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National Restaurant Association - Faces of Diversity winners honored

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Faces of Diversity winners honored

Above, from left: Diversity Award winnners Michaela Mendelsohn, George Wasai and Anil Yadav, with Roz Mallet, former NRA chairman and CEO of PhaseNext Hospitality

The National Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation honored its 2018 Faces of Diversity award winners at a gala dinner on April 17. The award, sponsored by PepsiCo Foodservice, honors champions of diversity and inclusion, and restaurateurs who have achieved their “American Dream.”

Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association and National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, congratulated this year’s honorees as well as three culinary students who received scholarships in the award winners’ names.

Here are this year’s Diversity Award recipients:

Michaela Mendelsohn
As owner and CEO of Pollo West Corp., the 17-unit El Pollo Loco franchise based in Agoura Hills, Calif., Mendelsohn manages her business with calm confidence, but it wasn’t always that way. As a transgender/gender nonconforming person, she struggled to suppress her identity in order to be successful in business. “Every day felt like climbing a steep hill, which would still be waiting for me the following morning,” she says. Since transitioning in 2006, she has not only flourished as a business operator, but has become a trailblazer for the transgender community. Mendelsohn is the founder of TransCanWork, a nonprofit that partners with the California Restaurant Association to create safe spaces for transgender individuals and help others achieve their potential. Through her efforts, more than 40 transgender employees have been hired, with 25 percent of them on their way to management careers. An advocate for others, she says, “I find that in being my best self, I can open hearts and minds, one person at a time…”

Anil Yadav
The owner of 350 multi-concept restaurants in California and Texas, is familiar with hardship, hard work and determination. At 17, he emigrated from India to San Francisco, living in a small house with his parents and seven siblings. As a fry cook in a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant, Yadav learned to speak English and began his rise in business. After several promotions, he bought his first Jack-in-the-Box restaurant, and the rest is history. Today he looks to help others in his community so they can achieve similar success. Yadav is active with several charities, and has become involved in state and local politics. Opportunity, he says, is there for those who seize it. “I believe those who have a great work ethic and drive can make it in this business and progress in their careers as I have.

George Wasai
The director of food and beverage for Legends Hospitality and the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Wasai is widely recognized as a master of his profession. Emigrating to the United States from Ghana at age 14, he began as a dishwasher, worked hard and rose through the management ranks. Now in his 28th season with the Dallas Cowboys organization, he delights in helping others through a partnership with the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. Wasai, who has stuttered since childhood, works with several staff members who have special needs and rely on his management skills and mentorship. “I never dreamed in a million years, being a kid from Africa, that I would be responsible for all food and beverage aspects for the Dallas Cowboys.”

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