The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) announced today its 2014 Restaurant Neighbor and Faces of Diversity American Dream award winners, who will be recognized at a gala on April 29, during the National Restaurant Association’s Public Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C.
The Foundation’s Restaurant Neighbor Award, developed in partnership with American Express, celebrates the outstanding charitable service performed by restaurant operators. Created 16 years ago, this award recognizes the impact restaurants and entrepreneurs have made on their local communities. The Faces of Diversity American Dream award, sponsored by PepsiCo Foodservice, is given to diverse members of the restaurant industry who have, through hard work and perseverance, achieved the American Dream.
“The restaurant industry has provided opportunities for millions of people throughout the U.S. and the recipients of the 2014 Restaurant Neighbor and Faces of Diversity awards demonstrate the incredible opportunities they have been able to create as a result of working in it,” says Rob Gifford, executive vice president of strategic operations and philanthropy for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. “We are proud to recognize the achievements of these seven national award winners, selected from a pool of hundreds of operators from around the country. Their dedication to the industry and commitment to achieving their dreams is truly exceptional.”
Recipients of the 2014 Restaurant Neighbor Award receive a $5,000 contribution to continue supporting their charitable initiatives. The winners were:
- Matt Haley, CEO, SoDel Concepts (Rehoboth Beach, Delaware): At 35 years old, Matt Haley began his foodservice career as a dishwasher, after spending seven years in prison. He entered a vocational program and learned to cook and today owns seven of Rehoboth’s finest restaurants.
To pay it forward, he established the Global Delaware Fund to administer goods and services to at-risk children and those in distressing situations, both locally and nationally. Named the 2014 James Beard Humanitarian of the Year, Haley has helped fund three schools and provide scholarships for students in Nepal, in addition to mentoring children and funding the education for youth who have been affected by school funding cuts.
- Passport Pizza (Clinton Township, Michgan): Since 2005, Passport Pizza has served as a conduit for restaurants, vendors, and grocery stores to donate leftover food that is then distributed to nonprofits, shelters, projects, and soup kitchens throughout the community.
Helping others help others, Passport Pizza takes pallets of food that may only have a three-day shelf life and distributes them to local partners who can immediately give the food to those who need it. Passport Pizza’s relationships extend to a broad span of business leaders, nonprofits and community-based organizations to help countless people including youth, families, students, churches, single mothers and the homeless.
- Cohn Restaurant Group (San Diego, California): In 1996, Lesly and David Cohn co-founded the Garfield High School Foundation and the culinary arts program—featuring a $2 million state-of-the-art kitchen, serving line and lecture center—that has graduated 2,000 at-risk youth to date.
Teenage students that are considered high risk for dropping out learn culinary skills to prepare them for future careers in the restaurant industry. The foundation’s annual Thanksgiving fundraising luncheon, run by the students under the guidance of Cohn Restaurant Group’s chefs, has raised more than $300,000 over the past 16 years to benefit the program and staff have volunteered more than 4,000 hours.