The National Restaurant Association honored three restaurant entrepreneurs and one restaurant company with its Faces of Diversity Award last week. The Faces of Diversity Awards celebrate diversity in the restaurant and foodservice industry among the industry’s nearly 13 million employees.

The award recipients were honored for achieving the American Dream in the restaurant industry and for embracing diversity and inclusion in their business culture at a ceremony at the Association’s 2010 Public Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C.

“It is our honor to recognize the winners of our 2010 Faces of Diversity Award for their achievement and inspiration,” says Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “Diversity is a key ingredient of our industry’s current and future success.”

The Faces of Diversity awards program, created by the Association in partnership with PepsiCo Foodservice, celebrates diversity in the restaurant industry in two categories—the American Dream Award and the Inspiration Award. The American Dream Award honors individuals from diverse backgrounds who, through hard work and determination, have realized the American dream. The Inspiration Award honors restaurant companies that have exhibited leadership and vision as an advocate of diversity and inclusion.

The winners of the American Dream Award are:

Matilda and Joseph Novak, Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant, Albany, Oregon: Matilda and Joseph Novak endured years of hardship in their native Hungary in the 1940s and 1950s before fleeing to the U.S. to avoid retribution for participating in a failed anti-communist uprising. When arriving in 1957, they spoke no English and had only a wedding photo and the clothes on their backs. The couple decided to start their own restaurant when Joseph was laid off from his job. The Novaks also brought their children into the restaurant business, and their daughter Karen is the current owner of Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant, though both Matilda and Joseph remain involved. Read more.

Widjiono “Yono” Purnomo, Yono’s, Albany, New York: Purnomo grew up in poverty in Indonesia, but his lack of resources didn’t deter him from pursuing his dreams in the hospitality industry. While working for the Holland America cruise line, he studied food, wine, and service while improving his English. He moved to the U.S. in 1978 and bought his first restaurant in 1983. Purnomo has appeared on the Today Show and Food Network and cooked for sold-out James Beard House events. He mentors high school and college culinary students and raises money for multiple charitable organizations. Read more.

Taki Sawi, Santorini Greek Kitchen, Indianapolis, Indiana: From the time Taki Sawi was 14, he knew he wanted to be a restaurateur. After the death of his parents, he left his native Egypt to help support his extended family in Jordan. Over the next several years, Sawi worked seasonal restaurant jobs in several countries and developed cooking experience, leadership skills, and responsibility. During this time, he solidified his dream of entrepreneurship that was sparked in him at a young age when working for a passionate restaurateur. Sawi moved to Indianapolis after getting married and opened a small restaurant, which quickly expanded. Read more.

The Inspiration Award winner is:

Sodexo, Inc.: Sodexo’s diversity and inclusion culture unites people, strengthens the organization, and ensures superior business performance. The company integrates diversity and inclusion into recruiting, employee development, mentoring, community involvement, and supplier sourcing. To help employees overcome language barriers, Sodexo offers English and Spanish courses. Sodexo helps managers build diversity competency through a training program. A mandatory Spirit of Diversity course equips managers to lead diverse teams. Training for front-line staff helps them interact with one another and meet customers’ needs. Read more.

For more information about the Faces of Diversity awards program and the 2010 winners, visit