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National Restaurant Association - Restaurateurs honored for actions, achievement

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Restaurateurs honored for actions, achievement

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation recognized the charitable actions and commitment to overcome personal and professional obstacles of seven extraordinary restaurateurs at the 2014 Restaurant Neighbor and Faces of Diversity American Dream awards during the National Restaurant Association’s Public Affairs conference in Washington, D.C.

The gala reception, held April 29, honored the charitable efforts of Matt Haley, CEO of SoDel Concepts in Rehoboth Beach, Del., recipient of this year’s Cornerstone Humanitarian award, as well as the food donation efforts of Passport Pizza in Clinton Township, Mich., the good works for children by Panda Restaurant Group in Rosemead, Calif., and the education program created for at-risk children by Cohn Restaurant Group in San Diego. The three won this year’s Restaurant Neighbor award. The Faces of Diversity awards went to three hardworking immigrants who achieved their own versions of the “American Dream”: Griselda Barajas, who immigrated from Mexico to the United States at age 12 and is now president and CEO of Griselda’s Catering in Sacramento, Calif.; Mansour Ghalibaf, owner of the Hotel Northampton in Northampton, Mass., who immigrated to America in 1979 at the height of the Iranian Revolution; and Jahangir Kabir, who could not speak English when he came to the U.S. and is now district supervisor for White Castle System Inc. in Woodside, N.Y.

“These awards align directly with our foundation’s measurements for developing and supporting a strong, diverse workforce and developing the next generation of our industry’s leaders,” said Dawn Sweeney, the NRA’s president and CEO. “One way to achieve that is by celebrating the unique nature of our industry. One takeaway from this event is the powerful, inspiring, moving, true and deeply authentic stories about our industry. It is important to take every opportunity we can find to share them with our employees, customers and lawmakers, to tell them the truth about the restaurant industry — that we are a place with people who genuinely realize the American Dream. These stories show that we are making a difference in lives all across this nation every single day.”

Haley, a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who began his foodservice career as a dishwasher in a restaurant after serving a 4-year stint in prison, entered a vocational program and learned how to cook. Today he owns seven restaurants that exceed $50 million in annual revenues and support 1,000 employees. This year’s recipient of the James Beard Humanitarian Award, Haley is the founder of such charitable actions as the Global Delaware Fund, which administers goods and services to at-risk children and those who live in distressing situations around the world. He also has helped fund three schools and scholarships for students in Nepal. In addition, he is a strong proponent of environmental conservation and sustainability in the restaurant industry.

“There are great examples of phenomenal people in my life,” he said upon accepting his award. “If I didn’t have those examples … those people, who stuck by me and loved me until I could learn to love myself … they taught me about compassion and that’s a fantastic thing.”

Haley also thanked the restaurant industry for giving him a purpose and career to aspire to.

“After I got in trouble and wound up in the penitentiary, after I got out, I want to say the only industry that was there for me was the restaurant industry. There was no other industry. I had a group of people surround me who taught me that I could love what I did. My first chef was patient with me and took the time to educate me. I got to go to work every day in a safe environment, and I’m forever grateful for that. I’m very grateful for the people who helped save my life.”

Jackie Trujillo, chairman emeritus of Harman Management, a Los Altos, Calif.-based franchise corporation operating more than 300 KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and A&W restaurants, received the 2014 Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality Award. Trujillo, who began her career as a carhop waitress in 1953, rose through the industry’s executive ranks and was a founding member of the Women’s Foodservice Forum. Van Eure, the daughter of Thad and Alice, accepted the award for Trujillo, who was unable to attend.

American Express and PepsiCo Foodservice are the co-founders and sponsors of the Restaurant Neighbor and Faces of Diversity awards, respectively.

See more about this year’s award winners.

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