Chicago Fine-dining restaurateurs from coast to coast honored one of their own, Pano Karatassos, president of Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, along with this year’s Nation’s Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame Award winners at a festive luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago.
“Pano is an example of what the American dream is all about,” said James Doherty, group publisher of NRN, before presenting the award. “Success is there for those who have a commitment, develop their skills and execute their dreams.”
Doherty outlined some of the winner’s biographical highlights, starting with a childhood in a family that was in the food business and instilled in him strong family values and a good work ethic. After serving in the U.S. Navy, Karatassos graduated from The Culinary Institute of America and worked in several leading resorts, including the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., the Lodge of the Four Seasons in Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., and several Swiss hotels.
“He’s paid his dues, big time,” Doherty said.
Doherty noted that Karatassos often credits two mentors for inspiring him to succeed: Joe Amendola, a well-known CIA instructor who recently passed away, and Hermann Rusch, his boss at the Greenbrier.
“Today, he has been a mentor to many new chefs,” Doherty said.
In accepting the award, Karatassos, who now oversees a stable of restaurants with annual revenue of $70 million, mostly in Atlanta, said: “It has been said that operating a restaurant is not a big thing, just a lot of little things. When people ask me when am I going to take time to smell the roses, I tell them I’m among the roses every day by being with my guests in my restaurants.
“My greatest satisfaction has been working every day with my sons and daughter and watching them develop as future leaders in this industry.”
Karatassos also said he is proud to have been able to help relieve hunger in this country, particularly among children, by spearheading Atlanta’s Share Our Strength Taste of the Nation events over the past 20 years. Those events have raised $7 million.
“I believe that those of us in the foodservice industry are the ones to lead in hunger relief,” he said.
Representatives of this year’s new Hall of Fame inductees accepted awards, presented by NRN editor Ellen Koteff, on behalf of Café Ponte, Clearwater, Fla.; Harrah’s Steak House, Reno, Nev.; JiRaffe, Santa Monica, Calif.; Manresa, Los Gatos, Calif.; No. 9 Park, Boston; North Pond, Chicago; Slightly North of Broad, Charleston, S.C.; Splendido at the Chateau, Beaver Creek, Colo.; Tribeca Grill, New York; and Vidalia, Washington, D.C.
Raphael Lunetta of JiRaffe, accompanied on stage by his 8-year-old son, Etienne, said: “We all know the difficult challenges and rewards of this business. This award gives me the energy to go back to work and continue doing what we do.”
Bruce Sherman, chef-partner of North Pond, said, “I can assure you that none of us ever thought about receiving such an esteemed honor when we opened and that we would be a part of this list of renowned restaurateurs.”
Drew Nieporent of Tribeca Grill, whose Myriad Restaurant Group has several movie stars as partners, quipped, “Robert De Niro would have been here today, but he has theSunday brunch shift today.”
Nieporent added that the Hall of Fame luncheon is the highlight of his annual trip to Chicago for the restaurant show.
“I would also like to say that Pano Karatassos has been an inspiration to me for many years,” he said.
American Express sponsored the Fine Dining Legend award, presented by Patrice Packer, director of the Restaurant Industry division. Luncheon sponsors were Fishbowl Marketing, Jennie-O Turkey Store and the Mazzetta Company.
View other slideshows from the 2008 NRA Show: