The Chicago edition of the Welcome Conference, a day of speakers aimed to invigorate members of the hospitality industry, has announced its lineup. Tickets are on sale for the Monday, June 26 event at the Harris Bank Theater in Millenium Park.
While the event is aimed at front-of-house staff members who work at restaurants and bars, Chicago organizers Kevin Boehm of Boka Restaurant Group and Donnie Madia of One Off Hospitality quickly emphasize that their lineup won’t consist of folks currently in the industry. Boehm likens it to creating the perfect playlist or mix tape.
That’s underscored by the additions of Chris Storer, the creator of FX’s The Bear, and Piper Perabo, the Coyote Ugly actress who recently joined the cast of Yellowstone. Actress and director Tasha Smith also joins the lineup.
Boehm and Madia are listed as hosts with Chicago restaurant owner and TV personality Alpana Singh joined by Virtue chef and owner — and James Beard Award winner — Erick Williams are cited as co-hosts. Lula Cafe chef and owner Jason Hammel; plus former Obama advisor and personal chef Sam Kass will join Beard award winners chef Katie Button of Asheville, North Carolina; and LA restaurateur Caroline Styne. Former Food & Wine editor-in-chief Dana Cowin will also appear, as will Dorri McWhorter, the chief executive officer at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.
Storer’s hit show, The Bear, debuted last year via Hulu and depicts the lives of Chicago restaurant workers trying to make names for themselves as they face their everyday challenges and stresses. A second season is on its way in late June.
Madia was close to Joseph Zucchero, the man who took over Mr. Beef, the beef stand that inspired Storer’s TV show. Storer grew up with Zucchero’s son in suburban Park Ridge. Maida recalls the two youngsters working at the River North restaurant on summer Saturday afternoons. Madia worked at Mr. Beef in the ‘90s and he met Zucchero’s family. Daughter Lauren Zucchero worked as a host at Blackbird, One Off Hospitality’s beloved West Loop restaurant that closed during the pandemic. Joseph Zucchero died in March: “I guess you can say that I met Chris Storer thanks to my long friendship with Joey, who is missed greatly!” Madia emails.
Storer is also friends with Will Guidara, the New York restaurant owner who debuted the Welcome Conference in New York, for which Boehm and Madia have adapted for the midwestern audience.
Meanwhile, Perabo, whose breakthrough role in Coyote Ugly is centered around a bar, co-owns Jack’s Wife Frida and Employees Only in New York. Boehm says her experiences in the industry and on TV and film create the potential for many great chats about hospitality.
This is Chicago’s second time hosting a Welcome Conference. The pandemic forced organizers to pause follow-ups to the inaugural event held in 2019.