Sponsored by the National Restaurant Association.
The restaurant industry is in the Mendelsohn family DNA. Spike Mendelsohn, executive consultant for the family’s Sunnyside Restaurant Group and a celebrity chef who has competed on shows like “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef America,” and his sister, Micheline Mendelsohn, deputy CEO of Sunnyside Restaurant Group (which includes the burger fast casual Good Stuff Eatery), both make it a point to attend the annual NRA Show in Chicago. In fact, Micheline attends every year to find new strategies and equipment and to learn about the industry’s future.
“One of the things we pride ourselves in is being a very innovative restaurant group,” she says. “The Show is very interesting to me, because I can see what other people are doing and learn about new strategies. It’s a great opportunity to see what’s coming up, so we make it a priority to get there.”
Sunnyside Restaurant Group manages three established concepts, and Micheline says that attending is a must when a brand is emerging or developing a new concept. “The Show introduces new ideas so that you can narrow down your concept and how you can execute it, from dining menus to liquor, or even promotion strategies to fast-casual ovens and gelato,” she says.
For example, for the group’s We, The Pizza concept, Micheline says she could see what other restaurant leaders were using at the Show, such as conveyor belts, ovens, and baking techniques.
NRA Show also provides the team with opportunities to grow together. “Before we opened our second Good Stuff Eatery we were opening We, The Pizza, so we went to the Show with our executive team,” Micheline says. “We went to every single booth, and we were exhausted, and we taste-tested everything in sight, but it was also a team-building exercise. We had these interesting discussions, and we got ideas, but it also made everyone feel like they were involved in the process.”
Spike Mendelsohn says he enjoys the international area of the Show and is also a fan of the gelato. For a chef, however, he says equipment is an equally important feature.
“Chefs love their toys,” he says. “It’s like a playground for us. Not only do we get to mess with items we don’t normally get a chance to, but we also get to see how it can impact our kitchens and staffing. We think, ‘Maybe if I get this one piece of equipment, I can reduce the number of kitchen staff by one,’ which makes the kitchen more seamless and helps the budget.”
He says it’s also important to look at the new high-tech devices available for restaurants, with the digitally connected Generation Z becoming a bigger part of the labor pool and customer base.
“You learn about new tools that are available for the business, like an inventory tool, and you learn about trends,” Spike says. “One of the biggest reasons people are there is that they are hitting the market with a new product for a new trend, and it’s interesting to see what’s out there. I remember seeing a 3-D pancake printer that blew my mind, and I sent people over to see it.”
Another highlight for Spike is the networking opportunities the Show provides for both new and established relationships.
“It’s a great way to meet a lot of people in the industry and see what people are into,” he says. “I also run into a lot of industry colleagues and chefs that I’ve known over the years.”
Spike says that NRA Show is a place to be “enlightened and inspired” while also spending time with peers and having fun.
“We’re idea-based, so we’re always looking for new inspiration from what others are doing,” Micheline says. “Does it mesh with us? Does it help the customer experience? We’re always trying to better ourselves. It’s important to go often and get ideas.”