Eli’s Marc, Maureen and Elana Schulman with Peter Rainsford, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Tim Ryan, President of the Culinary Institute of America.

Tim Ryan, Marc Schulman and Peter Rainsford celebrate the Processional for the November 10th Commencement for the Culinary Institute of America.

Marc Schulman addresses the 154 graduates and 0ver 800 family members and guests at the Commencement Ceremony for the November Graduates receiving their Bachelor’s Degree in Baking and Pastry Arts Management and Bachelor’s Degree in Culinary Arts Management from the Hyde Park, New York Campus of the Culinary Institute of America.

 

The Culinary Institute of America holds Graduation Ceremonies ever three weeks for recipients of the Associate’s Degree in Baking and Culinary Arts and several graduations each year for recipients of the Bachelor’s Degree. Marc Schulman, the President of Eli’s Cheesecake was honored to deliver the Thursday address and Ben Pollinger, Culinary  Institute of America Graduate ’97 and Executive Chef of Oceana in New York was the speaker for the Friday Associate’s Ceremony.

 

 

 

Marc S. Schulman

President-The Eli’s Cheesecake Company

Commencement Address

Bachelor of Professional Studies

Culinary Institute of America

November 10, 2011

President Ryan, Vice President Rainsford, Members of the Faculty, Honored Guests & Members of the November Graduating Class of the Culinary Institute of America. I am so glad to be here!

Congratulations!

Today marks a most important day in your careers and personal lives. Each of you has a compelling story of what it took to get here…of sacrifice, of so many hours worked. It is truly a glorious day for each of you and your families.

For me it is also an important day…my daughter, Elana, is here with my wife, Maureen. Our youngest daughter will graduate from Vassar College, very close to here, in May of 2012, and on that day I will have the privilege of sitting in the audience with all the pride that your parents are experiencing today.

Today, the culinarians, many of them graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, are among America’s top stylesetters for food and lifestyles. To think that All My Children would be cancelled for “The Chew” or that Mario Batali would be invited to sit on a panel of America’s most influential opinion makers to discuss who should be the TIME Magazine 2011 Person of the Year just shows that the influence of chefs’ and restauranteurs  goes far beyond the walls of their restaurants.

All of this heightened attention to the food & restaurant industry goes on in a very turbulent economic time with the impact of the recession affecting all kinds of restaurants as consumers are forced to trade down or forgo dining out. In many ways, this environment mirrors that when my dad, Eli Schulman, started in the restaurant business—1940. There was 14% unemployment and my dad, who was forced to drop out of high school in 1926 when his father died, found a foreclosure notice on his neighborhood coffee shop…… weeks later he was in the restaurant business…getting in business for very little money down….in many ways the conditions of today as the overbuilding of restaurants and other retail businesses creates unique opportunities for aspiring restaurateurs to walk in a fully fixed restaurant..

That accidental entry to the restaurant business by my dad, later joined by my mother, Esther Schulman, when they married in 1948, led to a great legacy with Eli’s Stage Delicatessen and then Eli’s the Place for Steak, an award winning steak house on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, that was open from 1966 until it closed in 2005 for the construction of the new home of Children’s Memorial Hospital.

 

Growing up my life revolved around our restaurant. Trick or treating on Oak Street, every celebration at the restaurant….even meeting my wife and partner, Maureen, at Table 10 at Eli’s the Place for Steak.

 

My parents put education first and I was given the choice of two professional careers….a lawyer or a doctor…the closest I came to being a doctor is the white lab coat that I wear daily at the bakery.

 

At an early age I became interested in becoming Builder –an individual who would bring together all the parts of a transaction…I thought of architecture, a real estate developer and then ultimately became interested in law while attending the University of Denver as Eli’s was a gathering place for politicians, lawyers and the faculty from Northwestern Law School down the block. For the three years that I attended Northwestern, I lived upstairs of the restaurant…on call to meet the celebrities of the day..Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Carson, Sean Connery and Frank Sinatra…who gave my dad the watch I proudly wear today.

After law school, I practiced law for five years representing many family business like ours. You would do a transaction and then look for another client; not the long term relationships that I saw with my parents and their customers.

I figured that I would either pursue a long term career in law…and someone would ask me 30 years later…who was Eli or I would join my parents in the restaurant business and always feel that I missed out on pursuing my dream.

Along the way, my dad had a dream—to create a signature dish that could be sold outside of the restaurant (he talked a lot about Hershey and Wrigley). I am lucky it turned out to be cheesecake as our restaurant was well known for calves liver Eli and chicken in the pot, great dishes that don’t have the universal appeal of cheesecake.

Developed by my dad in his kitchen, Eli’s Cheesecake made its public debut at the first Taste of Chicago in 1980…it was an instant hit at Taste and in 1984, I took a short term leave from law and a big pay cut to see if I could grow the Eli’s Brand.

Sadly my dad passed away in 1988 but he did see our growth and took such great pride when Harold Washington took our cheesecake to the Super Bowl in 1985 and went on network TV to say he had brought Chicago Deep Dish Pizza, Ribs, Hot Dogs, and Eli’s Cheesecake…a Chicago Icon that was named by the Chicago Tribune as one of 10 Chicago’s Most Famous Foods in its Commemorative 150th Anniversary Issue.

Along the way we have served our cheesecake at the White House, created Presidential Inaugural Cheesecake’s in 1993, 1997 and 2009 and baked the 50th Birthday Cakes for Hillary Clinton and President Obama.

I share these milestones….because it shows how far the dream of an entrepreneurial restaurateur can go. Here we are 72 years since my dad opened that first restaurant…and I am here sharing my parents’ story. How rewarding!

And it is the heart of the restaurateur…the passion for quality, customer service and the commitment to people that allows us to grow in these most challenging economic times.

My dad had a saying on his menu….”we shall serve good food…at a profit if we can…at a loss if we must…but always good food.” From day one, our ingredients in our cheesecake were superior…Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla from Neilsen-Massey, Cultured Sour Cream and Cream Cheese, a hand baked artisan cookie crust.  We never compromised on quality…and today with educated customers like you….they bake it themselves or they pay the price realizing you can buy our cheesecake at a price less than you could do it in your kitchen.

We are local..all made in Chicago…active in the community from our Weekly Farmers Market during the summer to our long term partnership with the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences and Wright College and by donating desserts to hundreds of organizations throughout the year…and hosting a Giving Tree event at the holidays where each of our associates has a supply of cheesecakes and desserts to deliver to a worthy organization of their choice.

My dad was at the door of his restaurant every night. With the exception that  he did make his family first…closing on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and taking three weeks off at Christmas, but other than that at the door and greeting every customer. He used to take Sunday nights off but then the first Mayor Daley came in on a Sunday asking for my dad; when he learned he wasn’t there, he didn’t come in. After that it was 7 days a week!

But while he was at the restaurant, Eli’s was surrounded by friends. I am amazed today at how many people reach out to me to share a story of what my dad for them and the special relationships that they developed. Just this past week, when the famed surgeon, Mark Utz, the son of famed surgeon, Dr. David Utz of the Mayo Clinic, contacted me with the sad news that his dad has passed away at the age of 87. Marc wanted me to know how important my dad had been to Dr. Utz—a relationship that started with Dr. Utz, became a doctor-patient relationship and expanded to dear friends. What started as a one time dining decision turned into something quite special…..and I have heard that story so many times.

That one on one marketing that Eli achieved by a handwritten note or a monthly statement or a phone call has now been enhanced by the importance of social media and how and who you can tell your story to…with recipes and ideas brought life to many…..but making the recipient  a friend as well as a customer. Social media has given so much power to the chef, to the farmer and to the specialty food company. We have real news about our craft and we share it directly with our customers and fans without the cost of advertising and without any editorial limits.

I have to say that I was delighted the Dionne Reid accepted my invitation to connect on Linkedin. I did a search for references to the CIA and this graduating class and Dionne’s info came up. Her bio is outstanding and she is a person that I certainly wanted to associate with.

 

My dad taught me to run our business like it is a restaurant….with intense customer service seeking the highest quality customer satisfaction and marketing our company through the most important asset any business has….”good will” and reaching out to each customer to make them know how much you care.

One great thing about our industry is the people who are attracted to be our co-workers. It is not the highest paying industry and has the worst hours, but it has the most loyal. To my dad, the most valuable associate at Eli’s was his team of busy boys who could reset a table in what seemed seconds. Never would a water glass remain half empty or a customer need unattended to. When we were forced to announce that Eli’s the Place for Steak would be closing in 6 months, we lost one person out of 50—everyone else stayed to the end.

In our bakery business which now employs over 220 associates, we have attracted many individuals with food service back grounds and our turnover is minimal. Eli’s the Place for Steak had a run of 39 years and many of our people at Eli’s Cheesecake now have over 20 years of service.

Our people have demonstrated amazing fortitude getting to work on the biggest snow storm in Chicago in a dozen years, learning new skills as our business evolves and sharing our concern for the customer. We are fortunate to have diverse group of associates including new immigrants and refugees who bring compelling stories from their countries of birth, recent high school graduates who continue their studies at our neighbor and educational partner, Wright College, and individuals with disabilities who job shadow with us while studying at Vaughn High School or are referred by the Anixter Center if they are hearing impaired.

 

Today I want to thank Peter Rainsford and his wife Fran for introducing me to the CIA.  It is about professionalism….about the ability to know how to give a customer the best experience possible…each of you having that magic of Eli or a Steve Jobs.

 

Today our business is all about our culinary skills and our knowledge in food….procurement, safety, preparation. My great passion is education…in Chicago with the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences…a college prep high school located on the last working farm in the City of Chicago. I see these young people get outstanding training in food science, animal science, crop sciences and horticulture….all fields so closely aligned to the Farm to Fork Movement that is so important today. Equally important is that these student “learn though doing”….obviously something that your education is all about. In an economy that needs critical thinkers and leaders in science, technology, engineering and math….you have been forced to master so many fundamentals to make sure your cakes rise, cheesecake’s don’t crack and have enough sugar.

I also congratulate you on joining an industry that gives so much back to the community. From hosting dinners to supporting food banks and education, there is no group that gives more than restaurateurs.

So I am here today to congratulate you as the “Masters of Universe;” not because you will to Wall Street to buy and sell companies but because you will create and build the successful restaurants and hospitality companies of the future… You make things and you will make a difference.

Congratulations Graduates! Go Steels!