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On Saturday, May 22, at the National Restaurant Show it was like a family reunion. After a 2-year COVID pandemic-related hiatus. The 4-day trade show, one of the biggest in the USA, which annually runs Saturday through Tuesday, attracted approximately two-thirds of its average number of 75,000 total participants. Buyers and sellers from all around the world participated.

The Restaurant Show caters to companies from the biggest multinational product manufacturers to food service products and operations to small business restaurants + food trucks and product entrepreneurs.

The Restaurant Show covers the two upper floors of McCormick Place’s North and South Buildings, as well as its Lakeside Center, for a total of over an estimated 500,000 square feet. Contained within the show were product category groupings focused on every aspect of running and managing a food service operation to technology beverages, foods, furnishings, equipment, services, supplies, design, and more.

Though named the National Restaurant Show, it is truly an international show, with exhibitors and buyers from all regions of the world. Those who want ideas and options for being in the food services industry or who are seeking to enhance current operations can learn about food and beverage products from many of the world’s cultures and nations.

Some nations bring multiple vendors from their countries under a nation’s pavilion banner. Though down this year, there were pavilions from Brasil, Turkey, Japan, and the much anticipated Bellavita Italian food and Beverage pavilion, the show’s largest. Also, some USA states had pavilions; which this year included California + Wisconsin Cheese pavilions.

The big surprise was most of the food and beverage products being sampled and sold at the show, were of the booming plant-based category. When I state there was a large number of companies on the plant-based bandwagon. In my opinion, the plant-based craze will end up being a challenge as consumers become more sophisticated, questioning what the…is “plant-based”!

I have a nephew who has a restaurant specializing in plant-based alkaline vegan cuisine, Conscious Plates. However, when you order food you order in the name of the actual plant; such as Chickpea, Mushrooms, Avocados, Kale, etc. Let’s face it there are over a million types of pants in this world, do not we want to know what we are actually eating.

There were all-time favorites like Broasters, which specializes in high-pressure chicken Broasting equipment, Vienna’s + Nathan’s of New York + Chicagoland hot dog fame, were present; as well as recognizable names like Hormel, Ghirardelli Chocolates, Tyson’s, WoW Bow and two of my favorites Amafruits and Sambazon both specializing in high-quality Acai and other frozen fruits dessert and beverages from the Amazon region of Brasil.

The Highlight of one of my days at the Restaurant Show was sitting in on a panel discussion about Diversity in the Food Service industry. Speakers included Gerry Fernandez, of the Multicultural Food & Hospitality Alliance. But what I found most intriguing was learning about Pinky Cole’s mastermind creation, Slutty Vegan restaurant chain, now grown to 6 locations in the greater Atlanta area, one in Alabama and one in Brooklyn, NY; as well as a Slutty Vegan food truck for events + Pop-Ups.

Jason Crain, CFO, Slutty Vegan, detailed the stellar growth of this restaurant industry star, which has recently amassed millions in investment capital, enabling it to acquire some brands and invest in others, mostly AfricanX entrepreneurs; all while still pursuing a strategic growth initiative. 

The Slutty Vegan brand has grown to include branded gear and other merchandise; as well as the Pinky Cole Foundation; which seeks to empower AfricanX entrepreneurs and bring financial success to the communities served by Slutty Vegan. Slutty Vegan is building tremendous brand equity and equity value for its investors; which I believe will be a case study in entrepreneurial success, in some universities.

Educational and Networking options included:

  • FABI Food & Beverage Awards
  • Kitchen Innovations Awards
  • Celebrity Chef + Beverage Demos
  • Education Super Center
  • Startup Ally
  • Industry Night Out
  • Young Professionals Party

The 2023 National Restaurant Association Show will take place on May 20-23, 2023, at McCormick Place in Chicago.