A lot’s transpired since September 2019 when Boka Restaurant Group’s Kevin Boehm and One Off Hospitality Group’s Donnie Madia Chicago’s first-ever Welcome Conference, a one-day event full of speakers meant to inspire members of the hospitality industry.
“It’s a little like being a little kid on Christmas Day for both of us,” Boehm says, adding that the challenges of the pandemic only make finding inspiration more important.
Now, more than three years after the Steppenwolf Theater hosted Chicago’s first Welcome Conference, Boehm and Madia have announced the event will return on Monday, June 26 and tickets will go on sale Monday, May 15. They’re switching to a larger venue, the Harris Theater in Millenium Park. They’ll release details on the lineup closer to the event date. James Beard Award winner Erick Williams (Virtue) and TV personality and restaurant owner Alpana Singh will emcee.
Boehm and Madia are co-founders of two of Chicago’s most prominent restaurant groups, home to chefs like Paul Kahan and Stephanie Izard. Madia and Boehm planned on making the event, modeled on the original in New York, co-founded in 2014 by Will Guidara (Eleven Madison Park). Organizers aimed the conference at front-of-the-house workers with a lineup of speakers who would share personal anecdotes. The speakers are made up of restaurant owners, workers, and journalists.
“It’s kind of like putting a mix tape together,” says Boehm of figuring out the lineup.
Bringing the Welcome Conference to Chicago made it easier for restaurant professionals from neighboring Midwestern states to seize the opportunity. Boehm says they had a waiting list of 1,000 who wanted to attend in 2019, to hear speakers like Danny Meyer (Union Square Hospitality Group), former Tribune dining critic Phil Vettel, and celebrity chef Missy Robbins.
“This is a nice way of showing some hospitality to our Midwest friends and they look forward to it,” says Madia.
Boehm adds that the Chicago event mimicked New York’s positive vibes: “We’re just trying to get the same feel where you’re hearing great speakers in a great environment.”
COVID wiped out any hope of holding the event in 2020 in Chicago and New York. Boehm says they tried to bring the event back in 2021, but pandemic challenges stymied those efforts. New York finally succeeded last year when organizers held the Welcome Conference in September.
Look for info on ticket sales in the coming weeks.