Food preparation has always been populated by pioneering individuals, from the prehistoric hunter who roasted that first mastodon steak over an open flame, to Gennaro Lombardi, who is credited with opening the first pizzeria in New York City, to the chefs pursuing the current trend in molecular gastronomy.
Since its inception MUFSO has recognized this innovative spirit, and in 1981 it inaugurated the Pioneer Award. Selected each year by the editorial board of Nation’s Restaurant News, the award recognizes a veteran multiunit foodservice operator for professional dedication and contributions to the foodservice industry.
Where would we be if the McDonald’s brothers never sold their roadside hamburger restaurant to an enterprising businessman named Ray Kroc? What would the industry be like if John and Peter Delmonico never opened their restaurant and introduced America to fine dining, or if Howard Johnson never opened his doors in 1925 and launched the first great restaurant franchise?
MUFSO’s Pioneer Award winners have included some of the biggest names in the industry, like J. Willard Marriott Sr., Ray Kroc, Norman Brinker, John Farquharson and Alan Stillman.
The first winner was Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken for his role in growing the chicken chain.
The 1986 award went to Frank Carney, who with his brother Dan, founded Pizza Hut. With $600 that they borrowed from their mother, the college-age brothers created America’s first national pizza chain.
In a departure from previous years, the 1990 winner wasn’t an individual or restaurant chain, but rather, an entire state: California, whose restaurateurs are globally recognized for their creativity. It also is the state that taught Americans to eat everything from tacos and double-decker hamburgers to sushi and duck-sausage pizza.
In 2004 MUFSO attendees saw the first woman win the award—not including Ella Brennan, who was a co-winner with her brother Dick in 1994.That was the year Jackie Trujillo of Harman Management Corp. took home the trophy in recognition of her efforts in making Harman one of the largest KFC franchisees in the country.
In the next installment of our special MUFSO at 50 retrospective, we will run a complete list of all the Pioneer Award winners.
Whether through the creation of technology to help foodservice to perform faster and more efficiently, or the creation of new restaurant concepts that have kept the restaurant community fresh, a pioneering spirit has consistently defined the industry.