Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Bremer.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Karen. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I had to fib about my age to do it, but at 15, I was getting my first taste of the hospitality world. I started working in an S&S Cafeteria as the food checker, the person who put the ticket on the edge of your tray so you could pay at the end of the line.
My parents went to Canada as refugees from Germany after World War II, but we moved to Florida when I was 10. So the hard part about working at S&S Cafeteria was that I didn’t know American, and certainly not Southern, food very well. I had to look up eggplant and zucchini in the encyclopedia. At home, we had cauliflower, potatoes, cabbage, and apples, but sweet potatoes? Do you add sugar to them?
I think that’s when I really fell in love with opening restaurants. I got to help with interviewing and recruiting to put a team together. Then all of a sudden, a restaurant opened with customers and employees. I loved teaching the importance of consistency, food quality, how to take care of guests — the genuine spirit of hospitality.
To me, restaurants are more than just a place to eat; they’re places for engagements, wedding anniversaries, job interviews, etc. I then came onto the Atlanta food scene as an executive trainee with the Peasant Group, a chain of upscale eateries led by Steve Nygren, the founder, and president of the Serenbe development in south Fulton County.
I branched out in 2000, starting my own group anchored by two premier downtown dining spots: The City Grill and Dailey’s. But the recession and that freak downtown tornado felled them both; in 2009, I conceded and closed the doors. It took more than a year to shut the two businesses down, and while pondering my next move, the invitation came to take over the GRA’s top spot.
I was tapped as the executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association in 2010. I had to teach myself to be a lobbyist. Luckily, I had some good relationships there since many of the legislators had dined at City Grill or Dailey’s, and I knew a lot of them.”
GRA doubled its staff of five and increased memberships as well. It now represents the business interests of over 4,000 restaurants, still a fraction of the state’s 18,000 eateries that employ more than 446,600 workers.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Coming into my role at the Georgia Restaurant Association, it was a whole new environment for me in terms of job skills. I was used to managing and operating a restaurant, and then I was suddenly in association management. I had to learn how to be a lobbyist and understand how the legislative process works. I am not an attorney or come from a government affairs background, so there was certainly a learning curve.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
The Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA) works to protect and add to the bottom line of the restaurant industry with pre-emptive legislation, protection from frivolous lawsuits, to support Pro-Restaurant candidates. The GRA provides adequate representation in local government on issues like predictive scheduling, training regulations, extending alcohol sales, and more.
We offer workshops, produces issue briefs, position papers and other materials to educate our members and elected officials about restaurant industry positions.
We work year-round with regulators and candidates for office to protect what matters most and we engage in activities to enhance the advocacy position of the association through hosting events that recognize our members and elected officials for their work on behalf of the industry.
We’re also here to promote the restaurant industry’s importance to the Georgia economy and community by increasing the presence of our elected officials at industry events and highlighting industry achievements in our local communities.
I am most proud of the fact that we serve as the voice for Georgia’s restaurants. We can truly make an impact for restaurant operators while they focus on their day-to-day business.
Our team members have all worked in the industry at some point, and therefore have the experience and knowledge to work on behalf of the industry. We speak with passion and conviction because we understand the industry, and know how the actions of the government can harm the industry.
What were you like growing up?
My mother always used to say I was the bossiest 5-year-old you would ever meet. I have an older brother, but I was sort of the leader of the family. And I always used to talk to strangers.