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CHICAGO — The restaurant industry encompasses many different styles of eateries and styles of cuisine from across the globe, but it also offers something uniquely American, according to the presenters of the 2015 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show's keynote presentation.
"The American dream is alive and well in the restaurant industry," NRA President and CEO Dawn Sweeney said in an introductory video to the keynote presentation entitled "State of the American Dream 2015: Empowerment."
Many foodservice retailers are single-location operators, making them small businesses that have a large impact on the economy, and more than 50 percent of people in the United States work in the restaurant industry at some point in their lives.
This makes the industry a bridge to even non-foodservice careers by teaching workers skills and the ability to face challenges and failures along the way, according to guest speaker Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group. "That entrepreneurial spirit is absolutely central to the American dream," Huffington said.
She also discussed the importance of different kinds of training aside from a college education, such as on-the-job training, and urged industry leaders to create a culture that values health and well-being rather than assuming one must work to exhaustion to achieve success.
"People make better decisions when they're not exhausted," Huffington said, "and this industry makes many decisions for others."
There was no sign of exhaustion on the NRA Show exhibition floor, though, where hundreds of suppliers displayed the latest innovations in products and equipment.
With the rise of foodservice as an important and profitable part of the convenience store industry, more manufacturers are taking small footprints and energy savings into account.
Champion Industries Inc. debuted its UH330B undercounter dishwashing machine, which addresses both small footprints and energy savings by being designed to fit a smaller space and using a cold water feed that prevents energy loss from the steam that escapes when most units are opened.
On the top of the counter, some equipment manufacturers are offering the option to save space by combining functions. Schaerer Ltd.'s Coffee Art system offers both bean-to-cup hot coffee and iced coffee through the use of chilling technology that prevents ice melt or dilution.
Scotsman Ice Systems was showing its new Prodigy Plus ice cube dispenser. Launched in February, the ice cube-making machine has a very small, c-store friendly footprint and is meant to complement the Scotsman nugget ice machine being used by many convenience stores.
Rubbermaid, which launched its popular Maximizer mop in November, introduced its latest time-saving, safety-oriented maintenance product — the Slim Jim Step On waste bin. The Slim Jim comes in both metal and multi colors of rubber, with internal hinges to avoid damaging retailer's walls. It also helps reduce the possibility of contamination due to its hands-free feature.
Hatco had several new food holding and display products for c-stores on hand at the show. Among them were new built-in Hot/Cold Shelves that promise to keep hot food hot longer and cold food cold longer. Also new at the show, a line of sneeze guards in smaller sizes for c-store use.
Ovention, meanwhile, was continuing promotion of its 360 impinged oven, introduced earlier this year at The NAFEM Show. The oven is proving to be "incredibly popular" with c-stores because it is space-efficient, ventless and uses electricity instead of gas, the supplier reported. The company said to watch for a new split-belt conveyer oven designed for very high volume retailers to be introduced later this year.
In addition to the main expo floor, this year's NRA Show features multiple pavilions for exhibitors and attendees with special interests, including:
- Organic & Natural;
- Alternative Bitestyle, focusing on special dietary needs such as vegetarian, allergy-focused, gluten free and more;
- Startup Alley, showcasing creative, innovative startup companies;
- Conserve Solutions Center, showcasing sustainability-related products and services;
- Franchise Pavilion, bringing first-timers and veterans together to discover the newest restaurant franchise concepts; and
- Technology Pavilion.
The 2015 NRA Show kicked off Saturday and runs through Tuesday at Chicago's McCormick Place convention center.