The most prestigious Louisiana restaurant industry honor—Restaurateur of the Year—was awarded to Todd Graves, founder and CEO of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, at a gala event held by the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA).

LRA’s highest honor is presented annually to an individual who has contributed unselfishly to the advancement of Louisiana’s restaurant industry and has continually dedicated his services at both the local chapter and state levels. 

Past Restaurateur of the Year honorees have included such world-renowned figures as Emeril Lagasse, John Besh, John Folse, and Paul Prudhomme.

Graves was honored at the LRA’s Five Star Futures Gala on August 11, 2012, at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside.

LRA Chairman Melvin Rodrigue began his introduction of Graves by saying, “Our next honoree has earned tremendous notoriety and success building a quick-service restaurant concept for which he received the worst grade in [a collegiate] business class.”

Graves built his business with little support in the early days. No bank would lend him money because they didn’t believe a simple chicken finger concept would work. Some bankers even told him he should give up the idea and “get a real job.” At that point, Graves knew he would need to raise his own capital to achieve his dream.

From the oil refineries in South Louisiana to the commercial salmon fisheries of Alaska, Graves worked diligently until he had raised enough seed money to open his first Raising Cane’s right outside the gates of LSU. In a moment of inspiration, he named the restaurant after his yellow lab, Cane.

“Todd is a great example of an individual who followed his dream and, against great odds, made his idea a reality,” says Stan Harris, president and CEO, LRA. “His story is one that shows the entrepreneurial spirit that makes the restaurant industry one that many individuals find their calling, career, and life’s work within.”

In 16 years, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers has grown from that first location to more than 130 restaurants in 16 states.

“Louisiana is known for its great food and incredible restaurants, so I couldn’t be more humbled by this award,” says Graves, founder, chairman, CEO, fry cook, and cashier of Baton Rouge, Louisiana–based Raising Cane’s. 

“I accept this award on behalf of our 4,000 crewmembers who work hard in our restaurants every day,” he says. “Their commitment to our ‘One Love’—serving the highest-quality chicken fingers possible—is why our customers keep coming back.”

Philanthropy is a huge part of Graves’ commitment to the community. Graves and Raising Cane’s have given more than 25 percent of their profits back to the communities where the restaurants operate, with an emphasis on education, feeding the hungry, active lifestyles, pet welfare, and business and entrepreneurial organizations.

“The generosity of restaurateurs ought to be well known,” says National Restaurant Association Chairwoman Roz Mallet. “Our industry donates $3 billion a year, and Todd is an example of the philanthropic nature of restaurateurs.”

Earlier this year, Cane’s outstanding customer service was recognized by Sandelman & Associates’ Quick-Track study as one of the nation’s best among quick-service restaurants, for the fifth consecutive year. 

The company placed second for best overall service among 150 chains, and earned top honors for temperature of food, accuracy in filling orders, and restaurant cleanliness.

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