Reporter's Notebook

Connecting face to face

NRA Show, IFMA luncheon offer chance to talk, laugh

No doubt about it: We may be more connected through technology than ever before, but there’s still nothing like face-to-face conversation to bring people together. Right now, lots of those conversations are taking place here in Chicago.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Buzz Beler, owner of The Prime Rib, with locations in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia, during the 2011 All-Industry Luncheon hosted by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association to honor this year’s slate of Silver Plate winners.

Buzz, the 2011 Silver Plate recipient in the Independent Restaurants category, was a lawyer before he and his late brother, Nick, opened the first The Prime Rib in Baltimore more than 45 years ago. The upscale steakhouse has been winning praise and drawing crowds, including the rich, powerful and famous, for decades. Needless to say, Buzz has a wealth of observations about the industry’s evolution and plenty of great stories to share.

On the industry: Buzz said the biggest change has occurred with the consumer. Increased interest in food and the plethora of cooking shows have made people more critical and more demanding — and their attitudes are not always easy to swallow.

And here’s a fun story:

Years ago the late comedian Bob Hope walked into The Prime Rib and was seated by a server. The server offered him a menu.

“I don’t need a menu,” said Hope.

“I’m sorry sir,” said the server, who recognizes Hope and knows this is his first visit to the eatery. “You don’t need a menu?”

“No,” said Hope.

“Are you sure?” asked the server.

“Look,” said Hope, “the door says The Prime Rib, the name of the restaurant is The Prime Rib, the front of the menu says The Prime Rib. I’ll have the prime rib.”

Buzz will be honored at IFMA’s Gold & Silver Plate Celebration on Monday, May 23, along with the other Silver Plate recipients representing different industry segments:

Jerry Deitchle, chairman, president and chief executive of BJ’s Restaurants Inc. in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Lora Gilbert, senior director, food and nutrition services, Orange County Public Schools, Orlando, Fla.

Dee Hardy, associate vice president for campus services, University of Richmond in Virginia

George L. Miller, chief, Air Force food and beverage operations, U.S. Air Force, Lackland AFB, Texas

C.W. Craig Reed, director of food and beverage, Broadmoor Hotel, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Steve Sweeney, president and chief executive, Chartwells, Rye Brook, N.Y.

Bruce Thomas, associate vice president of guest services, Geisinger Health Systems, Danville, Pa.

Joe Tortorice Jr., founder and chief executive, Jason’s Deli Management Inc., Beaumont, Texas

Stay tuned to find out who among the Silver Plate winners will receive the 2011 Gold Plate and for more fun stories!

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Reporter's Notebook is NRN's newsroom blog, where our editors give their points of view on news happening in the restaurant business.

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