Phil Kafarakis, NRA's chief innovation and member advancement officer, discusses opportunities to bring more value to members.
Name: Phil Kafarakis
Age: 55
Title: Chief Innovation and Member Advancement Officer for the National
Restaurant Association
Hometown: Silver Springs, Maryland
Hobbies: Extreme sporter; Tough Mudder; avid reader of business books and
Education: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Northern
Arizona University; International Executive MBA from the McDonough School
of Business at Georgetown University
Favorite Cuisine: Mexican
Personal: Married, with four grown children
Favorite Sports Teams: Baltimore Ravens; Georgetown Hoya's basketball
team; Panathinaikos F.C. (Greek Soccer Club) Athens, Greece
Pet Peeves: Dealing with pessimistic people

One of the National Restaurant Association’s recent hires, Phil Kafarakis, stands at the crossroads of the organization’s future. Kafarakis, who is chief innovation and member advancement officer, is charged with helping to make restaurant operators more profitable.

“This isn’t only an association it is a hybrid business model. We have tremendous opportunities to serve the industry in so many ways by building on our mission,” says Kafarakis.

With more than 30 years of brand management, business development, and strategic planning experience in the food and beverage industry, Kafarakis is convinced he can bring real value to NRA members. With responsibilities that include membership, strategic planning, product and services, business development, innovation, strategic partnerships, and international support, clearly Kafarakis has a lot on his plate.

“Given my background this opportunity makes a lot of sense. This role lets me be at the crossroads of distributors, manufacturers, and operators,” he says. “I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be in a position to make a lot of stuff happen for operators.”

Kafarakis, who was born in Athens, Greece, boasts a career that includes leadership positions at McCormick & Co., Cargill, Aqua-Novus Corp., Jones Dairy Farm, Oscar Mayer Foods Corp., and Kraft USA. He also is active in several industry groups including the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA), International Food Distributors Association (IFDA), International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IFDDBA), American Meat Institute (AMI) and Sales & Marketing Executives International (SME).

Ultimately Kafarakis would like the NRA to bring the same value to its members as the National Football League. “The NRA could be like the NFL and bring the same kind of unity that it has brought to club owners. Think of the state associations like the individual NFL teams. Now that is a powerhouse, and we have that same kind of potential.”

Kafarakis says the strategy that NRA’s president and CEO, Dawn Sweeney, has been building is coming to life. “We are at the beginning of a very vibrant business model,” he says. “There are really three legs of the stool: There is advocacy, the NRA’s Educational Foundation, and the business model that we are evolving. I like to think of it as a hybrid curtain that you can look behind. As Dawn continues to build this strategy it will come to life more and more. One day soon everyone will wake up and understand we are all in this together for the greater good.”

Part of Kafarakis’ responsibility will be expanding the NRA’s membership base beyond its present 53 percent penetration of U.S. restaurant locations. “We would like to see that number get up to 60 percent of U.S. locations,” he says.


Recently Kafarakis sat down for an exclusive interview with FSR special projects editor, Ellen Koteff, to discuss his new role and what he hopes to bring to the restaurant industry.

You have a broad range of responsibilities in your new job. What are your first priorities?

I am on a 30/60/90-day listening tour, meeting with all of the industry constituencies including board members, operators, CEO’s of state restaurant associations, sponsors across the entire landscape, and partners. The second priority will be an ability to contribute to the strategic planning process, which will take place in September. Thirdly I want to fully understand the new products and services that we are introducing to the industry such as EDGE, (a prepaid Discover card that can simplify payroll processes, yield cost savings for restaurant employees, improve productivity, and provide a valuable financial tool tailored to employees’ lifestyles.) We are just moving this card into the industry now. Another big service will be our healthcare portal, which will help the industry understand the implications of the Affordable Care Act. A total understanding of those two products is very important as I hit the ground running.

What are some of the other things you would like to accomplish in your first year?

I think the most important thing is to further develop the NRA brand. Recently we went through a logo change and I think there is a lot more that we can do to improve our branding strategy. We have tremendous opportunities, but we need to develop some disciplined business processes that will help us evaluate partnerships and build on the innovation component to bring new services and products to the industry.

How will you work with operators? How will you get feedback?

Operators are telling us they need help with their employees and we are listening. A lot of the feedback mechanism is totally dependent on what we do with the state restaurant associations. They are the absolute connection to the restaurant community whether it is a single operator, a franchise, or a chain. The state associations do a lot of the local heavy lifting and we can’t get it done without them. We are going to make a huge impact if we all work together.

What are your benchmarks for success?

At the NRA, we have a living, breathing scorecard, with quantifiable metrics [ascribed] to our six strategies. Moving forward we have to refine them and build best-in-class benchmarks. That is how we are going to measure success. For me, it will be all about products and services. When operators say ‘Thank God the NRA is helping me be more profitable,’ is when I know I will be making real progress.

How might you be able to facilitate the NRA to help restaurateurs in the area of health care?

I think we could be the absolute solution and give them the truth about what is going on. There is a lot of confusion about what is going on with the compliance component. We will leverage technology so that when the time comes we will be able to help operators comply.

Part of your responsibilities include international. What might you be working on?

We had the first international summit during the annual NRA convention in Chicago, and heard from a lot of foreign restaurant associations about what we can do to help operators around the world. For us to go into a country and help U.S. restaurateurs as they expand internationally is a step forward, and will really help us move the needle for our membership.

What are the lasting effects of the Great Recession on an operator’s profitability today?

Restaurateurs have become much smarter. They have learned lessons that have got them through some very tough times. They have started to leverage technology to be more savvy and better understand their customer. They have become very good at database management.

Your background is largely with suppliers; do you anticipate much of a learning curve working with a not-for-profit association?

My background is in business and running a P&L [organization], but I don’t think there will be much of a learning curve. I need to protect the interests of the industry and I thank God that I have established credibility during my time in the industry, which allows me to reach out to people that have known me for a very long time.

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