The Grand Connection is AOT’s profile series designed to connect Arizona’s tourism industry through the experiences and insights of those who drive it. We’ll include leaders, but these profiles aren’t limited to only those in the executive office. We’re striving to bring you perspectives from all across our amazingly diverse industry. Everyone has something to share and an experience from which we all can learn.
THE GRAND CONNECTION: STEVE CHUCRI, PRESIDENT & CEO, ARIZONA RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION
Steve Chucri was born in Mesa and has spent his career serving the public and helping Arizona businesses and residents grow and thrive. And as president & CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association for the past two decades, he’s also been instrumental in driving the substantial growth, modernization and increasing diversity of Arizona’s spectacular restaurant industry.
It’s no secret that visitors seek out unique culinary experiences as a part of most vacations. Arizona’s attractiveness as a place to live and start a business has also resulted in a boom in the variety of restaurants available for travelers – and residents – to try something new.
In this month’s Grand Connection profile in honor of Arizona Restaurant Week, Steve shares how Arizona Restaurant Week was born, why Arizona is such a popular place to open a restaurant and the importance of showcasing the state’s culinary scene to potential visitors. Spring AZ Restaurant Week runs May 19 - May 28, 2023.
What’s your favorite thing about the Arizona restaurant experience?
I’m most fascinated by the culinary diversity that has taken place across our state. The number of chefs and unique food offerings on menus has never been this strong or multifaceted and it serves as a tribute to the hard work and thoughtfulness that goes into running a successful restaurant today. It’s even more exciting to walk into a restaurant and feel the energy our guests bring into our dining room. There’s nothing better!
What’s one aspect of your job as Arizona Restaurant Association (ARA) CEO that might surprise people?
For some reason many people believe I/we at ARA inspect restaurants as the health inspector…we don’t! Many people also think I get every meal for free when I dine out…which would be a “no” again.
Some people may not make the direct connection between amazing dining and successful tourism. Can you share a story or insight on the connection here?
There is a wonderful connection between amazing dining and successful tourism and it’s called Arizona Restaurant Week.
Nearly 10 years ago we started receiving calls from out-of-state residents wanting to come to Arizona at the same time we were hosting our Arizona Restaurant Week. The calls started to grow so much each and every year that we began including these visitors on our email list so they would know the dates for both our Spring and Fall Arizona Restaurant Weeks.
What makes Arizona such a special destination for culinary experiences?
Arizona is a melting pot of America, not necessarily in the cultural sense, but in having people from the Midwest and recently California moving here. Those unique characteristics have made Arizona become more and more popular for restaurant brands to try a second or fourth location out of their home state and into Arizona.
With retirees, a growing and dynamic business industry and affordability, Arizona has become a magnet for people moving here. That is not lost on restaurants that want to grow their brands in a state that offers that type of growth and opportunity.
How have you and ARA helped restaurants navigate the extreme challenges from recent years?
The COVID time period made the ARA and restaurants understand each other better and brought us closer together. The pivot our industry had to make during COVID is unparalleled by anything I have ever had to do in this role. The result is that it made our industry stronger, more resilient and improved customer service. Constant communication was key to our success.
From your perspective, what opportunities should Arizona’s tourism industry pursue during the next 5 years?
I believe we need to constantly showcase all that Arizona’s culinary scene has to offer through our tourism outlets. AOT and the industry did a fabulous job this year with the culmination of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Super Bowl LVII and Cactus League Spring Training all being on the heels of each other. We received so many compliments about the industry and the success of all of the combined activities in the rapid fashion in which they occurred.
Which Arizona tourism experience (that you haven’t had yet) are you looking forward to doing?
I keep promising my family to go and experience Bearizona. At this point, with my kids entering college and high school it may prove to be more challenging…..but I will do it!