The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) announced the winners of its 2015 Restaurant Neighbor and Faces of Diversity American Dream awards.
The Foundation's Restaurant Neighbor Award, recognizes charitable service performed by restaurant operators. The Faces of Diversity American Dream Award is given to diverse members of the restaurant industry who have, through hard work and perseverance, achieved the American Dream.
Here are the four recipients of the Good Neighbor Awards:
- Ollie's Restaurant (Edwardsville, Pa.): Since 2011, Ollie's Restaurant has provided six meals a week to children at risk of hunger through its Dinners for Kids program. Currently, staff and volunteers prepare and deliver 37,000 meals annually for 120 children. Because Ollie's uses its own kitchen facilities to cook and package meals, 100 percent of the funds raised for Dinners for Kids — $250,000 to date — are used for meal costs. King's college conducted research and found that the program has a positive impact on the children's behavior and academic performance.
- The King's Kitchen/Jim Noble Restaurants (Charlotte, N.C.): In 2008, the Jim Noble Restaurants formed a separate nonprofit restaurant, the King's Kitchen, with 100 percent of its proceeds used to feed the less fortunate. The kitchen also provides job training opportunities for homeless men and women. At least once a week, the staff provides boxed lunches and distributes sandwiches to those living on the streets.
- Cornerstone Humanitarians: Ryan Turner, Chris Hall & Todd Mussman, Founders, Unsukay Community of Businesses (Atlanta, Ga.): In response to an employee who was diagnosed with stage 4 gallbladder cancer and given a grave prognosis that warranted major funding beyond his health insurance coverage to pursue progressive healthcare options, the founders led the charge on hosting a community fundraiser and raised nearly $300,000 within a four-week period to help offset his expenses. The outpouring of support from the Atlanta restaurant community sparked the idea for the Unsukay partners to help found and create The Giving Kitchen, a non-profit whose funds provide crisis grants to members of Atlanta's restaurant community. In just over a year, $300,000 dollars has already been granted to more than 150 recipients. The Giving Kitchen also just started construction of the for profit restaurant it owns, called Staplehouse. One hundred percent of all dividends from Staplehouse will flow directly to The Giving Kitchen.
- T.L. Cannon Companies (Williamsville, N.Y.): As a franchisee of 61 Applebee's restaurants across New York and Connecticut, T.L. Cannon Companies provided nearly $2.5 million in monetary and in-kind donations in 2014 through creative, in-store fundraisers. Its spring and holiday fundraisers along with an annual charity golf tournament has sponsored more than 130 Make-A-Wish children since 2008 and the company has provided more than $1.1 million in funds and in-kind support to benefit the organization. Additionally, its Flapjack Fundraisers helped local schools and youth organizations raise $1.75 million last year.
The 2015, the Faces of Diversity American Dream Award went to the following three restaurant entrepreneurs:
- Nafees Alam, CEO, DRG Concepts (Dallas, Texas): Alam, who came to the U.S. from Bangladesh at age 17, entered the restaurant industry right out of college as an executive with Waffle House. As a leader, he joined DRG Concepts, a restaurant operations brand that has helped revitalize Downtown Dallas. Alam and his staff have been incredibly involved with various charities, including: The Bridge, a homeless recovery center; Vogel Alcove, which provides free childhood development services for children in poverty; and 6 Stones, a non-profit that provides a variety of services to help those in need.
- Carlito Jocson, corporate executive chef, Yard House (Irvine, Calif.): Jocson emigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines at a very young age. While studying biochemistry in college, he worked at a restaurant to earn extra money — eventually leaving his pre-med program to become a chef. Over the last 30 years, Jocson has enjoyed a successful career, including 16 years as Yard House's executive chef and an original partner. He continues to be involved in organizations that help educate younger generations about Filipino culture and feeds up to 150 homeless and at-risk families every week.
- Pamela Patton, Patton's Restaurant & Catering, (Des Moines, Iowa): Raised in rural Georgia with her seven siblings, Patton was the first member of her family to graduate college. Her passion for cooking began in rural Alabama under her great grandmother, Gussie Hayes, at the age of nine. Patton loved to cook, and began inviting Drake college students to her home after church, offering them a home cooked meal and leftovers to carry them over for a few days. The number of students she helped grew from 25 to 100. While working in corporate America in Des Moines, she started a catering business while still feeding the college students. Some graduated and were transitioned into employment at the company where she worked. In 2010, she secured a loan from the Targeted Small Business (TSB) when banks were not lending monies, and her business opened in 2011. Patton wanted to establish her business in a diverse neighborhood and currently has a diverse staff, reflective of the neighborhood she serves.
The winners will receive their awards on April 14 during the National Restaurant Association's Public Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C.