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Melvin R. Thompson, 2014 Foodservice Leader of the Year

Melvin R. Thompson, 2014 Foodservice Leader of the Year photo credit: MISA ME Photography

Melvin R. Thompson, 2014 Foodservice Leader of the Year
photo credit: MISA ME Photography

As Foodservice Monthly turns twelve, our Mid-Atlantic trade newsmagazine for the foodservice professional sees the hospitality landscape as one of great opportunity. On a national, regional, state and local level the challenges are ever present in tough economic and political times. But through the leadership of the people who make our marketplace so vibrant, our part of the hospitality world has grown and the future continues to shine. It takes special leaders to dedicate their work to making sure the moving parts go in the direction of long-term success for our industry and businesses. For 2014 we recognize that leader as Melvin R. Thompson, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs and Public Policy for the Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM).

About the Foodservice Leader of the Year Award

Foodservice Monthly printed its first issue in 2002 with its dedicated mission to report on and support the foodservice industry of the Mid-Atlantic. After five years, in 2007, we decided it was time to recognize the excellence driven heroes of the industry – the leaders who make a difference in our hospitality world.

The inspiration for the award came from a 1980s series of ads created for the United Technology Corporation (UTC). The ads used succinct messages of corporate and personal keys to success. One in particular stood out. I framed it and used it as a reminder of what I wanted to be as I “managed” food and beverage departments in my hotel days. It was called, “Let’s Get Rid of Management.” It began, “People don’t want to be managed. They want to be led. Whoever heard of a world manager? World leader, yes.” Down the page the point was reiterated, “They lead, they don’t manage.” Finally, “If you want to manage somebody, manage yourself.” Foodservice Monthly is recognizing such a leader in Melvin Thompson.

Melvin R. Thompson

In naming Melvin Thompson, FSM once again continued its tradition of recognizing those leaders who are actively engaged in the industry. This is not a lifetime achievement award, although these fast-track men and women have long lists of great accomplishments that clearly measure their success. Even more relevant to the future is that they are still engaged … still blazing new paths of excellence and accomplishments.

Melvin Thompson came to RAM in June 2001 after a stint cooking in a fine dining restaurant in Maryland and after working for a Member of Congress. Thompson told FSM, “I have always loved the restaurant industry, which is why I had quit my Capitol Hill job to gain restaurant experience.” Regarding the new direction in his career path he said, “I was surprised and excited to find a job opportunity that allowed me to use both my political and restaurant industry experience. I was offered the job and I eagerly accepted.

Today, Thompson is the most visible, vigilant representative of restaurants in the legislative and regulatory halls. In a bi-weekly report to RAM Board members, one can see Thompson’s schedule is full well beyond the obvious state legislative session requirements that open each January in Annapolis. Here are a few snippets from his schedule:

 

  • To help mitigate the impact on full-service restaurants, successfully lobbied for an amendment to the recently passed Montgomery County minimum wage bill to allow tipped employees to be paid a minimum cash wage of 50 percent of the state minimum wage.
  • Secured wage/hour and human resources speakers for industry seminar in the afternoon before the Taste of Maryland reception.
  • Testified at Prince George’s County minimum wage hearing. RAM coordinated 23 restaurant and hotel witnesses.
  • Met with Little Italy restaurants to discuss Baltimore City’s new Fats, Oil, Grease (FOG) abatement program, valet parking and food truck legislation.

FSM asked Thompson about the critical issues facing restaurants in the upcoming year … from state to local entities. In this question and answer session, he provides insight into the process and the effort needed.

Q: What should we expect from Annapolis this year?

Thompson: While the Maryland General Assembly Legislative Session begins on January 8, most bills are not introduced until later in January. This makes it difficult to predict before then what the critical issues will be for our industry.  We should know a lot more when we present our 2014 Legislative Session Preview on January 20 during our Taste of Maryland pre-event seminar.  However, our industry has a lot of concerns about the following two issues that will likely receive significant debate this year:

MINIMUM WAGE

With 2014 being an election year for Maryland officials, there is a big push and growing political support for raising the statewide minimum wage. RAM helped to defeat similar efforts last year, but we expect a much tougher fight this year.

PAID SICK LEAVE

We expect paid sick leave legislation to be introduced again this year. However, many lawmakers remain wary about approving such a mandate on Maryland businesses because only a handful of other jurisdictions nationwide have enacted such policies.

Q: How has the political process has changed in the last 15 years.

Thompson: I think the most significant change has been the growing presence and influence of issue advocacy groups at the state and local level. We’ve long seen such well-organized groups advocating in Washington, but they were rarely involved at the state and local level. Today’s technology has made it a lot easier for these groups to engage a large number of advocates in a short period of time for hearings, demonstrations, legislative meetings and email/telephone campaigns. Business owners often cannot afford to spend as much time on legislative issues as these other advocates. But business owners also cannot afford to be crowded out of the process or have their voices diminished by these other groups. This is why it’s so important for business owners to belong to an industry trade group and to take quick action on legislative issues when requested so that the business community remains relevant in the legislative process.

Q: How has the local political landscape evolved and how do you keep up with all the issues?

Thompson: In recent years, there has been an explosion in business-related legislation at the local level. The days of local governments focusing primarily on zoning issues and property taxes are long gone. It has become difficult to keep up with reviewing the agendas and legislation in local jurisdictions, especially during the busy General Assembly Session in Annapolis. I focus primarily on monitoring the largest jurisdictions (Montgomery County, Prince George’s, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel, Howard and Frederick).  I sometimes receive a phone call from a member of our Government Affairs Committee or from a RAM member to alert me about an important industry issue mentioned in a local newspaper. I’m also involved with a group of other small business lobbyists who share such information that one of us may have discovered. The speed with which some legislation can be introduced and passed requires us to rely on as many eyes and ears as we can muster.  

Q: How do you work with the RAM membership?

Thompson: Our Government Affairs Committee (GAC) is a group of about 20 RAM members who are interested in politics, legislation, regulation and other public policy matters. They include single-unit and multi-unit restaurant operators, suppliers and industry service providers. They also represent different parts of the state, which gives us remarkable insight about local politics when necessary. During the General Assembly Session (January – April), we meet every two weeks to review legislation that may affect the industry in particular or small business in general. The GAC examines bill language, assesses any impact on industry/business, and determines RAM’s official position on the legislation.  GAC members also assist our legislative efforts by testifying at hearings or making phone calls to legislators with whom they have relationships.

Q: What do you see as your biggest accomplishment/s in helping Maryland restaurants?

Thompson: This is a tough question to answer because not all of the issues I work on affect the various member locations or segments of our industry in the same way. To some of our members (especially those in Bethesda or Ocean City, for example), our successful legislation that forced the state health department to change regulations in order to allow open dining area windows/doors during warm weather without requiring unsightly screens was a big accomplishment.  To some of our members, fixing the unintended consequences of the 2011 alcohol sales tax law was a big accomplishment. To some of our members, defeating a proposed moratorium on new quick-service restaurants in Prince George’s County, which proponents believed would help curb obesity, was a big accomplishment. To me, every accomplishment is a big accomplishment to those members who benefit from it.

Melvin R. Thompson is a leader … a dedicated foodservice professional working for the members of the Restaurant Association of Maryland. We all benefit from his thorough assessment of the issues, his ability to talk and present in all arenas, his record of success for the members and his passion for his life work. Melvin is the 2014 Foodservice Leader of the Year.

Foodservice Monthly Leaders of the Year

2007: Marcia Harris, the late President and CEO, Restaurant Association of Maryland

2008: Tom Meyer, President, Clyde’s Restaurant Group

2009: David Wizenberg, Gus DiMillo and Jeff Tunks, Partners, Passion Food Hospitality

2010: Lynne Breaux, Past President, Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington

2011: Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray, Partners, Equinox

2012: Susan Jones, Executive Director, Ocean City Hotel Motel Restaurant Association

2013: John Snedden, Owner, Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company

2014: Melvin R. Thompson, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs and Public Policy

About the Author

Michael Birchenall is Editor and Publisher of Foodservice Monthly, a regional trade publication covering the foodservice industry of the Mid-Atlantic (DE, DC, MD, VA). Foodservice Monthly has been recognized as the Restaurant Association of Maryland's Allied Industry Member of the Year and by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington as the Joan Hisaoka Associate Member of the Year.

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