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National Restaurant Association - NRA taps Operator Innovation Awards winners

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NRA taps Operator Innovation Awards winners

Kennesaw State University took home Innovator of the Year honors at the National Restaurant Association’s second annual Operator Innovations Awards, May 18 in Chicago.

The college, located in Kennesaw, Ga., 20 miles outside of northwest Atlanta, was recognized for its 5,000 guest-per-day dining operation, which incorporates a comprehensive, closed-loop waste management program, an organic "Farm-to-Campus-to-Farm" program, and water reclamation, aerobic digestion, composting/recycling programs, as well as its oil-to-biodiesel conversion initiative that significantly reduce costs, minimize environmental impact and qualify the facility for a gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification.

“This is the Oscars for us,” said Gary Coltek, Kennesaw’s foodservice director and chef d’cuisine. “The NRA has been traditionally restaurants, and they’ve given us in the university setting an opportunity to come forward and say, ‘Hey, this is what we do; we’re here to educate our students.’ … Our students are savvy. They want to know where their food is from, how it’s getting there, what we do with it when we get it.”

Selected by an independent panel of expert judges, the award winners were cited for driving advancement in the foodservice industry. They were honored during the NRA’s Destination: Celebration gala at the 2013 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, where they were recognized in the categories of food safety, health and nutrition, menu development, sustainability, and technology.

“These restaurant operators have found solutions for their businesses with programs and initiatives that combine creativity and hard work,” says Jeffrey W. Davis, convention chair for NRA Show 2013 and IWSB and CEO of the United States Beef Corp. “The 2013 Operator Innovations Awards winners redefine how the industry views innovation and will serve as the benchmark for other operators to apply the same innovative spirit within their own operations.”

In addition to Kennesaw State, winners of this year’s Operator Innovations Awards are:

Ninety Nine Restaurants, based in Woburn, Mass., for food safety. The chain was recognized for its allergy alert system that combines staff training and involvement with clear communications via ordering, display systems and tracking. It ensures awareness and proper preparation for everyone who touches a guest’s food and minimizes risk for all.

United States Air Force, in San Antonio, for its Food Transformation Initiative, or FTI, for health and nutrition. FTI has revolutionized Air Force food selections, cooking methods, meal availability, and merchandising to guide customers toward healthier choices. When compared with nonparticipating operations, performance metrics confirmed FTI elevates healthfulness, energy and alertness through optimal nutrition without sacrificing flavor, taste and satisfaction.

HMSHost Corp., based in Bethesda, Md., for menu development. It’s Freedom To Choose Web portal, an internally developed, custom online tool for the company’s 100+ airport operations, is designed to give local operators access to hundreds of menu items, allowing them to quickly and easily tailor menus to keep up with traveler preferences and regional trends.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, based in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., for technology. Its Be Our Guest restaurant utilizes a unique fast-casual restaurant system capable of automating elements throughout the operation, including RF table locators, ordering, checkout, back-of-the-house workflow and more to deliver a personalized, streamlined experience that allows the operation to serve more than 3,000 meals at lunch each day.

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