Thursday, May 21, 2009


L to R: Louis Basile, CEO, Wildflower Bread Company and President of the Fast Casual Alliance, Linda Duke, CEO of Duke Marketing and Secretary, Fast Casual Alliance, Darren Tristano, Executive VP, Technomics, pose at the Oregon in Chicago party sponsored by the FCA and Truitt Brothers.

I was a speaker this year at the NRA show on Sunday May 18th at Noon. I was a bit nervous about attendance this year but had over 200 people and standing room only in my session. I did mention it was on a Sunday right? My topic was Four Star Marketing, PR and Promotions--Recipes for Restaurateurs and it was focusing on my recently published book and I presented marketing case studies from top restaurant brands about how to drive sales with cost-effective marketing strategies.

I truly believe I had such a great turn-out this year because everyone is looking for answers. After I spoke there was a line of people wishing to speak to me and several were CEO's of top restaurant brands who sincerely thanked me for the ideas. The crowd was gracious and the contacts I garnered were fantastic. I spoke to several exhibitors on the show floor each day at the NRA and all said traffic was down, BUT the QUALITY of leads were better since the people that showed up were actual decision makers and looking for answers. Again, proving that top restaurant brand leaders make smart moves during economic uncertainty.

I was also a moderator of a panel on Monday at 2pm at the NRA and this was the Fast Casual CEO panel. The panelists were Fast Casual operators Louis Basile, CEO of Wildflower Bread Company, who is also president of the Fast Casual Alliance, Paul Barron, publisher of Fast and Chairman of the Fast Casual Alliance, Don Fox, COO of Firehouse Subs, Darren Tristano of Technomics, Husein Kitabwalla, President of Retail Breand Group (Sodexho). The room was a large set-up and we counted well over 250 people gathered to hear their 2 hour session regarding how the Fast Casual restaurant segment is HEATING up the restaurant industry. Again, great turn-out and the crowd included a food writer from the Chicago Sun-Times who published an article about the panel and Fast Casual, Scott Hume, editor of Burger and Jim Greco, CEO of Bruegger's Bagels and numerous other brand leaders.

I was also invited to numerous cocktail parties and receptions for the various groups or associations I am involved and the quality of people attending and turn out for all the events was terrific. I attended The MEG cocktail party at the Intercontinental Friday evening which was packed with all the marketing executives of numerous restaurant brands, then it was off to the Technomics cocktail reception at the Ritz (I rode up in the elevator with Billy Joel who was staying there!) which was a full house and had some incredible beef tenderloin and other food stations, then over to the 82nd floor of the Mid-Atlantic Club for Restaurant Business's Strawberry & Champagne party that they hosted with NRAEF and the Culinary Institute of America and again, the crowd was great and excellent views and converstations were had.

Above: Strawberry & Champagne Party on the 82nd Floor of the Mid-Atlantic Club. Below: Truitt Brothers "Oregon in Chicago" at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Saturday night the Fast Casual Alliance was one of the sponsors of the Truitt Brothers, Oregon in Chicago which was a very classy event held at the new modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. The food stations were beautiful and the food amazing. They even had a fire pit which people gathered around and sipped their Oregon cranberry margaritas and Pinot Noir.

Then on Monday night I attended the IFEC (International Foodservice Editoral Council) Party at The Gage in a room below the main floor of the restaurant with low ceilings and it was filled with WOMEN and was SO LOUD! The group is mostly editors of the restaurant and food trade publications and the marketing or PR people of food and trade organizations as well as PR people or marketing people representing brands (like me (like me So, yes, mostly women and a great group of senior executives that make our industry buzz. Everyone was pleased with the turn outs of all the parties above and each had excellent comments about the turnout.

As for the exhibits, the COKE booth was incredible. They always seem to amaze me and they should! My favorite booth was the booth that has a circus mirror so when you looked at yourself you would see a super thin tall person. Well, considering I have been less than 5 feet tall my whole life, I couldn't stop staring at myself to see how GREAT I LOOKED at 6 feet tall and size 2. I knew I could be skinny!

Now I am back in my office in San Rafael (North of SF in CA), and feeling exhausted --I was in Chicago for four nights--but I have a stack of business cards and a smile on my face, my books SOLD OUT at the NRA Book Stall and in fact, I was told I sold more than Ted Turner! All in all, great NRA show this year and hope to see everyone again soon!

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