This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA). In 1946, the LRA was established to advocate on behalf of the state’s foodservice and hospitality industry among elected officials and regulatory agencies. Under the leadership of its original officers and directors, the association set forth several founding principles that continue to guide the association to this day.
Throughout 2016, the LRA will take a look back at issues that restaurateurs have faced and embraced over the past 70 years, as they coincide with this year’s a la carte issue topics. In the Winter issue, we explored some notable LRA leaders in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and beyond. In the Spring issue of a la carte, we took a look back at the LRA’s advocacy efforts over the past 70 years. In this issue, we’ll take a trip down memory lane and visit the origins and evolutions of the Louisiana Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO.
One of the major benefits of the LRA is giving members access to the best suppliers. Restaurants and suppliers have a symbiotic relationship and the LRA provides a marketplace for both segments of its membership to meet on an annual basis and do business. That was and still is the purpose of the EXPO—when it was first hosted in 1953 and the 63rd edition, which will commence August 6-8, 2016.
The first EXPO was officially titled the “ALL-SOUTH Restaurant Show” and took place at the Jung Hotel in New Orleans, October 21-22, 1953. There were approximately 80 booths that displayed “all the latest equipment and supplies” and the program covered “just about every phase of restaurant operation,” according to the October 1953 issue of a la carte. The featured guest speaker was W.O. Wheeler, president of the National Restaurant Association. One particular presentation of note was Mrs. Gladys Schultz of the Lily-Tulip Cup Corporation, who explained how to “cash in on the newest phase of restaurant operation—the “Take Home” business.” There are some businesses that have the distinction of being in the very first EXPO and this year’s event—Auto-Chlor Services, Coca-Cola Bottling Co., McIlhenny Company and Orkin Exterminating.
In the early years, the EXPO didn’t always take place in New Orleans. The show traveled a bit, and Alexandria was the location for its Restaurant Show and Convention, October 27-29, 1964. Themed, “Work Smarter—Not Harder,” the EXPO had more than 100 booths. Once again, the NRA president at that time, Paul Shank, was the featured guest speaker.
The EXPO as we know it now was actually called the Gulf South Foodservice and Equipment Exposition in 1974 and took place at the Rivergate in New Orleans in early October of that year. The theme of the show was “How to Survive a Crisis…Profit” and sought to educate attendees on how to manage the additional issues that arise when a business is profitable. That year’s EXPO took place during the country’s energy crisis, which arose when members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries proclaimed an oil embargo in October of 1973, in retaliation to the U.S.’s involvement in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The embargo caused an oil crisis or “shock,” and gasoline rationing was common in the following years. In response, supplier companies at the EXPO had creative ways of offering some solutions—the purchasing of product (in this instance, glassware) gave the customer the right to buy one gallon of gas.
Since the very first EXPO, the LRA’s Board of Directors took advantage of the gathering of board members and restaurant owners from across the state to honor the industry’s exceptional leaders. During the EXPO in 1988, the LRA honored its first ever dual Restaurateurs of the Year to Al Copeland, founder of Popeyes Fried Chicken and Copeland’s of New Orleans and Kacoo and Ralph Olinde, owners of Ralph & Kacoo’s Seafood Restaurant.
The EXPO in 1995 was held at its current home at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center, with a record 470 booths and 14,000-plus in attendance. The theme of the show was “Rollin’ on the River,” under the guidance of the 1995 LRA Chair, David Blitch. Exhibitors were encouraged to participate in the theme, with the “Captain of the Show” awarded to Louisiana Coca-Cola Bottling Company for their festive booth design.
In 2008, the LRA encourage EXPO attendees to make reservations to “Feast at the Table.” During this time, the EXPO was co-hosted with the Alabama Restaurant Association and the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association. That year, the EXPO Chair was Katy Casbarian, who, of course, is the current LRA Chair of the Board of Directors. During the latter half of the first decade of the 2000s, the buzz words of “seasonal” and “sustainable” were slowly creeping into the national lexicon. The LRA was at the forefront, offering a seminar on seasonal buying guides for seafood and produce.
The 2016 LRA EXPO is August 6-8 in New Orleans at the Morial New Orleans Convention Center. Register here.