NRA names winners of diversity awards

WASHINGTON The National Restaurant Association recognized four independent restaurant operators and an on-site foodservice provider with its Faces of Diversity Awards.

The winners of the awards, which celebrate diversity within the restaurant industry, were announced during the association's annual Public Affairs conference Wednesday.

Awards are given in two categories: The American Dream Awards, which honor individuals from diverse backgrounds who have achieved success despite facing tough hurdles, and the Inspiration Award, which is given to a restaurant company that exhibits leadership and vision as an advocate of diversity and inclusion.

American Dream Awards went to Matilda and Joseph Novak, proprietors of Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant in Albany, Ore.; Widjiono “Yono” Purnomo, owner-operator of Yono’s in Albany, N.Y.; and Taki Sawi, owner of Santorini Greek Kitchen in Indianapolis. (Click here for photos. [3]) Contract feeder Sodexo USA won the Inspiration Award.

“It is our honor to recognize the winners of our 2010 Faces of Diversity Awards for their achievement and inspiration,” said Dawn Sweeney, the NRA’s president and chief executive. “Diversity is a key ingredient of our industry’s current and future success.”

This year’s American Dream winners were chosen from a field of 15 nominees and selected by an independent committee of industry experts. Click here for more information on the finalists. [4]

The Novaks endured years of hardship in their native Hungary during the 1940s and '50s before fleeing in 1957 to the United States to avoid retribution for participating in a failed anti-communist uprising. Their daughter, Karen, now owns the restaurant, though the couple remains involved in the operation.

Purnomo, who grew up in poverty in Indonesia, came to America in 1978 while working for the Holland America cruise line. Since purchasing his first restaurant in 1983, he has gone on to achieve some celebrity-chef fame, appearing on NBC's "Today" show and on the Food Network. He has cooked for a number of sold-out James Beard House events, and also is a mentor to students interested in pursuing culinary careers.

Sawi, who left his native Egypt following the death of his parents, said he knew from the time he was 14 years old that he wanted to become a restaurateur. After marrying and moving to Indianapolis, he achieved his dream by opening a small restaurant, which he has expanded over the years.

Gaithersburg, Md.-based Sodexo was honored for its integration of diversity and inclusion into its recruiting, employee development, mentoring, community involvement and supplier outsourcing practices.

In addition to the Faces of Diversity Awards, the NRA also recognized four culinary students with scholarships to help them pursue their educations and careers. This year’s scholarship winners were Marcus Efford-Singleton, who is enrolled at Robert Morris University in Chicago; Frederick Howard, a student at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island; Ashanti Jimerson, who attends Howard University in Washington, D.C.; and Mario Robles, a student enrolled in San Diego University’s Hospitality and Tourism Management Program.

PepsiCo Foodservice is a founding partner and sponsor of the Faces of Diversity Awards program.

Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected] [5].