Leading the National Restaurant Association through a time of economic adversity and a presidential election that could bring about significant change for businesses is not a daunting challenge for chairman Michael S. Kaufman. Instead, he says, he views it as an opportunity to restructure the organization, build on its strategic goals and take advantage of the industry’s role as an important player in America’s economy.
Kaufman, the current co-president of a company that operates and licenses the upscale, casual-dining brand Harry’s Tap Room, has worked with Dawn Sweeney, the NRA’s president and chief executive, as well as the association’s board, to build a new platform for advocacy that he says will bring the NRA to a new level in its service to operators.
Having first worked in the financial world in New York, Kaufman says he is eager to serve the restaurant industry.
“I’m passionate about what this industry offers America,” he says. “I have so much enthusiasm for doing what I can to firm up the strategic underpinnings of an industry that knows no bounds.”
What are the largest headwinds facing the restaurant industry today?
Certainly, you don’t need me to say this: The No. 1 concern is the economy. Another important headwind, though, is the challenge of local initiatives in the absence of overall federal legislation, whether nutrition, health care or immigration. We’re seeing community by community, state by state a very powerful organizing effort hurting operators locally. Those fragmented requirements really hurt us.
We have launched the most comprehensive strategic process for the association and industry, the largest in 15 or more years, which focuses on how we become more proactive in key areas…how we work with state associations so we can coordinate across the country to prevent these local initiatives.
FAST FACTS Age: 54EDUCATION: Harvard University and Harvard Law SchoolHOMETOWN: Chappaqua, N.Y.
Age: 54EDUCATION: Harvard University and Harvard Law SchoolHOMETOWN: Chappaqua, N.Y.
What are the NRA’s largest opportunities?
There are so many opportunities.… We can organize better so that we can help craft solutions and be proactive in communication with members and with implementation. We are such a large industry.… That means to me that we need to think about who we are and how we play a role in American lives. We should be forward-thinking in what we bring to the table.
This plan [the NRA has been drafting] the past eight to nine months, I think it’s transformational. I think it will absolutely restructure how the association works and how industry needs will be addressed through the NRA and state associations.… We’re looking at more services, more products…at advocacy, to help operators build their bottom lines, to be of better service to our members.
What are your thoughts on the possible results of the presidential election?
It’s about hoping for a balance, whoever wins. If we are looking out and [Democrats will be the majority party in Congress], well, in general, [when it comes to] policy positions we find friendlier ears on the Republican side. So if the White House goes Republican, there will be a balance. If it goes Democrat, well, it’s ironic, so much of what this industry does is part and parcel what Democrats believe in—small business, helping build neighborhoods with great restaurants—those are core Democratic themes, but there still is not much of an understanding of the businessperson’s side. If Democrats win the White House, we will sit down and work with them, and sit down to understand what we can do together.