Silver Plate from the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association is meant to be the capstone to the recipient's distinguished career in foodservice. But this year's winners in the independent restaurant category — Charlie Trotter — and the full-service chain category — Phil Friedman — are just getting warmed up. Both of the restaurant organizations these two men head are expanding at a furious pace in their respective segments of the restaurant industry.
The Chicago-based Trotter brings not just impeccable, but truly staggering credentials to any awards competition. His opened his eponymous Chicago restaurant in 1987, and is credited with being among the very first to take the then-daring step of offering a “degustation-only” menu. Charlie Trotter's was also the first U.S. restaurant to install a chef's table in its kitchen, from which guests could watch their meal and those of others being prepared. People thought Trotter was crazy when, in 1989, he was among the first to ban smoking in his restaurant.
The 48-year-old Trotter was also a trendsetter in several other areas. He was among the first star chefs to set up shop in Las Vegas, opening at the MGM Grand in late 1994 and closing a year later. He jumped into the gourmet take-out business in 2000 with Trotter's To Go in Chicago. His TV work for PBS, 1999's “The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter,” spawned a companion cookbook, one of 13 he has written. He has also authored serious books about restaurant management and service.
If you want a chef who has won a lot of cooking awards, Trotter's your guy. Among his 10 James Beard Awards are back-to-back honors for Outstanding Chef (1999) and America's Best Restaurant (2000). Wine Spectator named Charlie Trotter's “The Best Restaurant in the World for Wine & Food” in 1998. There are plenty more trophies on his shelf.
Is there anything this guy can't do? In the wake of his Las Vegas experience, he was, for a long time and despite many offers, slow to open additional restaurants. Projected restaurant deals in London and at Time Warner Center in New York City both fell through in 2003. Then in 2004, he debuted “C” at One & Only Palmilla Resort in Los Cabos, Mexico.
Now Trotter is on an expansion streak. Early this year he opened Restaurant Charlie at the new Palazzo in Las Vegas. This fall he'll open a new place in downtown Chicago at the Elysian Hotel on the Gold Coast. Also in the works is his first New York outpost, to be located in the lobby of the new One Madison Park condo building on East 22nd.
Friedman, chairman, c.e.o. of fast-casual restaurant McAlister's Deli, is equally accomplished in the chain restaurant field. He and a group of investors acquired this fast-casual concept from its founders in 1999 and have grown it to 215 units today, with many more to come. He had previously been chairman of Rosti Restaurants, president of Panda Management Co. Inc., c.f.o. of Service America Corp., and vice president of restaurant planning and development for Marriott Corp.
A numbers and operational whiz, Friedman maintains a busy strategic planning and management consulting company, P. Friedman & Associates, which counts many restaurant chains and financial and investment organization among its clients. An M.B.A from the Wharton School of Finance, he is a former major in the U.S. Army Reserves, having served as a food distribution officer in Vietnam.
Both men will be honored, along with seven additional Silver Plate recipients from other foodservice segments, and perhaps receive IFMA's top honor, the Gold Plate Award, at a gala in Chicago on May 19.