We had a chance to sit down with Sam Toia, the President and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA). Read his Q&A below.
Why is the non-alcoholic beverage industry important to you and the restaurant industry?
Our members operate on such slim margins as it is and any increase in soda prices at city, county or state levels – or other taxes – would have a significant impact on our members. Our colleagues in the non-alcoholic beverage industry are key partners to the IRA as we strive to grow a dynamic restaurant hospitality industry in our state. We are proud to have Coca-Cola and PepsiCo as IRA Corporate Sponsors and active members of our Board of Directors as well.
Why do you think it’s important for We Deliver in Chicago coalition members and others to advocate for industries like the non-alcoholic beverage industry or restaurant industry?
You definitely need to stay engaged and up to date on what’s going on regarding new legislation, taxes, or regulations on the industry. When a soda tax has been brought up at the Chicago City Council, Cook County Board or in Springfield, the We Deliver in Chicago coalition has been instrumental in educating our elected officials on why it is a misguided policy that would ultimately raise prices where it hurts the most: Chicago families’ wallets. The non-alcoholic beverage industry has been deeply invested in partnerships and education to create healthier communities, and it’s crucial to keep spreading that message.
What are issues the Illinois Restaurant Association is currently focusing on?
We are always advocating for the best interests of our industry on the city, county, state, and national levels. New labor standards such as minimum wage increases and possible paid sick leave requirements are of constant concern to our members. We also work to support policies that will help our industry thrive – such as the Culinary and Hospitality Modernization Act, which legalized happy hours, food and wine pairings, and packages; Temporary Visitors Drivers Licenses (TVDL), which allows employees in the hospitality industry to travel to home, work, and school safely and without fear of breaking the law; or tourism funding for convention bureaus around the state, which helps puts more heads in beds in hotels and bodies in seats in restaurants.
What are other ways to get involved with the Illinois Restaurant Association?
The IRA puts on special events year-round, including Taste of Chicago where the IRA runs the food and beverage operations, and Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet, which has grown into the premier food and wine festival of the United States. We also offer Food Handler and BASSET training, job placements and scholarships for high schoolers, opportunities to attend lobby days in Springfield and Washington D.C., speed coaching with the best in the industry at Meet The Experts and a host of other programs that benefit operators, suppliers and distributors alike.
Anything else you’d like to share?
We collaborate with all facets of the industry – celebrity chefs, neighborhood restaurants, QSRs (quick service restaurants), craft brewers, bar/restaurants, food trucks, our partners in the beverage industry and many more. We’re in our 102nd year of service, and we look forward to continue promoting, protecting, educating and improving the restaurant industry in Illinois for years to come.
To learn more about IRA, please visit illinoisrestaurants.org. You call apply to be an IRA member online at illinoisrestaurants.org or contact the IRA Membership department at (312) 787-4000.