Special Report | May 2013 | By Laurel Nakkas

2013 NRA Show Guide

How to get the most out of this year’s show.

Restaurant operators learn valuable tips at restaurant industry's largest show.
National Restaurant Association

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It’s the foodservice industry’s biggest annual event: the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show (a.k.a “the NRA Show”), where nearly 60,000 professionals and 2,000 exhibitors gather to learn how to be bigger and better. Going in without a guide can be overwhelming. But don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.

Stop by QSR’s Booth! #4864

Panel Preview // Carin Stutz Q & A

In Her Nature

Così CEO Carin Stutz talks about her success as a female fast-casual executive.

Carin Stutz is no stranger to the foodservice industry. Having started with a part-time job at McDonald’s in high school, she went on to major in food and nutrition at Western Illinois University and worked her way up to vice presidential positions at Wendy’s and Applebee’s.

After serving as president of global business development at Brinker International, parent company of Chili’s and Maggiano’s, Stutz was named president and CEO of fast-casual concept Così in late 2011. Her early success at Così, which has included a brand overhaul and turnaround from near-bankruptcy, has established Stutz as one of the leading female executives in the fast-casual arena.

Stutz will be a panelist at QSR’s NRA Show educational session, “Year of Women in Foodservice: Lessons learned by successful female executives and entrepreneurs who are blazing trails.” She spoke with QSR about her experiences as a female in a fast-casual leadership position, and shared the advice she gives other women working to advance in the foodservice industry.

What did the process look like that led you to become CEO and president of Così?

I had heard about it through a recruiter in the industry who had called me about the position, and I knew that I wanted to complete my career in the foodservice industry as a CEO. I honestly thought it would take me a while to find a position, and I had just begun to interview [when] I was very blessed to be offered different positions as a CEO, and I chose Così.

I thought it was interesting. I saw it was in the fast-casual segment and on trend with where the industry is heading as far as fresher foods and more locally sourced ingredients, and it certainly was going to be a challenge from a turnaround situation. It looked like a challenging and fun opportunity.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your job thus far?

It’s the smallest company I’ve ever worked for, so I would just say limited resources and financials. We don’t have deep financial pockets here, so we have to be very mindful. I often use the words pace and prioritization. You stay very focused on doing the things that matter the most.

How would you describe your leadership style at Così?

I would say collaborative but decisive. [I’m] very results-oriented, but at the same time, we have to be very innovative in how we make this brand relevant again.

In what ways were you mentored as a woman in the foodservice industry?

Hear more from Stutz at QSR’s "Year of Women in Foodservice" panel!

In 1994, I heard of this organization called the Women’s Foodservice Forum. When I went to their annual leadership conference for the very first time, if there was any question of whether or not this would be an industry for me, that was the group that convinced me there was a future for women in the foodservice industry. They really focus on developing … and making those positions become available, and developing the talent and the skills and the leadership capabilities to step into the next role.

I credit a lot of my ability to get to this CEO position to the Women’s Foodservice Forum. But I’ve also had some great leaders and former CEOs that I’ve worked with in the past who were willing to sponsor me and help me get to the next level.

What qualities do you possess that have made you handle situations in your career differently than a man?

My nature. I’m probably more collaborative and maybe less hierarchical. I am very willing to reach out to all levels of the organization for input and advice. I think from time to time I will see people use chain of command. I guess I was just always raised that everyone is unique. Everyone has a tremendous amount of value, whatever role. … They’re all so important to help us achieve goals and create a great industry here.

What characteristics do women have that are uniquely suited to executive positions in the industry?

My best thinking on women in the industry is, No. 1, women are incredibly engaged. It’s a different relationship that women have with brands and with positions than men. I think women are very good financial stewards of the company’s assets, and I would say that having women mixed in a team opens up a dialogue and, therefore, increases your company’s ability to be innovative, as well.

What are some ways that you try to advance the careers of other women?

I think we have yet to get to this position. At this point, I feel like there’s an opportunity for me to give back. People have mentored me and looked after me, [and] I’m now in the position to be able to do that for other women and even men who I come across in the organization, as well.

When I came here, we had 10 district managers, at the time all male, and now we have three women district managers. To start to introduce some talented women who can step up and be leaders in this organization—I’m really excited about what they bring to the table, and already they’re adding a lot of value.

What piece of advice do you give women when you are trying to help them advance?

Define your career goals. You have to know what you want. You have to know what’s possible, what you can go after. You have to ask, Which skills do I have today, [and] which skills do I need for that next position? Then you have to close that gap.

Any other advice or thoughts you have on women in foodservice?

You can tell I’m such a fan of the Women’s Foodservice Forum. It really serves a great purpose for leaders, but more importantly, it’s a great organization that, when you go there, your network [and] working opportunities are huge. There’s so much talent there that makes you want to be part of the foodservice industry. I think there are a lot of people who question whether or not the foodservice industry is a great career for women, and I think when you go there and you see the talent that is there, you’ll see it’s definitely a place where you belong.

Next: Saturday, May 18

Educational Sessions Rundown

Saturday, May 18

10:00-11:00 a.m.

Is My Restaurant Ready To Franchise?

A panel of experts shares the three-phase process to follow when launching a franchise program. Have questions about your own franchise opportunities? Get answers from franchisors, a franchise consultant, and a franchise attorney. ROOM S403A

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Health Care—What You Need to Know Now

The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care act, otherwise known as health-care reform, starts to take effect in 2013, and all restaurants will feel its impact. How should you prepare? This session gives operators a basic understanding of the health-care law and the next steps to take. ROOM S403B

12:00-1:00 p.m.

The Allure of Digital Menuboards & Signage: Does it Make Sense?

Specialists from Popeyes, Dairy Queen, and Bunn Co., all of whom have successfully applied digital menuboards and signage, explain the impact digital technologies have on customers’ decisions. BOOTH 5575

1:30-2:30 p.m.

Top Ten Marketing Strategies for Restaurant Brands

Members from the NRA’s Marketing Executive Group (meg), including representatives from Denny’s and Corner Bakery, offer strategies that make marketing and brand development easier. ROOM S404ABC

1:30-2:30 p.m.

Food Sustainability: Understanding Food Issues and Boosting Business Through Sustainable Food Choices

Learn all about food sustainability, profit opportunity, and sustainable food options like seafood. You’ll also be provided with ways to respond to public criticism about sustainability. ROOM S402A

3:00-4:30 p.m.

Lessons from Leaders of Fast Casual

The fast-casual industry has been one of the best restaurant success stories in the last five years. Fast-casual leaders, including the CEOs of Noodles & Co. and Corner Bakery—along with Così CEO Carin Stutz, who will sit on QSR’s panel on May 19—discuss their personal experiences with the category. The session will include a look at the history of fast casual as well as current trends, and will have a Q&A session. ROOM S404ABC

Next: Sunday, May 19

Educational Sessions Rundown

Sunday, May 19

10:00-11:30 a.m.

Year of Women in Foodservice: Lessons Learned by Successful Female Executives and Entrepreneurs

Women are reaching new heights in foodservice. In this QSR-sponsored session, hear from Così CEO Carin Stutz, as well as celebrity chefs Stephanie Izard and Anne Burrell, about their personal experiences as female leaders in the industry. Learn about mistakes to avoid, tips for success, and practical advice from leading women in foodservice. ROOM S404ABC

11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

On-Premise: Trends and Outlook

Hear from Technomic experts about the major trends affecting the beverage industry, such as expanded daypart selling, food/drink pairing, casualization of dining occasions, and health and wellness. And come hungry: There will be a light tasting and brunch served during the session. ROOM 427BCD

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

The Convenience-Store Competition: What Can You Learn from C-Store Retail Foodservice? 

C-stores are becoming serious competitors on the local foodservice scene. Learn how some of the most innovative C-stores are driving sales, maintaining strong profitability, and attracting customers. ROOM S403B

1:30-2:30 p.m.

Menu Trends 2013: What’s Hot, What’s Not, What’s Next?

This session will examine foods and flavors, preparation, and presentation techniques that will bring new customers through the door and have them coming back. The review will cover all dayparts and menu sections as it explores how to turn trends into moneymakers. ROOM S404ABC

1:30-2:30 p.m.

Rethinking Corporate Social Responsibility: Use Level 5 Relevance to Create Shared Value

Want to be a force for positive change while still building your bottom line? Learn how to develop social efforts that achieve “Level 5 Relevance” with consumers, employees, and suppliers, while also strengthening your business. ROOM S402B

Next: Monday, May 20

Educational Sessions Rundown

Monday, May 20

10:00-11:00 a.m.

Anthony Bourdain’s Keynote Address

Anthony Bourdain, author of The New York Times bestseller “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly“ and host of the Emmy award-winning television series “No Reservations,” delivers a keynote address on his illustrious restaurant career. World Culinary Showcase

10:00-11:00 a.m.

What You Need to Know About Serving Customers with Allergies

About one in 25 Americans reports suffering from a food allergy, and your restaurant needs to be prepared to serve them. Experts including Walt Disney World’s culinary dietary specialist and the NRA’s director of Nutrition & Food and Healthy Living share how to best attract and provide for guests with allergies. ROOM S402A

10:00-11:00 a.m.

Grocers and Restaurants: Learning from Each Other

With significant growth in groceries’ deli and prepared-foods departments, the line between grocer and restaurateur is blurring. Listen in on how these competitors are developing restaurant-quality offerings and in-store dining opportunities. ROOM S402B

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Product Development for Restaurant Menus: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly State of the Food Industry

A panel of culinary and R&D professionals will fill you in on all angles of the product development process, giving you a model that can evolve everything from your concept to your menu. ROOM S402A

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Nutrition Trends: How Can Your Restaurant Capitalize?

The NRA’s “What’s Hot in 2013” survey showed that consumers are increasingly interested in nutrition. Learn how industry leaders are interacting with nutrition trends, and how you can capitalize on this growing movement. ROOM S402B

2:00-3:00 p.m.

The Ins and Outs of Mobility

Which new devices are most appropriate for your quick serve? This session features mobile-savvy experts, who will examine mobile options and discuss how each one positively or negatively affects your business. BOOTH 5575

3:00-4:30 p.m.

“They Gave Me Food Poisoning”: What To Do When You’re Attacked Online

In this era of social media, a restaurant’s reputation can be harmed with just one negative online review. Find out how to use legal and public relations strategies for defending your quick serve, and how to apply them before and after online attacks. ROOM S404ABC

Next: Tuesday, May 21

Educational Sessions Rundown

Tuesday, May 21

10:00-11:00 a.m.

Top 8 Myths About Gluten-Free Menus

Gluten-free menus have exploded recently, but not all quick serves are prepared to successfully offer them. Beckee Moreland, director of Gluten-Free Industry Initiatives at the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, covers must-know topics for implementing a gluten-free menu. ROOM S402B

10:00-11:00 a.m.

Financing A–Z: Tips for Financing Your Franchise and Beyond

Financial experts explain it all in this discussion focusing on franchise financing options for owners and entrepreneurs. Learn about types of financing available and how to go about finding—and receiving—the money. ROOM S403A

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Understanding Millennials in the Workplace

In this session, experts share tips on attracting and retaining employees in the key Millennial demographic. Gain insights about the needs and interests that make this group desirable and unique. ROOM S403B

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Responding to Disaster

Foodservice operations must be particularly careful after natural disasters. Learn how to get back online safely with these take-home preparation strategies. ROOM S402A

Next: Chicago Dine-out Guide // Fine Dining

Chicago Dine-out Guide

What’s Hot in Chicago

Looking to hit the town while in Chicago? Try these food and beverage mainstays.

Fine Dining


615 W. Randolph St.

Distance from McCormick Place: 4.4 miles

Though originally known as a wine bar, avec has been serving highly praised Mediterranean-inspired cuisine since 2003. Executive chef Paul Kahan is an award-winning Chicago favorite, known for avec and his other renowned restaurants, Blackbird and the Publican.

On avec’s menu, expect to find low-to-moderately priced small- and large-plate selections, such as Deluxe Focaccia, House-Marinated Olives, Whole Roasted Fish in Aqua Pazzo, and sections solely devoted to salumi and cheeses. Avec opens at 3:30 p.m. every day.


980 N. Michigan Ave.

Distance from McCormick Place: 5.8 miles

Spiaggia is Chicago’s only four-star Italian restaurant and is a perfect destination for diners looking to splurge. It has received numerous accolades for its authentic, elegant Italian menu and has welcomed big-name diners like President Obama, Julia Roberts, and Oprah Winfrey.

Spiaggia is open for dinner nightly, and reservations are required.

For a more casual, lower-priced option, consider Café Spiaggia, which serves lunch and dinner. It’s located on Spiaggia’s second level, and reservations are recommended, but not required.

Frontera Grill

445 N. Clark St.

Distance from McCormick Place: 6.1 miles

Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters” winner and Daytime Emmy–nominated culinary host Rick Bayless is well known in Chicago for his renowned Mexican restaurants Frontera Grill, XOXO, and Topolobampo.

At Frontera Grill, named an “Outstanding Restaurant” in 2007 by the James Beard Foundation, diners can find a wide array of moderately priced menu choices that vary on a monthly basis. Menu listings include street-food selections like tacos, enchiladas, tamales, and taquitos; seafood and raw-bar options; and fired entrées, salads, moles, pipianes, and, of course, guacamole.

Lao Sze Chuan

2172 S. Archer Ave.

Distance from McCormick Place: 2.7 miles

Just minutes from the show is a Chicago Chinese-food favorite in the heart of Chinatown: Lao Sze Chuan. The restaurant’s authentic Sichuan cuisine, with more than 800 dishes to choose from, offers diners nearly anything they could desire, with familiar dishes like Sweet and Sour Chicken and less-recognizable Chinese delicacies like Duck Tongue Peking Style or Fresh Frog with Sour Pickle Chili.

Chef Tony Hu has served his much-loved cuisine to Chicagoans since 1998, and now has six additional restaurants in the Windy City.

Next: Chicago Dine-out Guide // bars

Chicago Dine-out Guide


City Tavern

1416 S. Michigan Ave.

Distance from McCormick Place: 2.2 miles

If you’re looking for a quaint neighborhood bar within minutes of the show, City Tavern is your go-to spot. This 18th century–modeled tavern is rated one of the best bars in Chicago by Chicago Magazine and is on this year’s Michelin Bib Gourmand list, which showcases good-value eateries.

City Tavern specializes in craft beers and features 18 beers on tap. The menu is nothing to scoff at either, with hearty selections like Braised Rabbit Leg, Wild Boar and Short Rib Meatloaf, and Lamb Meatballs.


1970 W. Montrose Ave.

Distance from McCormick Place: 11.4 miles

With more than 150 beers, almost 420 whiskeys, and 30-plus wines, Fountainhead is the tavern to visit if you’re seeking variety. This Old World–themed bar, with dark woodwork and a cozy fireplace, includes a full menu, which is designed to pair well with drink selections. It features salads, snacks, small and large plates, sandwiches, and desserts.

Fountainhead even has a Sunday brunch, served from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge

4802 N. Broadway Ave.

Distance from McCormick Place: 11.3 miles

What’s a trip to Chicago without experiencing some history and jazz music? Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, Al Capone’s old hangout, is a Chicago favorite that’s hosted a wide range of jazz performers for more than 100 years. This dimly lit, sophisticated, and casual lounge, reminiscent of the 1920s, welcomes one or more jazz performers each night and hosts a Sunday-night poetry slam, a tradition since 1986. Though the club doesn’t serve food, it’s a perfect destination for a late-night drink at the full bar.


2601 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Distance from McCormick Place: 9.5 miles

Telegraph wine bar has received positive response from many critics since its debut in 2011, appearing on numerous “best of” lists.

With a focus on rustic European wines primarily from Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, Telegraph also offers eight beers on tap and several liquor selections.

The ever-changing, moderately priced menu utilizes local ingredients and organic produce, and the menu contains choices like fish, cheeses, duck, veal, lamb, boar, and desserts like Portuguese Sweet Bread or Fenugreek Ice Cream, listed with suggested wine pairings.

Next: Chicago Dine-out Guide // Other

Chicago Dine-out Guide


Smoque BBQ

3800 N. Pulaski Rd.

Distance from McCormick Place: 10.5 miles

With mentions in the New York Times, Gourmet, Chicago Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and on the Food Network—as well as having received Michelin Bib Gourmand awards for good food at a good value—Smoque BBQ is a must-try for any barbecue fan visiting Chicago.

Smoque BBQ offers pulled pork topped with a peppery sauce; tender Texas-style brisket, ribs, chicken, and sausage; and, as any good BBQ establishment should have, sides including mac and cheese, cornbread, brisket chili, coleslaw, and BBQ beans. Smoque BBQ is open every day except Monday.

Portillo’s Hot Dogs

100 W. Ontario St.

Distance from McCormick Place: 3.9 miles

Portillo’s started off as a simple hot dog stand in 1963. Fifty years later, this authentic and long-loved Chicago-area quick-service chain has grown to more than 30 restaurants in Illinois, with units in California and Arizona, as well.

Portillo’s menu includes hot dogs and chili dogs (without ketchup, as Chicagoans would have it), burgers, salads, award-winning ribs, and Italian beef. Portillo’s chocolate cake is another item that’s received a lot of attention, as it’s sure to satisfy any diner’s sweet tooth.

Gene’s Sausage Shop

4750 N. Lincoln Ave.

Distance from McCormick Place: 11.5 miles

Gene’s Sausage Shop is a butcher’s shop, grocery store, bar, and rooftop garden, all in one. This 40-plus-year-old European market features more than 30 varieties of sausages prepared in a full-service butcher’s shop, with choices such as Polish, Alpine, and Kabanosy sausage and Smoked Rib Belly.

If sausage isn’t your thing, shop for European groceries or enjoy imported and domestic beer or wine at a picnic table on the rooftop garden. The shop is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays and to 8 p.m. every other day.

Little Goat

820 W. Randolph St.

Distance from McCormick Place: 4.2 miles

“Top Chef” winner Stephanie Izard is well known in Chicago for her restaurant Girl & The Goat. Izard opened two additional casual concepts in late 2012, modeled after the first: Little Goat Diner and Little Goat Bread.

At Little Goat Bread, expect to find bread of all sorts in bagels, sandwiches, pastries, or on their own. Next door at Little Goat Diner, Izard serves up breakfast specials like Biscuits and Gravy, along with sandwiches, burgers, salads, soups, dinner specials, and desserts.

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