Antico, CEO and founder of the AllergyEats Food Conference for Restaurateurs and Foodservice Professionals, has two sons of his own who suffer from these sometimes fatal disorders. “I remember one night taking the boys out for dinner when my wife and daughter were away. My wife usually takes care of these things. We went to the few restaurants I knew about that catered to those with food allergies, and they all had long waits for a table. Two hours later, the boys are screaming, they're hungry. I finally got them egg-free pasta, but I remember wishing there were a guide for parents like me, to know where we could take our kids who have to be careful what they eat.”
As luck might have it, shortly after he left his former job as an investment counselor at Fidelity to purse this idea, he played in a golf charity, co-sponsored by the Asthma and Allergy Association of America. “I said, what do you think of this idea?”
That was in 2008. In February of 2010, the website was launched.
“In the beginning it was purely a website, a guide to food-allergy-friendly restaurants,” says Antico. “The conference came out of that. I spoke to a lot of restaurants, who said, we'd love to be more allergy-friendly but we don' t know how. A bell went off in my head. I know the people in the food-allergy community. I got to know some great doctors and restaurateurs and experts in various areas, and thought, why don't I bring them all together. If there's a need to be filled, why don't I do that? We've established ourselves in the food allergy community,” he says. “Now let's let the restaurant community know who we are.”
And so, the conference was born.
Antico describes the original website as a “yelp” for good food-allergy-friendly restaurants, where people could rate their experiences for the benefit of the community. “People have to answer three multiple choice questions and we turn that into a numeric rating,” he says. “The questions are based solely on food allergy and our algorithm tells us how friendly these restaurants are.”
As he introduced the idea to restaurants, many said they'd love to be more food-allergy-sensitive but didn't know how. “I'd built up this network of doctors, and I thought, let me bring all these experts into one room and invite the restaurateurs,” he says. “They'll feel better, have greater profits, and our kids will be able to eat in more restaurants. We all want our food-allergy kids to be safer.”
Antico says restaurateurs knew it was an important issue, but just didn't know where to start. That's where his conference comes in.
The third annual AllergyEats Food Conference for Restaurateurs and Foodservice Professionals will be held this year Oct. 21 at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway in Manhattan, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“We'll have six panels, 14 actual expert speakers – doctors, restaurateurs, restaurant trainers, chefs who specialize in food allergy, college and university foodservice workers, even a mom talking about her own personal experience with this,” he says.
Attendees will learn what a food allergy is, the best things restaurants can do to get it right, and what the benefits are. “We're really going to give a ton of information,” Antico says. “You won't be a food allergy expert after one day but if you don't leave feeling this isn't as scary as it seems, it's not rocket science and I can make a lot of money catering to a very loyal community – if they don't leave knowing that, I've failed. But we will provide everybody with that.”
People who attend will learn what diners with food allergies worry about when they go to a restaurant, the procedures the good restaurants follow, common substitutions for recipes that are dairy-, nut- and gluten-free, and, especially, why it makes enormous financial sense. “It's the best return on investment they'll ever see. You'll hear how colleges and universities, who serve kids with food allergies three meals a day, seven days a week, for nine months, do it. That's a much greater proposition than someone coming in once a week,” he says.
Antico says it just comes down to commitment. “The investment is minimal, the results fantastic,” he says.
To learn more, please visit: http://www.allergyeats.com/conference/