There are museums for art. There are museums for history. There are even museums for dinosaurs. But one for the history of food?
Alice Elliot thinks so, and she's determined to put all her industry clout and prestige behind it.
The owner of The Elliot Group, is sponsoring a celebration of “The Elliott Restaurant Memorabilia Collection,” highlighting what she calls the “great treasures of our industry” at Gotham Hall on April 29 at 6:30 p.m.
“Break Bread with Us” will honor Greg Dollarhyde, chairman of Zoes Kitchen, with the Mentor of the Year Award and present its 13th True Trep award, given to an industry entrepreneur who's done something exceptional in his or her line of business, to Tim McEnery of Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurants in Arlington Heights, Ill.
The Elliot Group, begun as a retained executive search firm that works with finance, institutional and equity businesses, and now with retail and the multi-unit service sector, follows Elliot's heart. “For over 35 years I've been practicing and now I'm in the restaurant space, which equates with my deep love and devotion to the restaurant industry,” she says. “The restaurant industry hasn't always had the respect it deserves. And we've been front and center in dignifying the contributions people make who work inside this industry, regardless of their position in the industry.”
That's where the memorabilia project was born.
“The genesis of this idea originated years ago when we realized the companies that are emerging today or are legends in the restaurant space all started somewhere and wouldn't it be wonderful to celebrate this history?” she says.
According to Elliot, the essence of the restaurant industry has had a positive impact on every aspect of both the history and economy of the U.S. “Wouldn't it be cool to celebrate and honor those companies that, even in their early stages of growth, may not have realized what they ultimately have become, had the moxie and tenacity to grow and change people's lives – to build formidable brands that are part of the tapestry of America?” she says.
“So, about 2 ½ yrs ago, we started asking companies – clients and non-clients – to consider donating something to us that was unique, that somehow memorialized and highlighted the infancy of their company, recognizing that we'd be very respectful of it, not use it for commercial purposes, but to build a story of how this great industry has grown.”
Elliot says her firm has a lot of respect for the elements of the culinary world. “But it was more about the actual companies and their dreams of building something great that propelled this idea,” she adds.
And what memorabilia! “The early beefeater uniform with the hat and stocks from the Campton Hotel groups, the original bocci ball from Bertucci's before they grew into a major chain, are there. PF Chang donated a soldier, and Logan's Road House, an early jukebox. We have the first menu from Uno restaurants. But here's the bigger story,” she says. “Starbucks donated an early espresso machine that weighs 400 pounds and a coffee grinder, Pepsi and Coca Cola have donated what means the most to them. The underlying theme is that everyone has come together to participate for the greater cause of celebrating the industry they chose to be in.”
Elliot says the project has taken on a life of its own. “It's become a point of pride both internally in companies looking far and wide to find something unique, and it's served as a reaffirmation of what the restaurant industry is all about. It's the crossroads of America. You can start with a dream and, with moxie, build something great that to this day continues, whether you come from the industry or not. It's a reaffirming of human capital, a reaffirmation of what community actually means – curiosity, authenticity, collaboration, an element of leadership, of aspiring higher, sharing, but really wanting to see someone – not just you – win.”
Elliot says that her group purposely sought out companies of all sizes. “TGIF gave us part of an original propeller. Snooze Eatery framed their very first dollar bill. We're celebrating everything in between.”
The recipient of the collection when the exhibit is over will be the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Educational Foundation. “They're in the best position to not only inspire students all over the country but by virtue of the NRA's trade show in Chicago every year, and all the various activities they host, they will take the responsibility to shepherd this great mission,” Elliot says, “not just to the industry but at some point, to consumers as well.”
The collection will be launched at the gala in April. “Those companies that have been front and center towards donating memorabilia will be coming from all over the country for this special evening,” she says. “We've hired a staging company that will stage all the items at Gotham Hall, and an historian who will talk about the items showcased. Our goal for that evening is the introducing of a select group of these items to celebrate and to bring everyone together for this one very magical night. It's a springboard to what this collection can be! it's something that will never end, can always be added on to, has no finite conclusion. It will be the first dedicated and defined collection of the restaurant industry.”