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Not long after graduating from Virginia Tech University with a degree in Public Relations, Laura Kimmel found work as a receptionist at the Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM). That was seven years ago. Today, she is the association's Director of Membership and Marketing, a position she has held since 2010.
"This will be my seventh year here," she stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "I've grown a lot, I've learned a lot, and I have worn many different hats here from logistics coordinator of our 10,000-person Expo to planning our 700-person awards gala to now managing and directing membership and marketing."
Her duties and responsibilities are many. Chiefly, though, her job is to make sure RAM is getting its message out to Maryland restaurants that the association is there to help them succeed. "We also work to let the dining public know that Maryland restaurants are great and that there are many to choose from. "
She continued, "Marketing to the dining public -- that hasn't been something that most state restaurant associations usually focus on. Maryland is one of the first states to do that. We want people to know that there are great places to eat whenever they go on vacation in the state or just try a new place down the road. In the past couple of years, we've also really listened more to what restaurant operators need, and we have tried to focus on those things the most. Everyone can save a restaurateur money. But we really want to help drive business their way also."
Kimmel recalled taking two courses in college that put her on the path towards the hospitality sector. One was on Crisis Management, the other was Chemistry of Brewing. "The beverage end of the business fascinates me," she said. "Everyone is trying to have the best beverage menu possible, whether that is increasing the number of craft brews they serve or making sure they have more than just house wines to specialty cocktails that use local ingredients. I think everyone is just constantly trying to make their beverage menu stand out and gauging what their customers want to drink and what will drive people to their places as opposed to someone else's."
Of the trends that have emerged in recent years, Kimmel said she remains most intrigued by the farm-to-table, buy-local movement. She remarked, "There are many more restaurants that are participating and showing customers where their food is coming from. It's been a couple of years, but I still think that's an important trend."
Looking ahead, Kimmel says she is excited that RAM's annual awards gala will start to travel out of the Baltimore-Howard County area and around the state. "This year, we will have our first gala on the Eastern Shore!" she exclaimed.
She is also looking forward to the Taste of Maryland Legislative Reception on Jan. 20 in which approximately 400 restaurateurs and state legislators will get together to kick off the next legislative session. "It's a chance for restaurant operators to have their voice heard," she noted. "Wine and Dine and Speak Your Mind is kind of our slogan."
On a personal note, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation recently nominated her as one of Howard County's Finest Individuals Under 39. "I am humbled and happy about this. In accepting the award, you help raise money to benefit those dealing with cystic fibrosis and for the Maryland chapter."
But Kimmel doesn't talk long about personal accolades. She'd much rather speak of RAM's mission, where it's headed, and how far it has come in recent years. "We're a statewide organization," she stated, "so I get to see different pockets throughout the entire state. I think there are many different towns and cities that are up and coming in the culinary scene. Frederick has a lot of places opening, because it's an area that more and more people are relocating to. Ocean City is another place where it seems like a new and exciting place is opening every time I open my eyes. Lots of great things are happening in Baltimore city, too."
She concluded, "We want to get our statewide message across to areas that aren't necessarily Baltimore, Montgomery County, the Eastern Shore. We're really trying to [reach out] to Caroline County, Allegheny County, and some of the smaller areas and letting them know that their state trade association is a group they can rely on and that we care very much about them."
BORN AND RAISED IN: Silver Spring, Md.
ALMA MATER: Virginia Tech University
FAVORITE MOVIE: "Almost Famous"
CAN'T MISS TV SHOW: "Nashville"
BEST BEERS: Dogfish Head and Evolution. ("I'm also a big Natty Bo fan!")
FAVORITE WINE: Cabernet Sauvignon
GO-TO COCKTAIL: "I'm a sucker for margaritas. I'm also an Eastern Shore girl at heart, so you'll often find me with an Orange Crush."
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