Seeing as this was going to be my first time attending, and factoring in that, we were only going for one day; days before the show I had planned and organized my time as efficiently as possible, highlighting all the vendors I wanted to see. This consisted of mostly of anything that had to do with ice cream, cakes, cookies or pies. There were roughly two thousand exhibitors and only eight hours, you do the math. I pestered Steve, one of the senior sales staff and former chef, about everything and his main advice was to wear good shoes and come hungry.
Our first stop was True Manufacturing, which also naturally became our end of day meeting place. They have these new laminated counter tops that go on top of the bar coolers, that I must say are very classy looking. They would really make any bar look more elegant and upscale. After our brief tour of the True Manufacturing booth, we were on our own. The exhibit floor was so overwhelming, that my carefully laid out plan was quickly thrown out the window. I was in complete awe. The best way I can describe it to give you a good mental is picture is that it was almost like a ginormous flee market. Chef Works had an actual runway with models showing off their new chef apparel. There were food vendors left and right with the whole shebang: ovens, soup warmers, heat lamps etc. In addition to the restaurant equipment, there was a pair of motorcycles that were made to look like a shrimp and a shark. Plus, there were tech-i booths with really neat layouts and almost futuresque looking bar stools & tables.
FOOD! Steve said to come hungry…I tried. I am one of those types of people who, wake up starving and has to have breakfast before I can function normally, well at least as normally as I am capable of. I got up at 5:30 a.m. and had breakfast by 6 a.m., we got there around 9 a.m. and still had to get checked in and all that good stuff, so we really didn’t start eating until around 10 a.m. However, I was so full by 11:30 a.m. that I couldn’t eat another bite and we were only two and a half hours into the day. The smells were still so enticing, but there was no way I could try any more food - I made a mental note to come back for some PIZZA. I figured I would walk around a little more and try to expend some calories to make room for some more food. Plus even though my previously detailed agenda had gone out the window in the first two minutes of arriving at the show, there were still a few stops on it that I did want to try and make.
Around 1 p.m., we felt like we should try to cover some of the North Hall. I had picked up a few items along the way, to take home, and needed to take a little break before we started our trek around the next section. I wore tennis shoes and was thankful for that. I used to walk a few miles a day when I was at the U of I, but it has apparently been a while since my feet, which once were used to that amount of walking, were now really starting to feel a little tender. This trip is not for the feint of heart!
On to the North Hall…luckily we had already covered the larger of the two sections and I was definitely working up my appetite. I guess you could say I was like a kid in a candy store, walking around stuffing my face and gawking at all the people and things on display. While the South Hall had an even amount of food vendors and drink options…the North Hall, however, was seriously lacking on the drinks. Jeff, the customer service manager at Serv-U, spent three dollars on a bottle of Pepsi while we were in that section but I was not about to spend that on a drink, when I knew I could hunt down a free one. However, I was getting awfully close to that point though as time dragged on without finding a booth with drink samples, but it was like half a mile back to the middle, where the vendors were selling drinks. Just as we had gotten to one corner section of the North Hall, I saw a sign that said 1000 – 1800 down stairs and I mentally groaned to myself. It is now like 3 p.m. and my feet were sore from all the walking, I’m exhausted and I have accumulated so much in the way of samples and brochures that my shoulder hurts from the weight of the bag. I feel like I couldn’t stand to take one more step, but I forged on as there was still much to see. On the trek to the basement, there was a roped off area where a guy was doing an ice sculpture. I had never seen one done in person so I paused to watch in amazement.
Needless to say, I think we were all exhausted, very full and ready to call it a day by the time we finished the 1000 – 1800 section of the show. Finishing at around 4:30 p.m., we started the two-hour drive back to Champaign – Urbana, Illinois. In the end, Steve’s advice of coming hungry and wearing comfortable shoes was dead on. It was a long and exhausting day, but well worth it and I fully recommend that anyone involved in the restaurant or bar equipment supply industry attend this show at least once in their career.