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History of the New York State Restaurant Association

For over 75 years, we have been there for you!

In 1935, the country is still very much in the grips of the depression. Franklin Roosevelt is three-quarters through his first term, and there are no signs of unrest in Europe. Restaurant meals from soup to nuts are averaging under $1.00. In fact, many restaurants are selling "meal tickets,” for $5.00 upfront, whereby you get $5.50 worth of food. It is against this backdrop that John W. Eversole of White Plains, Charles A. Laube of Buffalo, George R. LeSauvage of New York City, Fred J. Seames of Buffalo, and Walter T. White of Syracuse sat down and formed the New York State Restaurant Association.
When the New York State Restaurant Association was formed, one of the major goals was to deal with the avalanche of government agencies that were being formed as a result of President Roosevelt’s "New Deal.” Before that time, regulatory agencies were not as active as they had become. It was the feeling of the founding fathers that unless the industry was represented by one voice and supported by thousands of Members, that the thousands of individual voices would never be heard. This philosophy and concept has not changed over the years.
The real test of the Association came with the beginning of World War II – rationing, price controls, energy conservation, manpower shortages, blackouts – all of these measures made necessary by war posed enormous problems for food service operators. The Association became the accepted spokesperson for the industry and was consulted on a continuous basis. In fact, as records indicate, it was through the efforts of the New York State Restaurant Association that allocations for restaurants, as they related to meat and other rations, were liberalized, and the industry was thereby able to function. The Association also developed training programs within the school system designed to help women wishing to work to better adapt to food service positions.
With the end of World War II came new opportunities for the industry – particularly in New York State. As the state’s network of highways grew so did the opportunities. Tourism was becoming an important factor and even during this time of industry prosperity, the Association was in the thick of legislative battles. For example in 1948, the Association was able to reduce the unemployment insurance tax on tips from 10% to 7½ % of sales and 5% for counter sales. But it also lost an effort to permit women to work at night! To assist its members, the Association made available the first in a series of surveys dealing with labor practices throughout the state.
In the 1950s, the industry embarked upon an education campaign (which hasn’t ended). Adding to this campaign, NYSRA published a series of booklets covering Reduced Food Costs, Planning Better Menus, Restaurant Sanitation and Hospitality Salesmanship. To this day the Association continues to provide programs dealing with these age-old operational procedures. Historians maintain that the ‘50s probably were the most tranquil period in the 20th century, and the same can be said for the industry. However, there is a slight difference: in 1950 Association dues were $32.50.
But change was everywhere. In 1961, Fred G. Sampson became the Executive Vice President of the New York State Association. Starting in the early 1960s, the federal government began to take a much more active role in areas that impacted on the industry. It implemented the first federal minimum wage order to include food service. The Food and Drug Administration was establishing health standards for food service operations throughout the country – which many states were embracing, and: for the first time, the Kennedy Administration called for removal of the business lunch deduction from the IRS Code.
Meanwhile in New York State, the Association was challenged by the Rockefeller Administration’s budget proposal to remove the 50¢ tax exemption for meals under 50¢. Although the 50¢ exemption was repealed in the early 1970s, it was not without the Association waging a tremendous battle with the Rockefeller Administration, which became known as the famous "Hot Dog Sales Tax battle.”
In 1963 the New York City Council passed the first-ever city minimum wage, which the Association challenged in the courts and finally won; again demonstrating the importance of statewide industry representation and action.
Through the mid-‘60s and early 70s the country went through a very trying period with a war and social unrest unlike anything we had ever seen. Despite all this turmoil, the industry’s growth was explosive. A fellow by the name of Ray Kroc and a young man by the name of James McLamore started hamburger chains that gave birth to a new word in the American vocabulary – "fast food”. It didn’t take long before every community across the state, and indeed the country, found itself with a "fast food strip” serving pizzas, hamburgers, hot dogs, fried fish, tacos, Chinese, - you name the food and there was a fast food operation serving it.
Also in the early 70s came the first grumblings about restricting smoking sections in restaurants, identifying certain ingredients in foods, publicizing restaurants that fail their health inspections and some states were debating reducing their legal purchase age from 21 to 18. Through this period, the NYSRA grew from three chapters (New York City, Buffalo, and Westchester) to its full compliment of 12 chapters throughout the state including Buffalo, Central New York, Chautauqua, Greater Capital District, Long Island, Mid-Hudson, Valley, Mohawk Valley, New York City, Rochester, Southern tier, Tri-County and Westchester/Rockland.
One of the major upheavals experienced by the country and the industry in the early 70s was the acute energy crisis which caused a shortage in gasoline for automobiles. In fact, the decision to close most gasoline stations on Saturdays and Sundays for all practical purposes wiped out the transient trade enjoyed by facilities located in the suburbs and on the open highways. For its part, the Association, in cooperation with the New York State Energy Department, not only produced a series of energy saving seminars but also issued guidelines especially designed to conserve energy in fast food facilities.
During the Carter Administration, the industry once again was faced with an effort to remove the business meal exemption, and the Association, once again presented a strong case, causing the idea to be dropped. On the New York State legislative front new issues were arising: DWI, greater pressure for no smoking sections, raising the purchase age to 19 (this later would become 21)… more accurate reporting of tip income, sulfites, MSG, sodium and other ingredients were under heavy fire, various consumer groups demanding national sanitation programs, etc. Thru all of this, food service operators who belonged to and developed the policies of the Association, responded to these charges and, for the most part, successfully so.
During the mid 80s, the Association found itself very much involved in many of the social and health questions of the day: beverage alcohol consumption, liquor liability pressures, hours of sales, labeling of food ingredients and the perennial removal of the business lunch exemption. In 1984, NYSRA merged with the Long Island Restaurant and Caterers Association (LIRCA) and added more than 400 members to its ranks. In 1989, after many years of research and review, New York State Restaurant Services, Inc. (Services) as an independent, but wholly owned subsidiary of NYSRA.
The 1990s was a decade of great change and growth for NYSRA and Services. In 1991, Services took over the management and hospitalization plan, the monitoring of NYSRA’s endorsed credit card service plan, and management of the workers’ compensation program from Rest.-Inn Safety Plan, Inc.
In 1994, Rick Sampson assumed the helm of the organization as President and CEO. During his tenure, the headquarters office was moved to Albany to be closer to the Capitol and serve as the industry’s political watchdog. In 1999, NYSRA purchased its own building in Albany giving it a permanent home.
Also in 1994, the Association began sponsoring the New York Restaurant and Foodservice Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Over the years, this event has provided the foodservice community and the public with an unparalleled opportunity to see the latest in products and technology. Through NYSRA’s hard work and commitment, the annual Show has grown to more than 20,000 attendees and 700 exhibitors.
One of the most important accomplishments in recent years was the establishment of the Educational Foundation in 1999. One of the primary goals of the Educational Foundation is to oversee and implement the National Restaurant Association’s ProStart program in high schools throughout the state. ProStart combines on the job mentoring and classroom instruction for juniors and seniors interested in pursuing a career in the foodservice industry. Students learn how to prepare food, place and receive orders, control costs, handle food safely and other managerial skills. To graduate, the students must complete 400 mentoring hours and two years in the classroom. The students are also tested and certified at the end of the junior and senior years. The students can then choose from a number of colleges that are linked to NYSRA’s program including Schenectady Community College, Paul Smith’s College, SUNY Plattsburgh and the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. To date ProStart is being taught in 56 schools and impacting more than 3,600 students.
The turn of the century brought many challenges to NYSRA. September 11, 2001 changed everything in the United States and New York State, including the restaurant industry. Many industry employees and businesses were lost that day, but as the nation pulled together, so did the industry. NYSRA formed the New York Restaurant Employee Disaster Fund and raised $1 million to help the families of the victims in the industry and hundreds of NYSRA members worked around the clock providing food to rescue workers at ground zero.
The industry has struggled to recover in a difficult economy and faced many political challenges as well. In the past few years, the health organizations have found the restaurant industry to be a scapegoat on many issues and a way for politicians to fell good about themselves without really addressing the issues. Some of the more recent battles have included: banning smoking, banning trans fat, menu labeling, reducing sodium, paid sick leave and universal health care.
NYSRA continues to seek alliances with like-minded organizations. In 2005, the New York Nightlife Association joined NYSRA as a chapter. This partnership has provided those nightlife members with all of the benefits and staff support of NYSRA and given NYSRA valuable insight and expertise.
For 75 years, NYSRA has been dedicated to protecting, promoting, representing, and educating our Members so that they can better serve the public. By pursuing this straightforward goal, we have become one of the most effective trade organizations in the state. The New York State Restaurant Association looks forward to the opportunities ahead and the continued prosperity for all of New York.

Most of this text was lifted from an article published in September 1985 in Empire State Food Service News, and written by Fred G. Sampson to celebrate NYSRA’s 50th Anniversary.  

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