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National Restaurant Association - Hickenlooper: 'You can make a difference'

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Hickenlooper: 'You can make a difference'

More people from the private sector need to run for public office, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says.

“You can make a difference. You work on real problems and bring together different groups of people to be part of the solution. It’s like the restaurant industry.”

Hickenlooper spoke to about 400 restaurant leaders last week at the Restaurant Innovation Summit. The two-day National Restaurant Association conference brought together restaurant executives from information technology, marketing, operations, finance and treasury, including members of the NRA’s Marketing Executives Group and Information Technology Study Group.

As a founder of Wynkoop Brewery, Hickenlooper spent 16 years in the restaurant industry before running for public office. He served two terms as Denver mayor before he was elected governor.

After running Wynkoop Brewery, Hickenlooper said he came to believe working in a restaurant was “one of the most formative experiences a young person can have.”

“I guarantee my son will work in the restaurant industry,” he said.

Hickenlooper described himself as entrepreneur who became a public servant, rather than a politician.

 “He came to Denver as a geologist … then started making beer,” recalled Colorado Restaurant Association President Pete Meersman. “He came to CRA and asked us to get the law changed so he could make and sell beer on the same property, so we did.”

Meersman described Hickenlooper as a marketing genius who started a pub crawl, a running of the pigs and other events to bring diners to downtown Denver and his restaurant.

“He’s pragmatic, smart and … a good friend to Colorado restaurants and tourism,” Meersman said.

“You have to keep coming up with something new,” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper said the NRA and its members recognize they can get things accomplished by working together. Whether trying to placate upset guests or influence policymakers, it’s important to listen and ask questions, he said. That way, they can draw out the other person’s real concerns.

Restaurant operators know the right way to approach people, even when they’re upset. They learn techniques to calm people down and “genuinely try to experience what they’re going through.”

“By listening, you can change what they think,” he said. “Listening is how you persuade people.”

When questioned about the Affordable Care Act, Hickenlooper said the law would put a burden on every industry, not just restaurants. Although he said the law might make life hard for six to 18 months, he said he doesn't think the burdens will be “unbearable.”

“It is the law of the land, and I will do my best to try to implement it and drive costs down,” he said.

Hickenlooper said he supported the idea that everyone should have health insurance and hoped the state’s health insurance exchange, supported by Republicans and Democrats, would help small businesses offer affordable health care.

However, he said the restaurant industry should find ways to change what they don’t like by sharing their stories with policymakers.

“The people who wrote [the Affordable Care Act] are lobbyists and legislators who haven’t been in business,” he said. The law would be “100,000 times better” if it had been written with input from small business operators, he said.

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