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National Restaurant Association - Diversity, charity take center stage at gala

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Diversity, charity take center stage at gala

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation honored seven Restaurant Neighbor and Faces of Diversity awards winners for their philanthropy and the challenges they overcame to succeed.

The Restaurant Neighbor Award, developed in partnership with American Express, recognized four restaurant companies for outstanding service in their communities. The Faces of Diversity awards, sponsored by PepsiCo, went to restaurateurs who, through hard work and perseverance, achieved the American Dream.

The winners were feted April 14, at a gala event during the NRA’s 2015 Public Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C.

“The unsung story of the restaurant industry is that it is a place where people can truly realize their dreams,” NRA CEO Dawn Sweeney said. “Restaurants make a real, sustained difference in the lives of millions of Americans all across the country.”

Winners of the Restaurant Neighbor Award were:

  • Ollie’s Restaurant in Edwardsville, Pa., which provides six meals a week to at-risk, hungry children
  • The King’s Kitchen/Jim Noble Restaurants, a Charlotte, N.C.-based company that formed the nonprofit King’s Kitchen restaurant, which donates 100 percent of its proceeds to feed those in need and provides job training opportunities for homeless men and women; and
  • T.L. Cannon Companies, a Williamsville, N.Y.-based Applebee’s franchisee that provides in-kind donations through creative, in-store fundraisers.

In addition, the Unsukay Community of Businesses in Atlanta received the Cornerstone Humanitarian award for creating the nonprofit Giving Kitchen, which provides crisis grants to members of Atlanta’s restaurant community. The award was presented to Unsukay’s founders, Ryan Turner, Chris Hall and Todd Mussman.

Recipients of the Diversity/American Dream award were:

  • Nafees Alam, CEO of Dallas-based DRG Concepts, who immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh at 17 and began his career as a Waffle House executive. Alam contributes to various charities, including a homeless recovery center and childhood development center that offers free services to children in poverty.
  • Carlito Jocson, corporate executive chef of Yard House Restaurants in Irvine, Calif. Jocson came to the United States from the Philippines, studied biochemistry in college, and worked at a restaurant to earn extra money. Today he helps educate younger generations about Filipino culture and also feeds up to 150 homeless and at-risk families weekly.
  • Pamela Patton, owner-operator of Patton’s Restaurant & Catering, who 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 Patton owns her own business in Des Moines, Iowa, which she started in 2010.

Rounding out the night, Carlton Curtis, the Coca-Cola Co.’s vice president of industry relations, received the Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality award for service and commitment to the industry.

In accepting his award, Curtis recognized restaurateurs as “the most compassionate and service-focused people the world has ever seen. “

“We deliver a welcoming, gracious reception to friends and strangers alike. When people in our communities need a helping hand, we are always the first … to step up. We should all feel very good about that. Thank you for everything you do to make the spirit of hospitality come alive every day.”

Pictured top right, from left: Unsukay's Chris Hall with Danielle Wallace of American Express, Unsukay partner Ryan Turner, Georgia Restaurant Association executive director Karen Bremer, NRA CEO Dawn Sweeney, and Unsukay partner Todd Mussman

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