Hospitality Executive Exchange

hospitality business exchange

FROM LEFT • Don Billings , IMI Agency; Jeffrey Bartfield, Proximo Spirits; Mark Crisler, Trellis Wine Group; and Jen Robinson, The Pineapple Group.
Mark Crisler was presented one of three CORE Bears auctioned during HEE West. HEE West raised almost $3,000 with impromptu auctions of the bears.

What happens when you get 100 of the industry’s top food and beverage professionals together in an intimate environment, focusing on conversations, cocktails and culinary experiences? The answer is the Hospitality Executive Exchange (HEE). HEE is an intimate gathering of select suppliers and invited operators from the food and beverage community. It breaks the traditional mold with a new way of doing business. For three days, operators and suppliers gather together to exchange best practice ideas, explore innovative uses for existing product lines, and experience delicious food and drink applications with one requirement — to enjoy the conversation!

hospitality business exchange HEE, or “the Exchange” as participants sometimes call it, is the right balance of interactive roundtables, networking and one-on-one meetings. The program is finishing its fourth year and now has a waiting list for both suppliers and operators who want to experience it firsthand. Building upon the success of the program on the East Coast, HEE recently expanded to the West Coast. This new opportunity allows for horizontal growth and offers an opportunity for additional chain operators to participate.

HEE has found a niche in the marketplace and continues to break the barrier of the traditional conference format. The latest offering, HEE West, was held at Bacara Resort & Spa. The property has Old World charm, strong Spanish influences and is located right on the outskirts of Santa Barbara, overlooking the Pacific. It was a perfect West Coast location and created the right atmosphere and backdrop to introduce the HEE program to new participants.

hospitality business exchangeThe Exchange focuses on conversations, but charity was also on the menu for the program as HEE West supported CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees) throughout the event. CORE board members Jeffrey Bartfield and Don Billings held an impromptu auction of CORE bears that raised nearly $3,000. Special thanks go to Mark Crisler, Trellis Wine Group; Brittany Taylor Olson, Bacardi USA; and William Hinkebein, American Beverage Marketers, who bid on the bears to help raise funds and the awareness of the industry’s adopted charity.

Hospitality Executive Exchange is an invitation-only event. Participation is limited, which makes it exclusive from the supplier perspective and desirable from the operator perspective. It is quickly gaining the reputation as a must-attend event for both. Networking is a valuable component of the program, and the opening night Supplier Marketplace provided operators with a hands-on opportunity to explore the latest in innovation and applications. It featured tableside trends, organic garnishes, and frozen, traditional hospitality business exchangeand handcrafted cocktails, along with a host of other emerging trends that could easily be immediately implemented into any concept. Showcased at the event were: Tony Abou-Ganim, Lynnette Marrero, Tad Carducci, Adrian Biggs, Dean Serneels, Kathy Casey, Philip Raimondo, Brandon Crisler, Sabrina Greer and Nelson Tran.

The roundtables, which are attended by everyone, created lively discussions between supplier and operators, with the moderators leading the charge. HEE West balanced the discussions between the one-on-one meetings, to provide dialogue throughout the entire program. Jack Li of DataEssentials kicked off the conversation regarding the menu adoption cycle and provided some great insight into food and beverage trends, plus how to identify where your concept currently fits.

Sandra Fowler, a consumer food scientist, delved deep into how to identify and meet the needs of the Millennial group, and why they are becoming increasingly important to our venues.

Adam Billings, director of technology with IMI, provided a great overview and look at mobile social media. How easy are you to find on OpenTable? Yelp? The topic brought to the forefront the challenges in this area and offered solutions for concepts who are adding more mobile social promotion to their everyday marketing plans.

SlateBlue Design provided a hands-on toolbox activity where participants were given a concept name, and their team had to create and develop it using tools in their kits. The atmosphere was lively and every person was involved with a task, which provided not only great discussions but also a unique team building exercise.

HEE also includes many networking opportunities but meals seem to hold a special place for everyone to come together to break bread and share a toast. Boe Trumbull shared an intimate lunch conversation, offering some of his personal thoughts on trends and challenges while highlighting the success story of his own concept, SBE. The final dinner featured Harry Paul, also known as Harry the Fish Guy. As the guest dinner speaker, he concluded the Exchange with a motivating and positive chat, bringing humor, realism and inspiration to the group.

Hospitality Executive Exchange has tapped into a unique format that has really hit the right chord with operators and suppliers. Offering a valuable opportunity that is cost effective, productive and enjoyable, the program has already drawn huge support from the industry. It is being touted as one of the most useful opportunities for both suppliers and operators to attend all year. Interested participants can send a request to Jen Robinson ( of The Pineapple Group LLC, which owns and operates the event, for consideration to be included. The Exchange will be held on both sides of the United States, with HEE East occurring in April 2014 and HEE West in October 2014. Our advice: Join the conversation!

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