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Wendy’s, Smokey Bones, Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar win MenuMasters awards for culinary innovation during the pandemic

The new winners will be celebrated along with last year’s recipients in Denver on Oct. 4

Restaurants that have shown adaptability and perseverance in their culinary development during the pandemic will be among those honored at this year’s MenuMasters celebration thrown by Nation’s Restaurant News sponsored by Ventura Foods on the evening of Oct. 4 at Mile High Station in Denver.

The new winners are:

Best New Menu Item: Wendy’s

The new “item” is the quick-service chain’s entire breakfast platform which, although rolled out at arguably the worst possible time, in early March of 2020, has continued to perform well and contribute to incremental sales.

Best Limited-Time Offer: Smokey Bones

The casual-dining chain rolled out a comprehensive line of meal kits a month into the pandemic, including raw proteins and sides for guests to prepare at home, adapting to customers’ needs during the crises.

Best Menu/Line Extension: Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar

The casual-dining chain drew on harried customers’ needs for nostalgia, convenience and value with the introduction of TV Dinners — frozen meals in compartmented trays ready to be heated at home, with options including chicken enchiladas, pot roast and fish & chips, complete with side and desserts. The new line has proven to be so successful that Lazy Dog continues to expand the variety available, including $6 kids’ meals.  

Additionally, as announced previously, Denver chef and restaurateur Jennifer Jasinski will be inducted into the MenuMasters Hall of Fame.

Jasinski is the head of Crafted Concepts, which operates Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Stoic & Genuine and Ultreia restaurants in Denver as well as Ultreia Paella Catering. She has been instrumental in turning the Mile High City into a culinary destination.

“This is an amazing group of awardees who exemplify the resilience and adaptability that the foodservice industry as a whole has exhibited over the past 18 months and I can’t wait to honor them in Denver in October,” NRN senior food & beverage editor Bret Thorn said. “We’ll also finally have the chance to celebrate last year’s winners.”

The 2020 winners, who will also be honored at the party, are Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen for its industry-changing chicken sandwich, Velvet Taco for its constantly evolving Weekly Taco Feature, Buffalo Wild Wings for reconceptualizing its entire menu, Burger King for the launch of its meatless Impossible Whopper nationwide, Chipotle Mexican Grill for its health-oriented Lifestyle Bowls, and Dog Haus for being a trendsetter in menu innovation, collaboration with other chefs and community involvement.

Last year’s “Innovator,” Sarah Grueneberg and Hall of Fame Inductee Thomas Keller will be honored at a later date.

MenuMasters is an invitation-only event for foodservice executives. Get more information on the gala and how to attend at

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