Attention, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not: Here are a few tidbits from the NRA Show that easily bests the banjo-playing cow with two heads.
--The restaurant industry suspended its rabid pro-Republicanism to hoot and cheer for a Democratic keynoter—and a promoter of President Obama’s healthcare bill at that. Would-be attendees were turned away because of the crowd that had turned out hours ahead of time for the 1 p.m. speech by former President Bill Clinton.
--Attendees also had to be turned away from a seminar on the fast-casual sector, even though it overlapped Clinton’s presentation. The hotbed of innovation and growth more than held its own against the draw of a former president.
--Size does matter when it comes to booth attractions. One of the must-see stops on the exhibit floor was the giant potato showcased by Idahoan Foods. Attendees were stumbling over one another to have their pictures taken with the mega-tuber, which was the size of a semi-hauler’s trailer. Marveled RB editor Sam Smith: “That is the second largest potato I have ever seen.”
--Seemingly less T&A was used this year by exhibitors to pull operators into booths. Alcohol, on the other hand, appeared to be employed more often as a draw. For instance, a small booth on the 100 aisle was drawing a sizeable crowd with samples of a “scientifically enhanced” beer. An education session on bar trends drew a standing-room only crowd, prompting one presenter to observe that the offer of a free Bloody Mary probably didn’t dampen turout. And then there was The Tilted Kilt chain, which featured both free beer and buxom young women at its booth. Or so a friend told me.
--The fashion accessory of the show had to be the bright green shoulder bags emblazoned with the logo of F.O.H. The bags were given out at all access points to the show, and rare was the attendee who didn’t have one draped over his or her shoulder.
--The show floor also abounded in trucks, but not necessary food trucks. Commercial rigs are apparently the new big breasts, because plenty of exhibitors featured an eye-catching buggy as a customer draw. They ranged from the vintage farm truck at Farmer Bros., to an array of catering and general-hauling vans at a Nissan booth, to several distribution-sized trucks parked in several booths. It’s as if the exhibitors said, “Aw, screw it” after failing to find a parking space outside McCormick Place.
--My personal bizarre moment: When someone ran up to a group of us and implored, “There’s a 12-year-old chef about to start a cooking demo. Come see her! Come see her! Hurry” I felt like Lassie, and Timmy had just fallen down the well again.