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National Restaurant Association hires Emily Knight to foster unity

The Texas Restaurant Association chief is charged with ensuring the association speaks for all operations, including independents.
Photo courtesy of National Restaurant Association

The National Restaurant Association has hired Texas Restaurant Association CEO Emily Knight as chief collaboration officer and EVP of industry relations, a newly created job intended to strengthen the association’s voice in speaking for restaurants of all sorts, including small independents.

Coming from one of the industry’s largest state associations, Knight is also expected to help strengthen the ties between the national organization and its state affiliates.

“Independent restaurants, such as mine, are facing a unique set of challenges as we begin to reopen and rebuild our businesses,” Brian Casey, this year’s chairman of the National Restaurant Association and owner-operator of Oak Hill Tavern in North Kingstown, R.I., said in a statement. “Emily’s experience, including as a state restaurant association executive, working with restaurants of all business models, will benefit the National Restaurant Association members and strengthen our national, state, and local partnerships.”

During the pandemic, a group of big-name independent operators banded together to form their own lobbying group, the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC). The group maintained that its voice was not being heard by Congress and the White House, and it commenced to push for billions in relief funding specifically for independents. 

“One year ago, independent restaurants and bars didn’t have a seat at the table in Washington,” Tom Colicchio, the famed New York City restaurateur and a founder of the IRC, said in a statement.

Independents account for about 70% of the Texas Restaurant Association’s membership, Knight said in an interview. During her relatively short tenure in leading the association, membership doubled, and Knight was credited with working closely with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in promoting and protecting the industry’s interests. She also worked with local congressmen to foster national legislation that benefited Texas operators.

Knight was named CEO and president of the Texas group in May 2019.

She describes her mission at the National Restaurant Association as “coalition building and driving change,” and sees the job as “a role that would bring us together with one voice.”

Part of that focus will be on improving communication among all constituents and parties within the National Restaurant Association. “When we join together, we have a lot of force,” Knight says.

As for uniting all types of restaurants, “I can bring that bridge-building to the role,” she adds.

Knight started her career in Pizza Hut’s Management Training Program, after earning a degree in hospitality management from Boston University. She served as a catering manager of a hotel, but most of her career has been spent in education. Prior to taking the top job at the Texas Restaurant Association, she served as managing director of Higher Education North America at Study Group, a group that promotes international education, and was, president of Kendall College in Chicago.

She holds a doctorate in higher education from Walden University.

Knight says she will begin her transition to her new job in May but will continue to work with the Texas Restaurant Association through August. An executive search firm has been retained by the state group to find her replacement, she adds.

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