendall College and guest speaker Chef Carlos Gaytan of Mexique.

The culinary competition win was the 3rd consecutive state title for Technology Center of DuPage. The Management competition winner, Elgin High School, had success for a second straight year. The teams credit their victory to many hours of practice and having strong mentors. Both winning teams have the honor of representing Illinois at the National ProStart Invitational® in Minneapolis on May 3rd – 5th and will compete against over 40 teams from across the country.

All first through third place winning teams received prizes and are eligible to win scholarships totaling almost $100,000. The competition results follow:

                                     Culinary                        Management

1st Place      Technology Center of DuPage       Elgin High School

2nd Place     Rolling Meadows High School       Center for Academics and Technology

3rd Place     Simeon Career Academy              Simeon Career Academy

Job Shadow Day

On March 5th, almost 300 high school ProStart® students participated in the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA) Educational Foundation’s Job Shadow Day 2014. The ProStart® program is a high school curriculum for students who are studying culinary arts and hospitality management. Students spent approximately four hours in various area restaurants and foodservice industry businesses to gain a real-world view of the industry. A hands-on experience in front of the house and/or back of the house roles is key to the work-based learning experience.

The IRA Educational Foundation identifies opportunities for ProStart® students to explore careers in the foodservice industry. A special thanks goes to our over 60 worksite partners that volunteered to host students for the event. Students went to a variety of restaurants ranging from fine dining (Mexique, Piccolo Sogno, Mercat a la Planxa, Tortoise Club) to casual dining (TGIFriday’s, Chili’s). The Blackstone Hotel, Radisson Blu Hotel and Savor at McCormick Place also participated to provide a work based learning experience for students.

ProStart® is a national school-to-careers program that prepares high school students for careers in foodservice and hospitality management. ProStart® in Illinois is administered by the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation to over 3,000 students at 55 schools in the Chicagoland area. Students have the opportunity to earn industry-recognized credentials and articulated credits for college while in high school. The Foundation provides work readiness training and connects students with industry professionals through job shadowing, industry events and internships. The ProStart® program is offered in 47 other states and trains more than 95,000 high school students. For more information, visit


Q&A With Marc Malnati

The IRA recently had the opportunity to speak with Marc Malnati, owner of Lou Malnati’s Pizzerias. Marc shared the scoop on the pizza business, behind the scenes at The Daily Show and marketing secrets behind the big pizza debate.

How did Lou Malnati's come to be?
My father, Lou, got his start in a pizzeria in downtown Chicago. Eventually, he decided he wanted to open his own place, so he took a recipe he had been perfecting out to Lincolnwood and opened the first Lou Malnati’s. That was 43 years ago. It’s the same recipe we use today.

Any advice for pizza entrepreneurs?
I don’t think there is a tougher business than the restaurant business. I think they need to be ready for a consumer that is more sophisticated and less patient than ever. They are expecting perfection the first time and every time. For a new restaurateur that is a difficult task. To deliver a perfect product is one thing but to combine it with impeccable service is another. It’s also hard to have deep enough pockets to sustain yourself while people figure out who you are.

How did you hear about Jon Stewart's comments about Chicago pizza? Are you/were you a Daily Show fan?
The local media started asking us for a response. They knew we would have a strong opinion. I wasn’t a nightly fan, but many on our team, friends, and family were so they also started reaching out saying, “hey, can you believe this?” I take this stuff pretty lightly. I think people expected us to be mad but I actually thought it was pretty funny.

Lou Malnati's response to Stewart was an epic marketing move that captured attention nationwide. Whose idea was it and what resources did you use to make it happen and go viral so quickly?
We saw it, thought it was funny and thought let’s see if we can keep it going. A lot of our friends, business associates, and customers were contacting us and coming to our defense. My wife Jeanne and I happened to be in New York visiting our son Will, so we grabbed him and a camera phone and went on a Saturday morning video adventure. I handed it off to Tom Molitor, our digital editor, he gave it a little push in the drama department and then our marketing team worked on distributing it.

How did this publicity impact business for Lou Malnati's?
In the three weeks following, we were up over 15% year over year.

How important do you think marketing is to running a successful restaurant?
I think it’s really important to staying relevant. We are a 43 year-old brand and it’s always on our mind that we need to stay relevant to keep our pizza and name in front of the eye of the public. We are constantly trying to grow our customer base and looking for ways relate to them through various mediums out there while staying true to our brand.

What was Jon like when you met him behind the scenes?
We met in the hall right after I arrived. It was about an hour before the show taping. We talked for about 10-15 minutes and he was down to earth, very smart, and very funny. He took the time to introduce me to Tom Brokaw who was in the next green room over. He was easy to connect with and a charming host. The truth is, off camera, both he and his staff were not able to get enough of our pizza.

What did you learn from the experience?
Aim high. When we launched this video, 75k people saw it in the first 36 hours and our intention was to get the attention of Jon Stewart’s crew, which was a long shot, but we did. They felt this bit had a little more legs to it and invited us on. It all started though because we took a swing at it.

What's your final word on the Chicago v. New York pie debate?
With all due respect, California pizza is crap.


News & Notes

Taste of Chicago Applications Now Available

Applications for Five Day Vendors, Food Truck Vendors, and Pop Up Vendors for the 2014 Taste of Chicago are now being accepted. The Taste of Chicago takes place July 9 - 13, 2014. Submit your application for participation today! Applications are due Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

Click here for the Five Day Vendor Application

Click here for the Food Truck Vendor Application.

Click here for the Pop Up Vendor Application.

For more information, see the City of Chicago's webpage.

The City of Chicago continues to promote Chicago's culinary community through the Taste of Chicago. Last year, the event received a tremendous amount of positive feedback and media attention, and Taste of Chicago vendors found participation to be an excellent marketing opportunity.

Please note there has been a change in the commission and fee structure for applicants. Restaurants have greater control over their menu this year and may sell anywhere from 1-4 items. There are three ways you may participate in the event: as a 5-day vendor, pop-up (1 or 2 day) vendor, or food truck vendor. As you may know, the food truck program was introduced last year to tremendous reviews. The pop-up program was introduced in 2012 as a collaborative effort between WTTW's Check, Please! and Taste of Chicago.

Completed application, deposit check and supporting documentation should be delivered to:

Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events - Taste Office
Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St., Rm. 400
Chicago, IL 60602

WGN Segment Highlights IRA Centennial

Last month, Sam Toia was featured on WGN News' Midday Fix, highlighting the IRA's Centennial. During the segment Sam talked about the IRA's history and its mission, while also presenting artifacts collected from historic Chicago restaurants.

To view the segment, please click here. Thank you to the IRA members able to provide artifacts and other unique items: Everest Room, Gene & Georgetti, Home Run Inn, Italian Village, Kendall College, Lou Mitchell's, and Rick Bayless.

Eater Chicago Features IRA Living Legend Awards

Eater Chicago featured the Living Legend Award winners in the Eater Wire. Click here to view the article.


Don't Miss It

4/2-4/30: Public Affairs Conference in Washington D.C.

The 2014 Public Affairs Conference in Washington D.C. is Tuesday, April 29 through Wednesday, April 30. The conference takes place at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, followed by a visit to Capitol Hill to meet with our Illinois Congressmen and Senators.

The Public Affairs Conference is an opportunity for all state restaurant associations to lobby their elected leaders about the issues that matter most to our industry. Matters to be discussed during the conference include Health Care Regulatory Relief, Immigration Reform, and Wage Issues.

For registration and hotel information, please click here.

5/13: Meet the Experts
The Illinois Restaurant Association is pleased to announce a special workshop geared towards hospitality professionals. The evening of Knowledge, Networking and Speed Coaching for Restaurateurs & Prospective Restaurateurs features one-on-one advice, counsel and collaboration from Kevin Brown, CEO of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises along with other restaurant and food service experts.

From 5:30-7:30 p.m., a Happy Hour Reception will be held at Untitled (111 W. Kinzie.) Mr. Brown will present a Keynote Address to kick off the evening, followed by a 90-minute session of one-on-one speed coaching performed in 10-minute intervals. Attendees are encouraged to bring menus, business plans and other documents. Appetizers and beverages will be provided.

Cost is $50 for Illinois Restaurant Association members, $100 for non-members. Reservations can be made at or by calling (312) 787-4000.


5/19: 5th Annual Restaurant PAC Event

Save the Date: The 5th Annual Restaurant PAC event is Monday, May 19 at Studio Paris, 59 W. Hubbard Street, in Chicago.  For more information please contact Andy Peters at or 312-380-4134.

New Members

The Association is pleased to welcome:

The Beach House

Casey's Sports Pub

Clara's Pasta

Crosstown Pub

Dona Ana

Franco's Cucina

The Fifty/50

Knights of Columbus 364

Lan's Old Town


LM Restaurant Group

Revamp Social

The Steel Head Tavern


Zoom Studio



Platinum Sponsors


Gold Sponsors


Silver Sponsors


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