The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation will present its Restaurant Neighbor and Faces of Diversity awards to restaurateurs who embody charitable compassion and have overcome challenges to achieve success.
The Restaurant Neighbor Award, developed in partnership with American Express, celebrates the outstanding charitable service of restaurant operators in the communities they serve. The Faces of Diversity award, sponsored by PepsiCo, is given to members of the industry who, through hard work and perseverance, have achieved the American Dream. The award winners will be feted at an April 14 gala during the NRA’s 2015 Public Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C.
“This year’s recipients tell the story of opportunity and community engagement within the restaurant industry,” said Rob Gifford, the NRAEF’s executive vice president of strategic operations and philanthropy. “We congratulate these restaurateurs and applaud their immense passion for what they do for their communities.”
Winners of the Restaurant Neighbor awards are:
Ollie’s Restaurant: Since 2011, Ollie’s, based in Edwardsville, Pa., has provided six meals a week to children at risk of hunger through its Dinners for Kids program. Today its staff and volunteers prepare and deliver 37,000 meals a year for 120 children. Because Ollie’s uses its own kitchen facilities to cook and package meals, 100 percent of the funds raised — $250,000 to date — are used for meal costs.
The King’s Kitchen/Jim Noble Restaurants: In 2008, the Charlotte, N.C.-based Jim Noble Restaurants formed a nonprofit restaurant called the King’s Kitchen and has since donated 100 percent of proceeds to feed the less fortunate. The restaurant also provides job training opportunities for homeless men and women. In addition, the staff provides boxed lunches and distributes sandwiches to those living on the streets at least once a week.
Unsukay Community of Businesses: This year’s Cornerstone Humanitarian award will be presented to Unsukay’s founders Ryan Turner, Chris Hall and Todd Mussman. The Atlanta-based restaurateurs started their charitable program in response to an employee who was diagnosed with stage 4 Cancer and given a prognosis requiring major funding to pursue progressive health care options beyond what his insurance plan offered. Over four weeks, the founders hosted a fundraiser that raised nearly $300,000 to help offset the employee’s expenses. The outpouring of support motivated them to create The Giving Kitchen, a nonprofit that provides crisis grants to members of Atlanta’s restaurant community. To date, $300,000 has been given to more than 150 recipients.
T.L. Cannon Companies: A Williamsville, N.Y.-based franchisee of 61 Applebee’s restaurants in New York and Connecticut, T.L. Cannon provided nearly $2.5 million in monetary and in-kind donations last year through creative, in-store fundraisers. Those fundraisers, along with an annual charity golf tournament, have enabled the company to sponsor more than 130 Make-A-Wish children since 2008. In addition, the company has donated more than $1.1 million to the organization. Through its Flapjack Fundraisers program, T.L. Cannon also helps local schools and youth organizations.
Winners of the 2015 Diversity/American Dream awards are:
Nafees Alam, DRG Concepts: Alam, the CEO of Dallas-based DRG, came to the United States from Bangladesh at 17 and entered the restaurant industry as an executive for Waffle House right out of college. At DRG Concepts, a restaurant operations brand that has helped revitalize downtown Dallas, Alam and his staff have been involved with various charities, including a homeless recovery center and a childhood development center that offers free services to children in poverty.
Carlito Jocson, Yard House Restaurants: The corporate executive chef of Irvine, Calif.-based Yard House, Jocson immigrated to the United States from the Philippines at a young age. While studying biochemistry in college, he worked at a restaurant to earn extra money and eventually left his pre-med studies to become a chef. During the last 30 years, he has served for 16 years as Yard House’s executive chef and an original partner. In his spare time, he helps educate younger generations about Filipino culture and also feeds up to 150 homeless and at-risk families weekly.
Pamela Patton, Patton’s Restaurant & Catering: Raised with seven siblings in rural Georgia, Patton was the first member of her family to graduate from college. Her passion for cooking began as a 9-year-old, while watching her great grandmother, Gussie Hayes, in the kitchen. Today she owns her own business in Des Moines, Iowa, which she started in 2010 after securing a loan from the state’s Targeted Small Business program. She opened the store in 2011.
Pictured top right from left: Unsukay’s co-founders Chris Hall, Ryan Turner and Todd Mussman; pictured above right: Nafees Alam of DRG Concepts; pictured above left from left: Scott Carlson, NRA board member and chair of the Iowa Restaurant Association, with Pamela Patton of Patton’s Restaurant & Catering