The restaurant trade association movement traces its roots to Missouri. The forerunner of the restaurant movement in America was the Kansas City Business Men’s Association, when in 1916, local operators banded together to resist encroachment on their own businesses.
In this group were early industry leaders such as Myron Green and George Fowler, father-in-law of Joseph Gilbert, Sr. of Gilbert/Robinson, who went on to establish both the Missouri and the National Restaurant Associations. In 1919, on a heatless Monday” during World War I, these same individuals gathered other restaurateurs from around the nation to form the National Restaurant Association. The NRA was headquartered in Kansas City until 1926, when the office was moved to Chicago. The first NRA Executive Vice-President was John Welch, Sr. His son, Jack Welch, retired from a successful executive career to become the first instructor of restaurant management at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
In 1935, charters were granted to both the Missouri Restaurant Association and the St. Louis Restaurant Association. The late Clarence M. Hayman, Sr., founder of the Forum Cafeterias, signed the incorporation papers. His son, C.M. Hayman, Jr., became MRA President in 1974.
Several city association entities continued to exist until 1958, when efforts began to amalgamate into one statewide organization. This objective became a reality in 1962 when the Kansas City and St. Louis associations agreed to affiliate as chapters of the Missouri Restaurant Association. This marks the true “birth” of today’s Missouri Restaurant Association.
At that time, the association purchased The Missouri Restaurant magazine from publisher Max H. Koerner, and hired him as a full-time Executive Vice-President. In 1981, upon the retirement of Max Koerner, Carl Degen, Editor of The Missouri Restaurant, became Executive Vice-President.
In those intervening years, MRA has expanded and grown. Today, a strong board representing the geographic interests of the state unites it. Its eight local affiliate chapters now cover the entire state. Membership has remained steady, currently boasting over 1500 member establishments.
The unification of local associations has been the critical key to the development of an effective MRA. Prior to that time, the industry was not focused and therefore ineffective. The significance of this unification into a strong central organization has extended into all areas of the state.
There is little resemblance between the organization as it exists today and that of early years, except that the same indomitable spirit to serve is still reflected in a large and effective group of volunteers who work with a staff to enhance the association and industry.
The MRA’s organizational activities and philosophy still focus on the member. MRA is unique among trade associations, with the high level of member involvement in the Association’s activities. The development of local chapters continued until the late Seventies, when all areas of the state were affiliated under a chapter organization, giving members from across the state a chance to be involved. MRA’s effectiveness derives from its unity and action of members.
The development of member services has been steady and significant. A hospitalization insurance program was initiated in the Sixties, followed by a credit card program in the early Seventies. The monthly MRA E-Newsletter has been continually upgraded and is looked upon by members as the association’s most effective means of communication.
An effective Government Affairs program has become one of the most significant services MRA offers its members. A lobbyist was retained in the early Sixties and has resulted in increased government affairs involvement, one of the most important services the organization offers its members.
The development of, and continued emphasis on member services, plus a commitment to chapter organizations and a high level of member involvement, has made the MRA among the five largest restaurant associations in the nation. MRA is nationally recognized for its effectiveness, professionalism, and level of service. However, from the very beginning until today, it is the commitment of individual members that result in a successful organization.
The Missouri Restaurant Association is a state wide trade association with representing over 1500 member establishments. At the present time it has eight Chapters as extensions of the parent organization, each with its own Officers, Board of Directors, and limited budget. The association is governed by a Board of Directors comprised of five Officers, 33 Directors, and each President of the eight affiliated chapters.
It has two basic categories of membership: Regular Membership, for companies and organizations engaged in commercial and institutional foodservice, as well as foodservice educators, and Allied Membership, for firms engaged in sales to the foodservice industry.
MRA’s membership is diverse, and includes full-service luxury restaurants, hotels, institutions, fast-foods, schools, contract feeders, and ancillary foodservice such as in theme parks and sports stadiums. The association has been successful in securing support from virtually every segment of commercial feeding. This diverse membership also poses problems in being able to provide meaningful services to the entire membership.
The Missouri Restaurant Association has a staff of full-time and part-time or limited-service employees. The Chief Executive Officer, Robert Bonney, is responsible for staff activities.