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NRA_Show_Floor_2019-promo-RonRuggless.png Ron Ruggless

100th NRA Show attendees to sample thousand-pound cheesecake

More than 65,000 expected to attend centenary exhibition in Chicago

This is part of NRN’s special coverage of the 2019 NRA Show, being held in Chicago, May 18-21. Visit for the latest coverage from the show, plus follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

There will be cake: a thousand pounds of cheesecake.

As the National Restaurant Association prepares to welcome 65,000 attendees to the annual NRA Show in Chicago Saturday through Tuesday, bakers at the locally based Eli’s Cheesecake Co. were putting the final touches on a 1,000-pound cheesecake to be shared in a Saturday celebration to honor the group and the exhibition’s 100th anniversary.

The association held its first national restaurant show in Kansas City, Mo., in 1919.

Photo: Eli's Cheesecake


Eli M. Schulman, founder of Eli's Cheesecake, stands to the left of Ted Balestreri, 1987 chair of the National Restaurant Association, as he cuts the ribbon for the 1987 NRA Show in Chicago. Schulman's Eli's the Place for Steak was named to the Nation’s Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame during an earlier show in 1983.

Mary Pat Heftman, president of the restaurant show division of Winsight Exhibitions, will be celebrating her own 29th anniversary of working with the show.

“I’ve been looking back at our past 100 years, looking through almost all the exhibit guidebooks,” Heftman said in a phone interview Thursday. “What has struck me is: The restaurant industry challenges in 1919 are much the same, and yet different.

“We were having sessions on and conversations around labor challenges, government interference [and] spiking food costs,” Heftman said. “As I went through the decades, topics would roll along but labor challenges and government interference have been issues since the show began.”

Another thing that has remained the same is what Heftman calls “a hunger to learn from experts in different segments of the industry willing to share their knowledge with operators. That power of sharing and learning from each other has not changed.”

How the NRA does it has changed, however, she said.

“There’s more technology involved,” Heftman said. “We bring people together digitally over the course of the year, not just at the show. It opens their minds to all sorts of possibilities.”

NRA_Show_100th_Cake_Eli_s_No_logo.jpegTo kick off the festivities, the thousand-pound cheesecake will be sliced and served to show attendees at 2:30 p.m. CDT at McCormick Place’s Grand Concourse.

The cake will be cut by NRA president and CEO Dawn Sweeney and Ted Balestreri, chairman of the 100th Anniversary celebration and a former association chair.

On Thursday, Sweeney announced her retirement at the end of the year.

Sweeney will lead Sunday’s centerpiece educational program, the “Future of Dining” discussion with CEOs from full-service and quick-service restaurants as well as grocery and convenience stores.

A Monday “SuperSession” will bring together four experts to offer ideas on consumer-facing and back-of-house innovations that are allowing restaurants to use technology, like artificial intelligence, to ease operations and improve efficiencies.

“The energy of this industry is like no other,” Heftman said. “While the operators may be competing for share of stomach, they are great friends and they are great sharers of information, tools and techniques. They want the hospitality industry to be at its very best.”

The NRA Show 2019 website offers information, schedules and registration information.

Follow Nation’s Restaurant News’ editors on Twitter and Instagram at the NRA Show:

Gloria Dawson @GloriaDawson (Twitter) and @gloriacdawson (Instagram)

Lisa Jennings @livetodineout (Twitter) and @Jenningsswaine (Instagram)

Joanna Fantozzi @JoannaFantozzi (Twitter) and @JojoFant (Instagram)

Nancy Luna @fastfoodmaven (Twitter) and @fastfoodmaven (Instagram)

Holly Petre @Holly.Petre (Instagram)

Ron Ruggless @RonRuggless (Twitter) and @RonRuggless (Instagram)

Jenna Telesca @JennaTelesca (Twitter) and @JennaTelesca (Instagram)

Bret Thorn @foodwriterdiary (Twitter) and @foodwriterdiary (Instagram)

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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