While the U.S. continues to recover from the recession, states in the Northeast have lagged, with slower employment growth than the national average. That’s hampering consumer spending in states such as Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts – states where Panera Bread franchisee Howley Bread Group operates and is growing nonetheless.

“We’re in markets that are economically soft, but we’re taking share in this stagnant environment because we’re operating very proactively, emphasizing speed and friendly service,” says Lee Howley, president and CEO of Howley Bread Group.

Chicago-area residents have no shortage of options when it comes to gaming. Five of Illinois’ 10 licensed casinos are located within 50 miles of the city, and the potential of more licenses is a regular topic of discussion among state lawmakers. Casinos aren’t the only places to engage in a game of chance in the region, as the state in 2009 approved allowing more than 13,000 video poker and slot machines in bars and restaurants across Illinois. 

With so many options available, and more on the way, one of the region’s most established casinos is distinguishing itself by offering the best possible experiences and amenities. Harrah’s Joliet, a barge-based casino located for nearly 21 years on the Des Plaines River in Joliet, Ill., strives to create a welcoming environment similar to the bar in the classic TV series “Cheers”: “Where everyone knows your name.” 

Gourmet Dining LLC’s ability to build personalized relationships with its clients has allowed the company to carve out its own regional niche in an industry dominated by large national players. All of the Madison, N.J.-based foodservice company’s accounts are located in the northern New Jersey/New York region, which allows its managers to take a hands-on approach to its customers. Although locally based, Gourmet recently aligned with Compass Group to grow in its niche market.

Universities comprise the majority of Gourmet’s accounts. “We look for good partners who want to build long-term relationships and improve their student-focused dining programs,” Vice President of Marketing Julie Aiello says.

In a world where people are more focused on their smart phone than the person next to them, Greer Companies works to break that isolation by making a personal connection and wowing its customers – even if it’s for only one meal at one of its restaurants.

The Lexington, Ky.-based company owns 40 Cheddar’s franchises throughout its home state, as well as in Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. It also operates Marriott and Hilton hotels in Virginia, Ohio, Virginia and Florida. In March 2013, Greer Companies opened its first independent restaurant concept, Coba Cocina, which brings different tastes and designs from around the world to Lexington. 

In 2008, when DLR Restaurants LLC President and COO Ralph McCracken was researching the purchase of Dick’s Last Resort with the investment group Triton Pacific Capital, he would strike up conversations with people sitting next to him on airplanes who had visited one of the irreverent chain’s distinctive locations.

“The first thing they did was smile, and they had some kind of crazy story,” McCracken recalls. “They never remembered what they had to eat, but they remembered they had a great time.”

For anyone who hasn’t been to Dick’s, it’s pretty much like wandering into a Halloween party without a costume. People go there in multigenerational groups of family members, business associates or friends to party with or without their kids – often to celebrate a significant occasion, such as a bachelor or bachelorette party – and have a good time. Carefully trained to employ Dick’s distinctive party hats, jokes and techniques, the front-of-house greeter and servers have gregarious personalities that engage customers and get them laughing.

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