Seven industry leaders were celebrated for their career achievements during an upbeat and emotional gala party and awards ceremony the evening before MUFSO’s close.
Sally Smith, chief executive of Minneapolis-based Buffalo Wild Wings, was named Operator of the Year, one of MUFSO’s highest honors. Smith was selected from a group of Golden Chain award winners that also included Sardar Biglari, chairman and chief executive of Biglari Holdings; Fred DeLuca, co-founder and president of Subway; Elie Maalouf, president and chief executive of HMS- Host Corp.; and Kevin Reddy, president and chief executive of Noodles & Company.
In accepting the Operator of the Year award, Smith, who in 14 years at the helm of Buffalo Wild Wings has tripled the size of the chain to 700 units and notably outperformed casual-dining competitors throughout the recession, pointed to the importance of setting goals, listening, perseverance, hard work and gratitude.
“I want to say thank you to all the team members here tonight, including franchisees,” she said.
Smith also noted the increased optimism in the industry, and encouraged everyone “to drink beer, eat wings and celebrate sports.”
Doug Brooks, chairman, president and chief executive of Brinker International Inc., received the inaugural Norman Award, created to honor the late Norman Brinker. The award was created after Brinker’s death last year to recognize industry members who continue his legacy of mentoring and people development.
“My husband loved the people who gravitated to this industry,” Toni Brinker, Norm Brinker’s wife, said while introducing Brooks. “He encouraged and mentored several executives and challenged them to think beyond their job titles and offices.”
Calling Brooks “a leader among his peers” who exhibited the can-do and fighting spirit Norm Brinker encouraged, Toni Brinker said, “Doug made Norm Brinker mighty proud.”
In a moving acceptance speech, Brooks said, “I will spend the rest of my career living up to this award.”
He explained the far-reaching impact Brinker had on the people who worked for him at all levels, explaining that Brinker always made sure employees understood why their job was important and what they would be accountable for. He also said that Brinker’s influence extended beyond his own company to other restaurant operations, noting that T.G.I. Friday’s, another Dallas-based casual-dining giant, had a meeting room named after Brinker.
“I humbly accept this award with great pride,” Brooks said. “And among a giant fraternity of restaurateurs, those who got to work with [Brinker], we are the lucky ones.”
John Y. Brown, who led the growth of the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain in the 1960s and helped create the modern restaurant franchising model, accepted the Pioneer Award. In his varied career, Brown also served as governor of Kentucky, co-founded Kenny Rogerºs Roasters among other restaurant chains, and owned professional sports teams.
Calling himself an “optimist,” he underscored MUFSO’s “Mission: Possible” theme by reminding attendees that they have the ability to find great success if they use the right strategies to capitalize on the trends of the day.
As he put it, “There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
The evening’s events were sponsored by The Beef Checkoff, Cavendish Farms, Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, Phillips Gourmet and Sweet Street Desserts.
— Christi Ravneberg and Robin Lee Allen