Today, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) announced its national winners for the 2019 Restaurant Industry Awards, celebrating diversity and inclusion, community service and leadership in the restaurant industry.

The NRAEF honored the winners during a special VIP dinner in Washington, D.C., where each winner shared their story of overcoming personal challenges and giving back to the community.

“Every year we look forward to celebrating the people who make our industry inclusive, generous and exciting,” says Rob Gifford, Executive Vice President of the NRAEF. “The Foundation is thrilled and honored to recognize the people and businesses that truly embody these values.”

Restaurant Neighbor Award (RNA) Winners

The Restaurant Neighbor Award, developed in partnership with American Express, highlights outstanding local and national charitable service and philanthropy. RNA winners receive a $10,000 contribution in their name to support the charitable organization or program of their choice. This year’s winners include:

  • Tropical Smoothie Cafe, LLC – Atlanta, Georgia: Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s company philosophy fosters a positive, “better-for-you lifestyle,” partnering with Camp Sunshine to raise national awareness and funds to provide children with life-threatening illnesses and their families a fun and relaxing place to get away from their daily challenges. Since the relationship began in 2008, Tropical Smoothie Cafe has donated more than $6.3 million and 6,600 volunteer hours, providing 2,500 members with a much-deserved getaway. Watch the video here
  • Southern Hospitality Ventures (SHV), Inc. Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers – Lincoln, Nebraska: SHV partners with Cell Phones for Soldiers, a nonprofit organization that exchanges old cell phones for calling cards given to active duty military and veterans to raise money for the Nebraska National Guard Foundation (NNGF). Since the campaign’s launch, Nebraska troops have received more than 822,000 minutes in calling cards—and SHV has helped raise over $102,000 for the NNGF. Watch the video here
  • Great Full Gardens (GFG) – Reno, Nevada: In partnership with “RootED”, a grassroots nonprofit, Great Full Gardens provides local schools, veteran groups and other nonprofits with donated or fund-supported greenhouses. The greenhouses teach students how to grow enough greens and vegetables to encourage self-sufficiency and creativity, offer “Free Salad Fridays” and launch a student-run Seedling Sale. Through their efforts, GFG has donated nearly $35,000 to community programs and charities. Watch the video here

Faces of Diversity Award Winners

The Faces of Diversity award, sponsored by PepsiCo Foodservice, honors champions of diversity and inclusion and restaurateurs who have achieved the American Dream. This year’s winners include:

  • Adenah Bayoh, Founder, Adenah Bayoh & Company and Franchisee, International House of Pancakes, LLC (IHOP) – Irvington, New Jersey: As a young girl, Adenah found her life devastated when a civil war broke out in her native country of Liberia. After nearly a year in the refugee camp, she immigrated to the U.S., paid her way through college and at the age of 27, bought her first IHOP franchise, making her one of the youngest IHOP franchisees in the company’s network. She is now one of the most successful entrepreneurs in New Jersey. Watch her video here.
  • The Abi-Najm Family, Lebanese Taverna – McLean, Virginia: In 1976, Dany Abi-Najm traveled to the U.S. with his family to escape civil war in Lebanon. Dany and his brother started their first jobs in restaurants working as busboys. Three years later, the family purchased a local restaurant and opened the original Lebanese Taverna. Today, the family owns five restaurants, four cafes, a market and an airport location and employs hundreds of people in their restaurants. Watch their video here.
  • Francisco “Paco” Vargas, Owner, Rudy and Paco Restaurant & Bar – Galveston, Texas: Francisco “Paco” Vargas traveled to the U.S. in 1978 to escape the Nicaraguan Revolution. He started out as a dishwasher and cook, quickly advanced and opened his own restaurant, the Rudy and Paco Restaurant & Bar. He created the Paco Vargas Scholarship Fund and has pledged $100,000 to benefit students in hospitality, restaurant management or service industry programs. Watch his video here

Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality Award

In honor of Thad and Alice Eure, the Ambassador of Hospitality Award, sponsored by Ecolab, is bestowed upon an industry leader who displays an unwavering commitment to elevating and advancing the restaurant and foodservice industry. This year’s winner is Roz Mallet, President and CEO, PhaseNext Hospitality.

Over her 40-year career, Mallet has worked in almost every area of the foodservice and hospitality industry. Her tremendous talent, high standards, values and strong focus on diversity and inclusion make her an outstanding advocate and inspiration for people from all backgrounds building a future in restaurants. Mallet was elected to the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation board in 2006, elected National Restaurant Association Treasurer in 2010, the Association’s Vice Chair in 2011 and Chair in 2012. She also serves on the boards of Northcutt Hospitality, Share Our Strength, TDn2K and Visit Dallas, and received the Trailblazer Award from the Women’s Foodservice Forum for her work to advance women leaders across the industry. Watch her video here.

Charitable Giving, Fast Casual, Franchising, News