As the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) works to develop the future of foodservice, it also seeks to promote the industry’s storied history. The Elliot Group, a retained executive search firm specializing in the hospitality industry, recently stepped in to further this goal by curating a large collection of iconic restaurant memorabilia to highlight the industry’s central role in shaping U.S. economy and culture. At the collection’s debut presentation at a gala at Gotham Hall in New York City, guests could peruse classic signage, menus, uniforms, and more from some of the nation’s most impactful restaurant brands.
The Elliot Collection, as it has come to be called, has since been entrusted to the NRAEF, where it will continue to memorialize foodservice’s far-reaching history.
The NRAEF’s vice president of Programs and Administration, Wendi Safstrom, says the collection will serve as an inspiration for students and future restaurant entrepreneurs. “I think it’s important for us to document our history, and share that with folks who are learning about the restaurant industry,” she says. “It’s a visual representation of where people could go with their careers just starting with the smallest idea—the simplest logo, a simple menu—and how far they can take those dreams.”
The NRAEF is still in the process of inventorying the more than 200 items of memorabilia in the collection, and calls continue to come in nearly every day from brands seeking to add donations. The foundation plans to find prominent places to display some of the items in its D.C. and Chicago locations, where Safstrom says they will serve as a reminder of the entrepreneurial spirit and the positive impact the restaurant industry has had on both careers and communities. While the collection is especially important for those directly involved in the industry, Safstrom says that the story it tells reaches into the lives of most Americans, reminding her of the industry’s integral place in society. “I didn’t anticipate that seeing some of the items—like a Friendly’s uniform—would remind me of going out and getting ice cream with my parents and grandparents,” she says. “It can be very personal for people.”
As the world of foodservice continues to evolve, the NRAEF is dedicated to collecting and contextualizing its keepsakes to inspire the next generation, and The Elliot Collection provides the perfect vehicle to keep that history alive and growing.
By Emily Byrd