Entrepreneurs honored for achieving their dreams in restaurant operations

The National Restaurant Association honored three restaurant entrepreneurs with the 2012 Faces of Diversity American Dream awards. The award recognizes those who have achieved the American Dream of entrepreneurship in the restaurant industry. In addition to the award, a $2,500 scholarship was given to a student in their honor.

This year's winners are:

Jorge Levy, Desperados Mexican Restaurant, Dallas, Texas: Originally from Mexico, Levy began working at age seven to help his family following the death of his father. When he was 16, his family moved to America. Levy learned English and worked in restaurants to help support his family. After a life-changing experience in the military, Levy pursued his dream of opening a restaurant of his own. The restaurant, now in its 36th year of continual operation, is a fixture on the Dallas restaurant scene and in the Dallas community.

Bahjat Shariff, Panera Bread/Howley Bread Group, Cumberland, R.I.: When he was 18, Bahjat Shariff left his family and a war-torn Lebanon to come to America. Shariff took a part time job at KFC, a decision that would change his life. He stayed at KFC for ten years, working his way up from part-time cook to market manager. Shariff's career continued at several national chains, and resulted in his present ownership position at the Howley Bread Group, the fourth highest volume Panera Bread franchise.

Leah Chase, Dooky Chase Restaurant, New Orleans, Louisiana: Known as the "Queen of Creole Cuisine," Leah Chase has been on the frontlines of the Civil Rights movement, a pioneer of Creole cooking and a long-time promoter of African American art. Growing up in a segregated New Orleans, Chase learned about the restaurant business from the ground up. After marrying in 1945, Chase began working for her husband's family's restaurant, eventually converting the menu to reflect her Creole roots. At 89 years old, Chase is still running the kitchen of Dooky Chase Restaurant.