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National Restaurant Association 2011 Restaurant Neighbor Award Winners

Restaurant companies and operators from Iowa, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Washington are honored by the NRA for their excellence in community service.

The National Restaurant Association recognized three restaurants and one industry leader with its 2011 Restaurant Neighbor Award. The award celebrates outstanding service efforts that restaurateurs perform in their respective communities.

Following are this year's winners:

Large Business — Eat'n Park Hospitality Group, Pittsburgh: With its restaurants widely known as the "Place for Smiles," this family-dining chain has been devoted to fundraising for children's hospitals in the communities it serves since 1979. Through its Caring for Kids program – a company-wide charitable effort consisting of fundraising events like raffles and donations - Eat'n Park has raised more than $7 million. The money helps defray the costs of medical care and also provides funds to help the partner hospitals, like the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, expand their reach.

Mid-size Business — Charleston Feed The Need, Charleston, S.C.: Under the direction of Mickey Bakst, general manager of the Charleston Grill, this coalition of 52 area restaurants takes turns feeding those in need once a week at four local nonprofit agencies: the Tri-County Family Ministries, Crisis Ministries, East Cooper Meals on Wheels and Neighborhood House. The program, which began in 2009, fed more than 200,000 people in its first year. Bakst said that figure grew by 10 to 15 percent in 2010. Bakst says he is determined to turn the program into a national initiative to help feed the hungry.

Small Business — Kona Kai Coffee Company, Kent, Wash.: Through the Halo Network Foundation, this gourmet coffee shop has become a real lifeline to many homeless and disenfranchised individuals who are trying to change their lives and re-enter the workforce. The establishment offers a six- to eight-week program that teaches on-the-job training in espresso making, foodservice and such life skills as leadership, responsibility and how to work with a team. At the end of the program, the company assists participants in finding employment. Kona Kai so far has raised about $13,000 to help the program's operating costs, which is supported through private donations and various fundraisers.

Cornerstone Humanitarian — Michael Whalen, president and chief executive, Heart of America Restaurants, Moline, Iowa: As a boy growing up in Davenport, Iowa, Mike Whalen led a kind of "Leave it to Beaver" existence, unaware that lots of kids were not as lucky as he and lived in need. His epiphany came in adulthood, when he was invited as a prospective sponsor to tour the Rawhide Boys Ranch in New London, Wis. During the tour, he realized how integral the ranch was to changing the lives of at-risk children and decided to open his own establishment that would help youngsters personally and professionally. Whalen launched the Wildwood Hills Ranch camp facility in 2001. Since then, the ranch has welcomed 8,000 children.