By Kimberley Malcolm, Senior Manager – Membership and Industry Engagement, AHA Vic

AHA (Vic)’s Progressive Hospitality Network hit Chicago last month for its inaugural study tour. There was discovery, learning, connecting and inspiration throughout the five-night program, which was packed with industry experiences as the group learnt practical advice to share with their teams from world-class operators. 

The group met with leaders of the Chicago hospitality scene and visited benchmark examples in restaurant dining, beer production and interior design.

The first stop on the tour was two days at the National Restaurant Association Show at McCormick Place, the largest convention centre in North America. Consisting of four interconnected buildings, it was the convention that kept on giving. Just when you thought you’d seen it all, there was another great hall to explore.

The learning sessions, while American in flavour, focused on interesting topics we could relate to:

  • Adopting Cocktail Trends in Small or Multi-unit Operations
  • Craft Beer
  • Craft Your Cocktails
  • Equality in the Workplace
  • Increasing Sales through Culture
  • The Art of Hospitality
  • Understanding the Wine Drinker of 2018

There was everything you could possibly imagine that was hospitality focused – table clothes, POS, tablets, crockery, knives and forks, glassware, ice makers, table centre pieces, furniture, architects, fans, misters, heaters, defibrillators, music providers, entertainment options, training companies, pasta making machines and food, so much food!

Tour insights

Thanks to CUB our group was treated to a tour of Goose Island Beer Co next. A remarkable young man by the name of Chris shared some cracking stories of John Hall, Goose Island founder and beer lover who perhaps put craft beer on the map in the US after a trip to Europe in the 1980s. This was a really impressive tour, delivered with an incredible amount of passion for the product and brand.

That night, we embraced the ridiculously cold temperatures (nine degrees when we left the hotel, so very spring like!) and set on foot to Publican Quality Meats for a private dinner hosted by One Off Hospitality, which runs 11 venues under its banner. Publican Quality Meats is a butcher, neighbourhood café, bakery and gourmet market by day and a private dining room by night. Chef Joseph Frietze welcomed us in to his kitchen, talking us through the daily running of what could only be described as a well-oiled machine. One of the unique parts of One Off Hospitality is that their venues are often located on all four corners of a block, allowing for the sharing of resources, staff and food. We talked all things from sous-vide to cryovac to mincing, and the sheer joy of working for this group.

Publican Quality Meats chef Joseph Frietze (left) chatting to the group.

On Wednesday we were fortunate enough to have another behind the scenes experience, this time with Hogsalt Hospitality. Our exploration of Hogsalt Hospitality’s iconic Chicago venues began at 3 Greens Market with operations director Ryan Wagner and culinary director James Hughes. On a sunny Chicago day, Ryan and James introduced us to this mini food hall concept where a selection of other Hogsalt businesses all morphed together. It was complete with a walk-up window serving Small Cheval burgers, Dillman’s pastrami sandwiches, Green Street Smoked Meats brisket, Doughnut Vault donuts and Bavette’s bread.  The venue was rather eclectic – a casual space with mismatched couches, communal tables, chess boards, tennis tables and even a mini green for putt-putt golf.

From 3 Greens Market we did a quick conceptual tour of Au Cheval, a dimly lit diner-style bar where at times there can be a wait of up to four hours to devour their famous cheeseburger.

Experience of a lifetime

This truly was a unique opportunity for the next generation of publicans and the emerging leaders within our industry to network with Chicago-based hospitality disruptors offering new and innovative ideas to inform their venues.  It was also a great opportunity for the group to network with others within our own industry.

“I really enjoyed every part of it and have come back a lot wiser, refreshed and ready to go for the next leg of my career,” stated Anne Barrett, owner of Queensberry Hotel in Carlton.

“The group was a great blend of industry experience and job role variety and I really took a lot from informal conversations with different people about how they do things in their business and how I can apply them to mine – as well as making some great friends over many, many drinks!”

The group was also privy to a couple of fun, money-can’t buy experiences on the trip, including VIP treatment to watch  the Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians play baseball at Wrigley Field, thanks to our Event Marquee Partner, Keno. The tour also ended with a Silver Fan VIP package at a U2 concert, thanks to sponsor H&L.

Enjoying the Cubs game.

Vanessa Cavasinni

Vanessa Cavasinni is the managing editor of Australian Hotelier and Club Management, trade publications for the pub and club sectors respectively. Vanessa has been at the helm of Australian Hotelier since...

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