Texas Border Business
By Roberto Hugo González
The occasion was none other than the prestigious President’s Dinner for the Texas Restaurant Association’s (TRA) Legislative Wins. The spotlight was on Russell Walker, the General Manager of Macaroni Grill – one of the best Italian restaurants in McAllen, as he warmly welcomed Texas Border Business to cover the grand celebration.
Russell Walker, with a history of managing Macaroni Grill for the past 15 years, a success under Walker’s management is a devotion to serving primarily Italian cuisine, with specialties ranging from various pasta dishes to grilled salmon and chicken under the brick.
Walker’s enthusiasm was palpable as he discussed what Macaroni Grill offers but also the significance of the night’s event. “This is our Annual President’s dinner with the Texas Restaurant Association. It’s definitely a very important date for everyone that is in the restaurant business, and crucial for our community and all of the other restaurateurs,” he shared.
Originating from Austin, TRA had showcased an unparalleled dedication during the groundbreaking 88th Texas Legislative Session, achieving an astounding 70 wins in 70 days. The association’s diligent tracking of 1,143 bills, 25+ offensive wins, and 45+ defensive wins exemplified their bipartisan and collaborative spirit. Their commitment was further underlined by sending over 2,889 emails to lawmakers and testifying 22 times before legislative committees. The result was a commendable 100% success rate in blocking harmful bills, signaling a golden era for the food service sector.
The ambiance of Salome on Main mirrored the victorious spirit of the legislative session, echoing the association’s ongoing commitment to protecting these achievements while setting sights on broader milestones across local, state, and federal levels. The night was not just a reflection of TRA’s victories but also an example of the collective aspirations and growth of the restaurant industry.
Walker spoke sincerely about the role of the TRA in addressing the challenges faced by the restaurant community in Congress. He highlighted the importance of the association in securing wins that would have a lasting impact on the restaurateurs and the communities they serve. Leaders at TRA addressed the challenges that we’ve been faced with in Congress as well as some of the wins that we’ve seen as well,” he added, reflecting on the significance of the association’s work.
In the charming ambiance of Salome on Main, the evening was not just about celebrating victories; it was also a platform for reflection and discussion. Walker dug deeper into the intricacies of the restaurant industry, speaking about the Rio Grande Valley Association and the innumerable challenges faced by restaurant operators and owners.
When asked about the Rio Grande Valley Association, Walker highlighted its crucial role and the collective strength derived from its members. “The idea of this celebration is to give the state of the industry, but there is also an interest in attracting more members into the association. We do a whole lot more with numbers. So, the more, the merrier; this is our voice for the industry and your opportunity to express your needs,” he explained. The invitation was clear – if you seek a seat at the table and want to voice your concerns, joining the organization and becoming a board member is the path forward.
The challenges within the restaurant industry are as diverse as the culinary offerings on a menu. “There are different challenges in each sector, whether you’re a fast-casual, casual dining, or even fine dining. Everybody’s got different challenges,” Walker pointed out. This diversity in challenges necessitates a diverse membership within the association, enabling individuals from various sectors to voice their unique concerns and contribute to holistic solutions.
With years of experience as an operator, Walker shared his perspective on the challenges he faces, noting the cost of goods, constant fluctuations, and varying taxes on alcohol and food as significant hurdles. “It is just a broad range of challenges that we’re faced with,” he shared, expressing optimism that other board members could provide a well-rounded view on the challenges affecting the organization.
Personnel challenges were another key point of discussion, with Walker highlighting the difficulties in hiring and finding quality employees. However, he also noted improvements in this area, with more people showing interest in joining the industry. Solutions to encourage more applications, such as childcare support, were pondered upon, demonstrating the industry’s commitment to addressing these challenges.
In concluding the conversation, Walker extended an open invitation to join the organization and support the restaurant association. “I’d just like to invite people to come out and join this organization and help support the restaurant association,” he said, his words resonating with the essence of unity and collective growth that had characterized the evening.