Illinois Restaurant Association Rallies Industry and Announces Annual Award Recipients

Yesterday the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA) hosted its 2022 Annual 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 keynote speech from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, as well as the organization’s annual awards presentation. At a time of critical importance for restaurants, remarks centered on the Association’s ongoing mission to protect, promote, educate, and advance the industry around the state. Joined by President & CEO Sam Toia, Sam Sanchez, CEO of Third Coast Hospitality,  who will enter his second year as Chairman of the Board, presided over the event.

“During this time of unparalleled change, Sam Sanchez has been a dedicated and passionate champion of our industry,” said Toia. “We look forward to his continued leadership in a year when we need it most.”

“It’s an honor to represent my colleagues for a second year as Chairman of the Board,” said Sanchez.  “There is a lot of work to do, but we will never tire in our work to ensure our members’ voices are heard at all levels of government, provide hundreds of grants to food service workers in need, and remind job seekers how our industry is one of endless opportunity.”


Mayor Lori Lightfoot gave the keynote address. She spoke to attendees about the need for resilience and continued hope despite recent setbacks with the Omicron variant. She also commended the restaurant industry for taking steps to keep their diners and team members safe, and noted possible changes on the horizon for vaccination requirements for indoor dining in Chicago.


“I am confident in the future of our restaurant industry,” remarked Lightfoot. “That’s because I believe in the IRA’s vision and can clearly see the tenacity of its members. We have faced innumerable challenges, but I could not ask for a better partner than the IRA to help ensure a strong recovery for the greatest restaurant city in the world.”

“As long as we continue to make progress with a downward trend in the City’s overall COVID-19 metrics, we will be able to lift the vaccination requirement for indoor dining in a matter of weeks,” said Lightfoot.


Among many others, the IRA today identified ongoing efforts that include providing over $277,000 in IRA Educational Foundation Restaurant Employee Relief Fund grants to 550 foodservice workers in need, advocating for the replenishment of the Restaurant Recovery Fund (RRF), pressing state and local officials to use federal dollars to support restaurants and their employees, providing discounted training and certification classes, offering pro bono legal support to operators, and making over 10,000 calls for technical guidance through the Cook County Small Business Assistance Program.

The IRA also announced its annual award recipients:

Restaurateur of the Year was awarded to Steven Hartenstein, COO of Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants and Proprietor of Lucca Osteria.  Steven has excelled as a leading restaurateur for decades. Most recently, he weathered the pandemic to open Lucca Osteria to great fanfare in Oak Brook, Illinois. He is tireless in his advocacy for the industry and in his support for his fellow restaurateur.

Vendor of the Year was awarded to Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. Terry Brick, Executive Vice President and General Manager, and Mike Evans, Director, Trader Relations & Government Affairs, accepted the award for the company’s longstanding support of the IRA, including their presenting sponsorship of Chicago Gourmet for more than a decade, recent lobbying efforts in Springfield alongside the IRA to make alcohol regulations more flexible, and donations to the IRA Educational Foundation Relief Fund and IRAEF Scholarship Program.

Empathy + Hope in 2020 – Helping People Get Back on Their Feet

Never before has a crisis hit small businesses quite as hard as the COVID-19 pandemic, and perhaps no industries have been hit harder than restaurants and hospitality. Since EMPLOYERS has been coming to the aid of workers and businesses facing adversity for more than 100 years, it made sense for us to take action.We’ve teamed up with our restaurant association partners across the country to help workers stay on their feet, creating restaurant relief funds that provide grants directly to hardworking restaurant employees during this uniquely challenging time.Watch this short film to see these inspiring stories of hope and overcoming adversity.

Posted by EMPLOYERS, America’s small business insurance specialist on Friday, December 4, 2020

Sara Rowe ProStart® Company of the Year was awarded to EMPLOYERS for going above and beyond to support the IRA Educational Foundation ProStart Program and its students. Wayne Hilston, Vice President Sales – Programs and Payroll Alliances, accepted the award. EMPLOYERS is a founding donor of the IRA Employee Relief Fund. The company also dedicated substantial contributions to the IRAEF Scholarship Program, which supported six students in their hospitality management education.

Pineapple Hospitality Award was awarded to Julia Momosé, Partner and Creative Director of Kumiko and Founder of Cocktails for Hope, for her work in helping to legalize “cocktails to go” across Illinois.  At a time when indoor service had been restricted severely, Julia overcame significant obstacles to change the state’s liquor laws to allow cocktails for takeout and delivery, thereby increasing restaurant and bar revenue at time when they needed it most.

Featured Image Credit: Illinois Restaurant Association