By Barbara L. Vergetis Lundin, Assistant Editor
A major player in Chicago’s hospitality scene kicked off the 2016 National Restaurant Association Restaurant Show this past Sunday, May 22, in Chicago.
Sharing both the successes and challenges in the evolution of his hospitality concepts, Billy Dec, CEO and founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, took the stage as the BAR (Beverage Alcohol for Restaurants) 16 keynote speaker at the NRA Show.
Dec talked about utilizing team collaboration to develop concepts in cocktail innovation, standout branding, and chef-driven menus — and how his team motivates him to invest in cutting-edge bar programs that elevate the customer experience and his company's profits.
An Elevated Experience
Staying profitable and popular in the bar and restaurant industry is difficult, but Dec — who specializes in brand differentiation and creating leading distinctive beverage programs, and who has elevated entertainment experiences across bar and restaurant concepts — has managed to do it. And that’s more than just hype. The proof: Regardless of the fact that the industry is ever-changing, Rockit Ranch continues to increase profitability consistently every year.
Dec’s brainchild, Chicago's premier hospitality and entertainment development company, specializes in the creation, marketing, and management of some of the city's top nightclubs, bar and grills, and sports bars, including Rockit, Sunda, Underground, Rockit Burger Bar, Bottlefork, and The Duck Inn. For more than 12 years, Rockit Ranch has maintained a curated beverage program, unique to each concept's individual brand.
A man of many talents, Dec is also an actor (think Empire and Criminal Minds); film producer; Emmy Award-winning TV personality; a regular entertainment contributor to ABC’s Windy City Live and food contributor to NBC’s Today Show; attorney (non-practicing); and social media master of sorts (with a devoted Twitter following, one of which you might have heard of — not mentioning any names, POTUS). President Obama did appoint Dec to serve on his White House Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in May 2014. Dec also serves on the White House Bullying Prevention Task Force.
A Well-Stocked Show Floor
After Dec’s keynote, BAR attendees enjoyed menu pairing stations featuring perfect food and drink unions from some of Chicago’s hottest restaurants.
At the Interactive Demo Lounge, attendees experience “Mixology in Action,” (shaking, stirring, and swirling action), as interactive demonstrations illustrate how to turn the trends into hot items on the menu.
In the Craftique Pavilion, which focuses on limited-production producers, attendees found indi distilleries, breweries, and wineries, as well as customer-crafted cocktails.
At the Main Stage, contestants vied to be named Star of the Bar. Six finalists took to the stage to demonstrate how their signature drinks — all featuring Jägermeister — come together. The competition was fierce.
San Francisco Star of the Bar finalist Baron Stelling of Paragary’s Midtown and the Shady Lady Saloon, had a winning blend of gin, lime juice, grenadine, and apricot liquor, all topped with dashes of bitters, and absinthe — The Stag Savior.
San Diego winner Brian Prugalidad of Bracero Cocina created "Finishing Move: Serious, Serious Punch," using pineapple, pisco, bitters, and cinnamon bark syrup to complement the Jägermeister.
Boston winner Tenzin Samdo of Trade concocted "56 Secret Admirers," using mezcal, ginger beer, bitters and candied ginger.
Charleston winner Teddy Nixon of Bar Mash stirred up "Day Tripper," a tropical blend of toasted coconut pineapple rum, pineapple juice, lime, orgeat, peychaud bitters, and absinthe.
Matt Friedlander of Fools Gold, the New York City winner, went “Any Which Way But Left,” to blend a cocktail with aperol, amaro, molé bitters, and a grapefruit peel garnish.
The Chicago winner, 90 Miles Cuban Café’s Carlos Cuarta, mixed up the complex "Curt's Summer Dram" cocktail with rum, passion fruit, lemon juice, and bitters.
Bar 16 at the NRA Show runs through May 24.