The Illinois Restaurant Association held its Annual Board Meeting at the Union League Club of Chicago. The afternoon included the installation of new members of the Association’s Board of Directors and Advisory Council, a highly anticipated keynote speaker and the organization’s annual awards presentation. It was presided over by President and CEO Sam Toia and Chairman of the Board Jim Kallas, Division President, Central States, Eurest. Mr. Kallas enters the second year in his role as Chairman.

Michael J. Sacks, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of GCM Grosvenor, delivered a compelling keynote address. Mr. Sacks, a leader in the alternative investments arena and also Vice Chairman of World Business Chicago, emphasized the importance of the state’s food service industry as an economic driver—one that champions establishment of new businesses and jobs and contributes greatly to Chicago’s position as a global leader.

“It was an honor to have Michael address our group today,” says Sam Toia, “and we applaud his work in establishing Chicago as an international force. We are proud to work in a field that plays a significant role in our state’s economic health. In 2017, the restaurant industry made up nine percent of employment in Illinois. With more than 27,000 eating and drinking establishments in the state, our industry provides jobs and builds careers for thousands of people. It plays a vital role in local communities throughout the state.”

The afternoon also included remarks by Jay Stieber, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and previous IRA Chairman (2009). In January 2018, Mr. Stieber was named Chairman of the National Restaurant Association, a prestigious role he plans to maximize to advocate for and engage with restaurateurs nationwide.

“Jay is one of the most proactive hospitality industry leaders I know,” says Jim Kallas. “We are delighted to have a former IRA Chairman serve at this impressive level. His expertise, passion and vision will greatly advance our industry from coast to coast.”

The IRA also named its annual award recipients in three categories: Restaurateur of the Year, Vendor of the Year and Sara Rowe ProStart Company of the Year.

Restaurateur of the Year was awarded to Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz of Boka Restaurant Group. This award honors restaurant owners who are committed to the time-honored tradition of showing exceptional originality, quality and service to customers and is looked up to by his or her fellow operators, employees and community. With sixteen award-winning concepts, Mr. Boehm and Mr. Katz are revered nationwide for their ability to align with stellar culinary talent and develop creative, consumer-savvy concepts. Their restaurants and chefs have garnered many accolades including Michelin stars, James Beard nominations and wins and more.

Last year alone, they revealed Somerset and Devereaux with Chef Lee Wolen, and Bellemore with Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos in the West Loop. They also opened The Kennison, located in the heart of the city’s bustling Lincoln Park. All four establishments garnered early critical acclaim. In addition, 2017 saw one of their first chef partners—the James Beard Award winning Stephanie Izard—earn the coveted title of Iron Chef. Mr. Boehm and Mr. Katz were also named James Beard Awards semi-finalists in the “Outstanding Restaurateur” category in 2015 and were nominees in 2016 and 2017. Coupled with an endless roster of business and community involvement, the duo shows no signs of slowing down!

The Vendor of the Year award recognizes an individual or company with a longstanding reputation for providing superior service and quality products in the industry. This year’s recipient was Gordon Food Service, who, for more than 115 years, has delivered excellence, expertise and quality products needed by their customers to design successful food operations and experiences. The company has grown to become the largest family-operated broad line food distribution company in North America by upholding its same business approach since 1897—being passionately committed to the people they serve. John Willard, Director of Commercial Sales, accepted the honor.

Sara Rowe ProStart Company of the Year was awarded to Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen. Owners Ken and Dan Raskin accepted the award, which honors those who demonstrate dedication and go above and beyond the call of duty to support the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. Manny’s is a major partner of ProStart, a national school-to-careers program that prepares high school students for employment in foodservice and hospitality management. ProStart in Illinois is administered by the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation to more than 4,000 students at 62 schools. The Foundation provides work readiness training and connects students with industry professionals through job shadowing and internships to help hone their skills.

Founded in 1914, the Illinois Restaurant Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting, protecting, educating and improving the restaurant industry in Illinois. The Association founded and produces the annual Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet, now in its eleventh year, and is a proud co-host of the James Beard Foundation Awards.

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