And I continue to blog for the NRA, where the “R” stands for RESTAURANT. RESTAURANT, people, RESTAURANT.

Every week (or so—sometimes I run out of time and it’s not quite as regular) I contribute a piece to the blog for National Restaurant Association Show.

“Someone just handed me this box of water! I love Chicago!!” is what I’m thinking as I took this shot, swept up in the Show atmosphere. Besides, that is a pretty interesting box on which some clever restaurant’s branding might be crying to live.
“Someone just handed me this box of water! I love Chicago!!” is what I’m thinking as I took this shot, swept up in the party atmosphere as I wait in line for the NRA Show shuttle bus outside my hotel. Besides, that is a pretty interesting box on which some clever restaurant’s branding might be crying to live.

It came about when I offered to help the National Restaurant Association in some capacity, and they said, “Well, what if you wander the floor at the 2014 Show [which happened this spring] and talk to people about what they’re learning, and then also just take note of anything you see that’s interesting.” The idea is if people can see ongoing examples of the stuff that happens at the show, it will recruit even more attendees next year.

So you can check out what I’ve written for them, if you like, by clicking on the links in the previous paragraph.

This was the latest one I contributed, and I’m putting it here because they can’t use it—apparently, the guy I’m writing about was not an exhibitor. He was a rogue!! And in fairness to their exhibitors, of course, they can’t encourage rogues.

Rogue Boxed Water Sales Dude! Maverick! Scofflaw!
Rogue Boxed Water Sales Dude! Doesn’t he just look like a rogue? I should have known.

So anyway, here’s something that happened to me at the NRA Show, that I thought was intriguing.

“EXPLORING THE FLOOR: DISCOVERING BOXED WATER”

August 11, 2014  |  Posted by Charlie Hopper, guest blogger

It might be a little more accurate to file this under “Exploring The Shuttle Stop,” although if you’re willing to be liberal with the term “floor,” I was definitely within the invisible dome over downtown Chicago created by the NRA Show, waiting for the bus that would take me and a bunch of other showgoers from our hotel to McCormick Place.

A clever man who turned out to be named Matt Merson, VP of Sales for Boxed Water, was walking up and down the line of people waiting for the bus, which typically takes a few minutes to arrive. He was handing out boxes of water. The lightly waxed (or otherwise coated) cardboard boxes were the shape of a quart of milk, but shrunk down to hold about 16 ounces of water (it doesn’t have the ounces marked, so I’m estimating). The top is just like one of those little boxes of milk you’d get in kindergarten.

Even though Matt is a pretty willful sales presence, the little box immediately evokes nostalgia.

“Boxed water. No plastic,” he was repeating to the people standing in the NRA Show shuttle bus line. “Better for the environment. Easier to store…”

I thanked him as he handed me mine, and asked him what people were telling him about the boxed water. “Well, I’m not a fashion guy,” he said. He was wearing one of those shirts with a collar and the logo of the company over his heart, where another shirt might have an Izod alligator or something, so, okay. “But people who do know design really like the design of the packaging, and the possibilities…”

I nodded. The box is off-white with bold, san-serif font type that reads, boldly, “Boxed Water Is Better.” Its blankness sort of reminded me of those generic products of the seventies. It was a blankness that was crying out for some kind of artwork.

On the bus, I turned to the guy behind me. “Have you seen these?”

The guy was Roger Brandes of Willy’s Mexican Grill. “Yeah. No plastics.”

“Yeah, so it’s environmental, then. Is that important to you?”

He looked like maybe he thought I would think it should be important to him but if he wasn’t going to lie to me, maybe it was only a little important and in the end not that important. He didn’t say that, it’s just the impression I got. “I mean, look at it,” he said. “You could brand your concept with it, it’s something you could brand. Everyone’s looking for different ways to make a statement.”

I agreed with that. I was turning the box over in my hand and we were both looking at it as the bus bounced its way toward the Show.

“It’s kind of the blinding flash of the obvious,” he said, smiling wryly. I started writing that down and smiling. He said it again, reflectively. “The blinding flash of the obvious.”

The Blinding Flash of the Obvious.
“The Blinding Flash of the Obvious,” says Roger Brandes of Willy’s Mexican Grill on the dimly lit shuttle bus which bounced a lot and made his photo blurry because, ironically—and this is just how perfectly life sets up ironic puns sometimes—I was not using a blinding flash, obviously.