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National Restaurant Association - 3 black entrepreneurs help industry embrace diversity

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3 black entrepreneurs help industry embrace diversity

Every February, America celebrates Black History Month and honors the legacy of some of our country’s most influential leaders, innovators and heroes.

For generations, African-American restaurant owners and operators have helped shape our culinary history and industry. Don Thompson, Junior Bridgeman and J. Phillip Holloman are extremely successful business leaders, who also are committed to promoting diversity and inclusion. Following is a quick look at their storied careers.

Don Thompson

Rising out of poverty, Thompson grew up near Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project. He spent 25 years at McDonald’s Corp., and was chosen to be the company’s first African-American president and CEO. After leaving in 2015, he formed Cleveland Avenue LLC, the venture capital firm behind such startups as Beyond Meat, a Los Angeles-based producer of plant-based proteins, and HalfSmoke, a Washington, D.C.-based, fast-casual restaurant specializing in gourmet sausage sandwiches. Thompson, who is committed to supporting and encouraging diversity in business, is a longtime supporter of the Women in Foodservice Forum and MultiCultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance.

Ulysses Lee “Junior” Bridgeman

The former NBA great went from being “No. 2” on the basketball court to No. 1 in the foodservice industry. Bridgeman, who played for the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers, retired from his athletic career to become a successful franchisee with an estimated worth of $600 million. Until 2016, the 64-year-old entrepreneur owned and operated more than 160 Wendy’s and 120 Chili’s Grill & Bar restaurants, but sold those holdings to become president and CEO of Heartland Coca-Cola, the beverage company’s Milwaukee-based bottler and distributor. Through Heartland, Bridgeman is involved in community action and supports many organizations, including Crittenton Children’s Center at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.; the Crisis Nursery and St. Patrick Center in St. Louis; and a boys’ school for formerly homeless children in Louisville, Ky.

J. Phillip Holloman

The 62-year-old president and COO at Cintas Corp., the Cincinnati-based uniform and promotional products manufacturer, began his professional career as a civil engineer before switching gears and joining Cintas’ senior leadership team. A supporter of several historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, Holloman encourages the pursuit of higher education and speaks at numerous HBCU campuses. He is also a supporter of the Florida A&M School of Business. Additionally, he launched Cintas’ diversity and inclusion initiative, which seeks to advance women and ethnically diverse employees and businesses, and also chairs the company’s supplier diversity executive steering committee.

Learn more about our work with the MultiCultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance and about the MFHA.

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