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SmallBytes January 2014 Edition
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The Association's Son

Some people are born into the restaurant industry. Rick Sampson was born into the restaurant association. Having recently stepped down from his post as president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association he took some time to reflect on his tenure.


It was Rick’s father Fred who introduced Rick to the association. Back in the 1970s Fred was in the same position that Rick would eventually take on. Rick was working for Volkswagen at the time. He was enjoying the work, but something was missing. With the association, "I had an opportunity to make a change and take a more entrepreneurial role," he said.


In his first role with the association he was responsible for the upstate offices, and he would soon begin to work directly and regularly with Albany legislators, which was quickly becoming a vital part of the associations services. A large part of Rick's work was "connecting the legal aspects to the knowledge of the industry," said Fred.


His work only grew more imperative. By Sampson's estimation when he began working in Albany there were about 30 to 40 pieces of legislation proposed each year that had an impact on the restaurant industry. Today Sampson says some 700 bills a year could have consequences for the industry. Sampson has worked on everything from wage regulations to music licensing in restaurants.


"It’s a whole different world today," he said. "More and more government regulations really keep us busy here in Albany dealing with those changes and meeting with all those different agencies on behalf of the industry."


Sampson's work hasn't gone unnoticed. Restaurant people are so busy running their day-to-day operations they can hardly keep up with all the new laws and regulations, said Marc Murphy, owner and chef at Landmarc, among other New York City restaurants and a president of the New York City chapter of the association. "It’s nice to have someone in Albany watching our back."


Another important achievement of Rick's tenure with the association was the growth of the International Restaurant and Foodservice Show of New York. The Javits Center event now hosts 16,000 people each year, and Sampson was instrumental in introducing many of the show's educational elements including classes on food and liquor costs and working with restaurant consultants.


Sampson's educational focus went beyond the Restaurant Show. Sampson was influential in expanding the New York State Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, which includes ServSafe alcohol classes for restaurant employees, a program Rick's father started, and the New York chapter of ProStart, a two-year high school program that focuses on culinary and restaurant industry education.


The foundation has succeeded and will continue to in the future because of the strong groundwork Sampson has helped create, said Colleen O'Bryan Holmes, owner of Wheatfields restaurants in Saratoga and Clifton Park and Immediate Past Chair of the association. "He believes in it wholeheartedly," she said.


"Our association really has the responsibility to help train and provide jobs for these new people that are coming on and eventually are going to buy these restaurants that our members own now," Sampson said. "It’s one of the best things this organization has done for all the right reasons. It’s education, it's youth today, and it’s for the future of our industry, which we take very seriously."


And he added, "It’s great to wear the white hat, after fighting legislation. It’s nice to be on the side of education and kids." In Sampson's new role with the association he will continue to work with the foundation.


When today's ProStart graduates join the association they will find an organization that embraces diversity, something the industry as a whole is not always known for.


Sampson was "very interested in diversifying the board," said Jason Wallace, of Hospitality Concepts Restaurant Consulting and a former board member. In the past few years the association has named their first female chair, he noted. He wanted to bring "young blood and new energy" to the association and move it "into the 21st Century and be more reflective of our industry," said Wallace.


And the members, those "job makers, risk takers, and tax payers" as Sampson calls them, can rest easy knowing that Sampson's vision and his efforts will be felt long after he steps down. Transitions are something the Sampsons are quite familiar with. As Fred mentored his son, Rick also took a mentorship role with the association's new president and CEO Melissa Autilio Fleischut. "She's going to take this organization to the next level," he said. "Full steam ahead."

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