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SmallBytes Winter 2013 Edition
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Fred Sampson Named President Emeritus of the NYS Restaurant Association


The New York State Restaurant Association board of directors has named Fred Sampson President Emeritus for years of leadership, advocacy and support of the Association and its members.

"I guess if I had to pick one word to describe Fred Sampson it would be integrity,” said Melissa Autilio Fleischut, President and CEO of the NYS Restaurant Association. "To have your name be synonymous with one organization says a lot about you and your good name. With the members and with legislators that name is synonymous with integrity.”

If you served a drink before the polls closed on Election Day, you have Fred Sampson to thank. Back in 1968 as president of the New York State Restaurant Association, Sampson helped repeal an old blue law left over from Prohibition stating restaurants couldn't serve alcohol before 9pm on primary and election days.

Sampson would be the first to tell you that he didn't work alone during his long and exceptional tenure at the New York State Restaurant Association. Putting his modesty aside, Sampson was recently named President Emeritus by the board.

"He's pretty indispensible," said Colleen O'Bryan Holmes, owner of Wheatfields restaurants in Saratoga and Clifton Park and chairwomen of the association. "He really grew the association. Without him we wouldn't be where we are today." And he did it all with a great sense of humor and constant gratitude for the volunteers who worked with the association, she said.

Sampson, who was the president of the association for thirty years, was born into the restaurant business. His family owned Sampson's Food Nest in Philadelphia, and he worked there from a young age, until, as he says, "Uncle Sam decided I should join the Army."

In the Army he found himself in food service again, and his work wasn't much different than at the restaurant as he was assigned to the officers' mess. He completed his service and the family restaurant closed a few years later, but he still found the restaurant industry calling to him. He worked at Slater System, now ARAMARK, which at the time focused on dining at colleges and small businesses. His next move was to the dining operations at Temple University and later to the executive vice-president role at the Restaurant Association in Pennsylvania.

A position in the New York State Restaurant Association opened a few years later, and in 1961 Sampson took on the role of president of the organization. Although the association was statewide, Sampson was surprised to find a fractured group mainly focused on the city's dining. Working within Albany politics without working with restaurants in Albany itself was not working, and Sampson knew that the association needed a strong showing statewide to fight for the interests of restaurants.

"You can't be very effective in the state capital, Albany, in legislative matters just representing New York City because of the political makeup of the state," he said. "So you really had to have the political muscle upstate to offset the muscle downstate."

In the 1960s and 70s, Sampson united the chapters in Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany and elsewhere and helped represent restaurant interests in minimum wage, paid sick leave, and liquor law issues. The organization now has 15 chapters throughout the state.

"I don't know anyone who has always put the best interests of the restaurant industry in New York State first,” said Anthony Dell’Orto of Manganaro’s Hero Boy Restaurant and member of the NYS Restaurant Association. "He has the ability to articulate any point to anyone. He has brought together two opposing sides to formulate a united and positive response to all issues that affect the restaurant industry in New York. There is no one that deserves the President Emeritus title more than Fred Sampson."

During that same period Sampson helped organize a restaurant trade show in Syracuse. "Nobody showed up" that year, he says. But it helped sow the seeds of the show that today hosts 16,000 people at the Javits Center each year.

The 1990s saw Sampson take the lead on a statewide alcohol-training program for restaurant employees. (A full-page article appeared in the New York Times touting its success.) That decade also saw the start to the association's insurance plan, which "acts like a glue" for the members, Sampson said.

"Fred Sampson was the pioneer in establishing a voice for the restaurant industry throughout New York State,” said Brad Rosenstein, third generation owner of Jack’s Oyster House in Albany, one of the oldest family owned fine dining restaurants in the United States celebrating its 100th year, and member of the NYS Restaurant Association. "He has been one of the most highly respected hospitality executives in America."

In 1995, another Sampson took over the helm of the New York State Restaurant Association: Fred's son Rick. Rick had been overseeing work for the group in Albany since the 1970s.

Rick Sampson is effusive about the talents and example set by his father in stewarding the organization through difficult times and bringing the various parts of the state together under one organization.

"He is always about giving credit to other people, despite the major positive impact he brought to issues through sheer force of personality. That said, his real talent was an uncanny ability to anticipate the challenges that would confront the industry over the past four decades,” said Rick Sampson. "He anticipated issues like the DWI, the smoking ban and obesity issues and helped get the industry ahead of the curve. His influence in helping make New York’s restaurant industry the envy of the world really cannot be overstated. And he is still just as sharp today as he ever was.”

The New York State Restaurant Association has really been under the influence of one Sampson or another for fifty years," Fred Sampson said laughing. Rick has recently stepped down from his position and Melissa Autilio Fleischut has taken on that role.

These days, the elder Sampson splits his time between New Jersey and Florida. At 86 he still finds time to write commentary on restaurant issues for various publications. He covers everything from the power of the microwave to tipping (and not tipping). The reactions to his opinions are as diverse as the subject matter. "Sometimes I get a nice email saying 'you know what you're talking about' and some people turn around and say what 'planet are you on?'" he said. After years of fighting for restaurants' rights in Albany, Sampson can easily let criticism roll of his shoulders with a laugh. "I'm very blessed."

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