The Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA) hosted its 2019 Annual Meeting on February 28 at the Union League Club of Chicago electing Greg Schulson as Chairman of the Board. Stepping into the role held by Jim Kallas of Compass Group, Schulsonpreviously served as First Vice Chairman and is the founder and CEO of Burrito Beach and the President and CEO of Lunan Corporation.

On the heels of his inauguration, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker gave the keynote address. He spoke to attendees about the restaurant industry’s important role in driving the state’s economy as Illinois’ largest private sector employer, along with its impact on immigration. Additionally, he expressed his gratitude to President and CEO of the IRA Sam Toia, who served on his transition committee.

“When we come together, we can get real things done. I look forward to working with the [IRA] to get things done for the entrepreneurs in our state,” Pritzker stated.

Following Tuesday’s mayoral election, Lori Lightfoot – one of two candidates for Chicago’s mayor – made an appearance at the Annual Meeting. Lightfoot spoke to attendees about the importance and impact of the restaurant industry on our city’s neighborhoods.

In addition to its Board of Directors, the IRA also announced its annual award recipients in four categories: Restaurateur of the Year Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, IncJay Stieber, Vendor of the Year Coker Service, Inc. and Sara Rowe ProStart® Company of the Year Stella Artois. The 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to former President and CEO of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association Marc Gordon.

“It is a true honor to have Greg Schulson at the helm of the IRA board in 2019,” said IRA President and CEO Sam Toia. “We are so grateful to Jim Kallas and all of the work he has done to support and advance the IRA over the past few years. We are positive that with Greg’s leadership and knowledge, the IRA, as well as the restaurant industry as a whole, is in good hands.”

“Both Jim Kallas and the IRA have set so much in motion for our industry, and I am eager and ready to continue the progress and success that they have so tirelessly worked for,” said Schulson. “Our state’s restaurant industry is both an economic and cultural driver, and it is vital we work with leaders to ensure all voices are being heard and needs are being met.”

Annual Award Honorees

The IRA also presented awards in four esteemed categories:

  • Restaurateur of the Year was awarded to Jay Stieber, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc. and former Chairman of the IRA. Jay has been with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises for more than twenty years and most recently served as Chairman of the National Restaurant Association, advocating for the restaurant industry on a national scale. During his time with the National Restaurant Association, he helped to launch the Restaurant Law Center, which was created to enhance the industry’s legal advocacy nationwide.
  • Vendor of the Year, recognizing IRA members for their excellent and longstanding reputation for providing outstanding service and quality products to the industry, was awarded to Coker Service, Inc., who has been a member of the IRA since 1999 and became a Gold Corporate sponsor in 2017. Known for providing commercial foodservice equipment, founder Mike Coker began his small business over thirty years ago and has since grown into four states.
  • Sara Rowe ProStart® Company of the Year was awarded to Stella Artois, a longtime supporter of students interested in pursuing a career in the hospitality industry and the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (IRAEF). In 2018, Stella Artois hosted its namesake “Art of the Chalice” which celebrated Chicago’s rich heritage through art, food and culture. All proceeds benefited the IRAEF, showing the brand’s commitment to culinary education.
  • Lifetime Achievement Award was graciously awarded to former President and CEO of theIllinois Hotel and Lodging Association Marc Gordon. Under his leadership, the IHLA grew significantly in membership, programs and revenue. As a close friend and ally of the hospitality industry, Gordon previously served as Senior Director for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF).

About the Illinois Restaurant Association
Founded in 1914, the Illinois Restaurant Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting, protecting, educating and improving the restaurant industry in Illinois. The IRA owns and produces Chicago Gourmet – the annual food and wine festival uniting hundreds of restaurants, chefs and beverage experts for a weekend filled with food and drink tastings, entertainment, cooking demonstrations, book signings, interactive seminars and more. The Association is also a proud co-host of the James Beard Foundation Awards, which will be held in Chicago through 2027. For more information about the Illinois Restaurant Association, visit and follow on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.