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The restaurant industry’s continued optimism for stronger business and economic growth helped propel an increase in both attendance and number of exhibitors at the annual National Restaurant Association Show this year. Although the event in Chicago took place two weeks earlier than usual—it’s typically held the third weekend in May, but was rescheduled this year to avoid conflicting with the NATO Summit—it still managed to best the performance recorded in 2011.
“It’s been exciting at every point, from the ribbon cutting with Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel, to events with chefs, to the address by [former] President Clinton, to activity on the floor,” says Mary Pat Heftman, the NRA’s executive vice president, convention. The association said last week it had sold out its display space with 1,900 exhibitors, including 500 first-timers.
Most popular booths: Visitors were still lining up at Coca-Cola’s three Freestyle beverage dispensers on the show floor, but the activity at several food-company booths was just as busy. Count hot-dog purveyors Vienna Beef and Nathan’s, plus Fontanini Meats, among them. In fact, on a couple of occasions, people were queued halfway around the Vienna booth waiting for a whole, Chicago-style hot dog.
Unusual products: How about the Corkcicle? Shaped like a long icicle with a cork at the top, the device is a way to keep wine cold and sealed after the bottle is opened, saving floor space taken up by ice buckets.