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National Restaurant Association - NRA Show closes today

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NRA Show closes today

National Restaurant Association member Ramona Bennett has been coming to the NRA Show off and on for the past several years.

It's the place she goes to when she needs to replace equipment, find signage and introduce new items to customers. "It's a small little place," says the owner of Old Towne Beverage and Pizza. "We can only do so much."

From the smallest of mom-and-op operations to the largest restaurant chains, the NRA Show offers innovations in equipment, technology, food and beverages, food safety, decor, packaging, uniforms and more. They're joined by marketing professionals, investors, entrepreneurs and other executives from hotels and hospitals, cruise lines and casinos, as well as zoos, universities and government entities.

Over the past four days, they explored mobile-payment solutions, gluten- and allergen-free food,  and services to help operate efficiently and comply with government regulations. They attended more than 70 education sessions, celebrity chef demonstrations and book signings, and received advice about opening, expanding and renovating a restaurant.

And they had fun. The NRA Show, which ran Saturday through today featured keynote addresses by Howard Schultz and Anthony Bourdain, as well as opportunities to celebrate the industry through official after parties and events.

For Bennett, the NRA Show introduced her to small, easy-to-change acrylic signs she can set on her countertop, as well as LED-light plastic letters that snap together. "Mine will say '$5 lunch special,'" she says. "They're very bright, bold and attention-getting."

She sampled a cracker crust she'd like to use for smaller pizzas and a new Budweiser product. "Now I can go to my distributor and ask him when I can get this product," she says.

Elsewhere on the exhibit floor, Bill Ruggles and Ryan McMahon of the Altoon, Pa.-based convenience/restaurant/retailer Sheetz, explored new ideas, products, concepts, ingredients and techniques. "We represent the purchasing end of the business," says McMahon.

First-time attendee Justin Marceline, front-of-house manager for That's Amore in Greenfield, Wis., was looking at technology to improve point-of-sale, waitlist and management systems. He says he'll bring back ideas and make recommendations on which will be best for the restaurant, he says.

Laurie Malcom, owner of Tommy's Restaurant, Visalia, Calif., was looking for software, new ovens and new dishes for the fine-dining restaurant she and her husband bought three years ago. Her husband was investigating new products for the bar, including wine on tap, at the International Wine, Spirits and Beer Event at the NRA Show.

"It's been a great show," she says. "We've seen a lot of great stuff."

For Udi Baron, the best thing at the show was a counter-top sprouter, the Urban Cultivator. "We weren't looking for it," says the owner of Denver-based Udi's Food, which operates 11 cafes, restaurants, bakeries and a catering company. "It found us."

Udi and his son Etai did the math and figured they would save at least $6,000 a  year by growing their own sprouts for salads and juices. "A big one costs $8,000 -- in a year, it pays for itself." He also wants a smaller version for his home. "I'm very excited about it."


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