The National Restaurant Association Show often referred to as the NRA show but not to be confused with the National Rifle Association is biggest National trade show for food service in the United States. Other than during a pandemic, it is held every year at McCormick place right around late June. It is going on right now and I am about to take a Lyft over to the show to check it out. The National Restaurant Association is a larger umbrella organization that is made up of local associations. As an example, the local restaurant association by us in Chicago is the Illinois Restaurant Association. The Illinois Restaurant Association is a member of the National Restaurant Association and gets financial support from the NRA.
Many local restaurant associations have their own local shows but since the big NRA show is in Chicago, the IRA doesn't have a big local show. The big local show is the NRA show itself.
My history with the NRA show goes back about 30 or so years. My family had a booth at the show from 1975 to about 2005. Although the minimum age to go on the show floor was 16, I used to sneak on the floor when I was around 14. At that time I was just interested in the free food and the free soft drinks. Maybe I would try to talk to one of the spokes models or get a random autograph.
By the time I turned 16, the game had changed. I was typically give a couple badges at that point. From there our sole goal was to find alcohol. There used to be giant block wide Budweiser booths and Miller Booths. In addition you had your smaller breweries still giving out lots of beer and hard liquor was given out by the shot or glass.
Even booths that sold mixers were allowed to pour you a drink. The drinks weren't being poured by trained bar tenders, they were poured by salespeople and models. Most of the time, they weren't even individually poured, they were loose on a tray.
We would take turns walking up to booths and taking drinks from the tray without anyone noticing. After all, there were real business people here trying to sell real products to restaurants. No one cared about the 4 teenagers running around trying all the food and liquor without any ability to purchase anything.
Now, some of the things have left an impression. I have always felt very fondly of Nathan's hotdogs and part of that is because Nathan's has historically been one of the most generous booths with food portions. If you were hungry, it made sense to walk over to Nathan's and get a half hot dog on the way to the Coca Cola booth.
Our good friends the Weitzman's who own EJ Industries always had a booth at the show and since they make restaurant booths, it was a great place to hang out. As I got a little older, maybe more my mid 20s the EJ kids were finally old enough to run around and hang out at the NRA show too.
We used to have the best booth location for Richardson Seating. It wasn't best for the customers to find us but it was best for us to get to the booth from our car. It was right in front of an exit that wasn't a main way to get in. You could park across the street from the trade show and park on the 2nd floor and if you took the walkway over, you could have someone let you in the door before you took the elevator down to the main lobby.
Some of my favorite moments from past shows include wearing a Velcro suit and jumping onto a trampoline that got you stuck to a wall. I also got to try virtual reality about 25 years ago using a helmet and an attached shooting device that let you walk and try to shoot your opponent before he shot you. I reminds me a little of Virtual Fighter in the graphics but it was very rudimentary. The line was short and it was free so I did it.
There were magic shows and sports figures. All kinds of food celebrities. Over the years the portions have gotten smaller and the amount of companies giving out food has gotten much smaller but there are still a core group of companies like Coca Cola that stand the test of time. I am sure I will be able to try some new flavors of Coke, Pepsi and maybe even RC Royal Crown will show up for the event. I used to think RC was second but over the years Coke has always been the top and RC has moved to 3rd below Pepsi.