Sponsored by National Restaurant Association.
Don Fox, CEO of Firehouse Subs, has been attending the annual NRA Show in Chicago for more than a decade and has served on the NRA’s board for six years. But what is it about NRA Show that makes such a busy man so keen to go? For starters, he says, the Show is a great place to network with peers and make new connections.
“Whenever you go to NRA Show, you know you’re going to see colleagues you know, as well as new connections,” Fox says. “It’s a great opportunity to meet new people and to strengthen existing relationships.”
Fox also says that one of the highlights of the show is its educational component. Last year, for example, he says delivery, pick up, and online ordering were key topics throughout the Show, and in addition to learning more about these up-and-coming trends, Fox’s team was able to network with suppliers for delivery containers and holding units to help expand off-premise options for Firehouse customers. Yet the brand’s culinary team also finds resources at the Show.
“Our food team members find so many unique products, twists on existing concepts, and suppliers that are staples every year,” Fox says. “Even when we don’t currently use a supplier, we love stopping by the booths to see what’s literally on their plates to find exciting new items.”
NRA Show’s lectures also highlight important issues the industry is currently facing, as well as those that may shape the future of foodservice.
“The lectures tend to be a bit ahead of the curve, along with a mix of refreshers on tried and true strategies,” Fox says. “If you’re an independent operator, you can get your questions about food safety answered, while others might want to learn more about upcoming changes to the industry.”
For example, he recalls attending sessions exploring what the Affordable Care Act would mean for the industry before legislation went into effect and how this information helped restaurants plan for an uncertain future.
Though Fox notes that the Show is expansive and that it can be overwhelming in the first visit, he says that NRA’s app has made navigating the Show and planning which booths and lectures to visit easy. He also says that the Show becomes easier to navigate and more helpful with each annual visit.
“So much of the benefit I’ve derived has accumulated over time,” Fox says. “The first time I ever visited was not the time I got the most value, but the more you go, the more you get out of it. You meet more people, get familiar with the terrain, and you don’t have that advantage when you go the first time, so the benefit expands.”
Fox particularly enjoys the International Food Manufacturers Association (IFMA)’s Gold and Silver Plate Awards. Though his first visit to the dinner was as a recipient of a Silver Plate Award in 2013, he’s returned as an alumni winner in the years since.
“Because IFMA recognizes people across the industry—quick service, full service, campus dining, and more—the awards are always interesting,” Fox says. “More than anything else, it’s given me an opportunity to meet people outside of the traditional restaurant space, such as people providing foodservice on the institutional side, to get different perspectives.”
With so many resources and networking opportunities available in one place, the Firehouse team makes it a priority to attend NRA each year. Fox believes that even if everyone on his management team doesn’t attend NRA Show every year, it’s important for every member to go at least once to get a sense for the state of the industry.
“The main value for most people, and especially CEOs, is that sometimes you can get trapped within the four walls of your business and not look much beyond, partially due to the pressure of your responsibilities,” Fox says. “But it’s important to take a break and give yourself an opportunity to see what’s out there and to engage with other people.”
By Peggy Carouthers
The five times weekly e-newsletter that keeps you up-to-date on the latest industry news and additions to this website.