To those of us in the food business, the National Restaurant Association Show is an institution. Every year, thousands of visitors converge on the Windy City to experience a cornucopia of food and beverage companies, products, education, and entertainment. The 2017 show opens one month from today.

Original Philly attended its first NRA Show in Chicago over 20 years ago, in May of 1996! It’s fun to think back on two decades of great experiences in Chi-town with customers, partners, employees, and friends old and new, plus a few that were especially memorable…

Like the time Andreas Kalisperis, COO of our Pre-Cooked Steak operation, was approached by one of the food service buyers from the Dallas Cowboys. As any real Philadelphian would, Andreas refused to oblige the gentleman’s request for an Original Philly sample. The stalemate was all in good fun, and our frenemy eventually got his taste.

In 2014, our booth’s electrical breakers melted, so we had to scramble to get our power back on the busiest day of the show. Despite losing a few hours of prime cooking time, we eventually resumed serving ‘steaks to the ravenous but reasonably patient show-goers.

Just one year earlier, we introduced our Cheesesteak Appetizers—fortunately with no mechanical issues to speak of. Our Original Philly Sliders and Egg Rolls were huge hits, and they continue to be among our most popular and fastest growing products.

Andreas, evidently no stranger to mildly awkward interpersonal exchanges, had another classic moment when he took an elevator ride with incendiary restauranteur and TV chef Gordon Ramsay. Noticing the logo on Andreas’ shirt, the notorious Hell’s Kitchen star struck up a conversation about Original Philly, but neither his celebrity status nor British accent made much of an impression. When someone asked, “Wasn’t that Gordon Ramsay?” when the elevator emptied, Andreas didn’t flinch, his brief brush with fame up in flames.

Hard for us to believe it has been 17 years since the Pre-Cooked division Andreas runs got its start. We premiered our Fully Cooked product line at the 2000 NRA Show to rave reviews, including many excited distributors and retailers who became loyal Original Philly customers.

No wonder these three wonderful and wacky days in Chicago are clearly among the favorite times of year for the longtime friends who started Original Philly together back in 1981. Somehow, our founders “Mr. Nick” and “Mr. George” always seem to work the grill with more stamina than those half their age. Mr. George takes such pride in setting up the booth that he tells everyone to “Take it easy!” when he senses we’re rushing or feels we’re not paying enough attention to details. One year, Mr. Nick even signed an autograph on the chef’s coat of a culinary student and cheesesteak fanatic.

Suffice to say, Original Philly is fired up for the NRA Show 2017, cookin’ up cheesesteaks and servin’ up organoleptic samples from the City of Brotherly Love. Hopefully the booth set-up won’t take us seven hours, like it did in 2011 when we rented a large display unit that had to be assembled with a single hex key…

See you in Chicago—May 20-23, 2017.