The event will take place at the Steppenwolf Theatre on September 23.

Welcome Conference 2019
Credit: Evan Sung

The Welcome Conference, a lively day-long forum on issues affecting the hospitality industry, is branching out of New York for the first time ever. This fall, there will be a Welcome Conference in Chicago, held on September 23 at the Steppenwolf Theatre. Since its founding in 2014 by hosts Will Guidara and Anthony Rudolf (who are now joined by Brian Canlis), the Welcome Conference brings together the most influential leaders in food and beverage, as well as experts from other fields, for an engaging day of talks and panels on the subject of hospitality. The general theme of the Chicago conference will be hospitality, as it was for the first year of the conference in New York.

The decision to transport the conference to Chicago wasn't an easy one. "We pour so much time, effort, and emotion into the conference each year – it’s one of the highlights of our careers – and because of that it’s always been hard to think about expanding it beyond the single event day in New York City," said Rudolf in an email. "Nearly every year we talk with our team about what else we might do, where else we could take it, but we return back to the same idea of focusing on where we are because it takes so much to make it what it has become."

Guidara says that they were approached by Kevin Boehm and Donnie Madia, both past speakers, after the 2018 conference in New York, about bringing the conference to Chicago "and creating a smaller, regional version of it."

"At first, honestly, we were worried about the idea," Guidara said. "Not because of their ability to make it special, but because the idea of expansion had always given us pause. Having friends like them come to us asking to bring it to their city meant a lot. And their hands, two people who get what the conference is all about, in a city with such a remarkable history of hospitality, we realized how exciting this truly could be."

Speakers for the upcoming conference will be announced in the coming months.

“Donnie and I have attended the Welcome Conference since its beginning," said Kevin Boehm, co-founder of Boka Restaurant Group. "Every year, we both would leave the conference incredibly inspired by the theme, talks and the entire hospitality community. At the same time, we always felt that Chicago could benefit to have a similar experience in closer proximity, which is why we initially approached Brian, Will, and Anthony to bring the Welcome Conference to our hometown."