The National Restaurant Association today honored four restaurant entrepreneurs and a renowned culinary college with its 2011 Faces of Diversity awards.

The award celebrates members of the restaurant and foodservice industry who have embraced diversity and inclusion at their own business operations and achieved the American dream in the process.

The winners will receive the awards at a ceremony during the National Restaurant Association’s 2011 Public Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C. In addition to the award, a $2,500 scholarship was given to a student in their respective communities.

“The restaurant industry is one of the most diverse industries in the United States, and we are celebrating that by honoring these individuals and companies with our 2011 Faces of Diversity awards,” says Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association.

“It is a true pleasure to recognize their personal and professional achievements, which underscore how hard work and determination lead to success in our industry.”

This year’s American Dream Award winners are:

Berekti and Akberet Mengistu, Mesob restaurant, Montclair, New Jersey:These Ethiopian-born sisters witnessed to the horror of the Red Terror political campaign in Ethiopia during the late 1970s and eventually immigrated to the United States, where, for the last seven years, they have successfully operated Mesob. Berekti handles the business operations and Akberet is the chef. The sisters are as committed to giving back to their community as they are to ensuring their restaurant’s success.

Amporn Vasquez, Pizza by Elizabeths, Greenville, Delaware:This executive chef began her quest for the American dream at age 14 when she escaped familial abuse and an arranged marriage by hiding in a zoo in her native Thailand. Vasquez eventually made her way to Delaware, where she settled into odd jobs and domestic work until she met restaurateur Betsy LeRoy, who was planning to open Pizza by Elizabeths. LeRoy inspired Vasquez to go to culinary school and then hired her as the restaurant’s kitchen manager. Today Vasquez is the executive chef of the restaurant.

Richard Castro, McDonald’s franchisee, El Paso, Texas: As a child in Del Rio, Texas, Richard Castro had big dreams, but a smaller chance of achieving them as an adult. He was poor and had few successful Hispanic role models to emulate. But Castro put his determination to work and excelled in school. He was able to attend college and became a city manager before turning to real estate and finally a career as a McDonald’s owner-operator. Today he owns 20 restaurants in the El Paso area. He is a mentor to Hispanic children in his community, and founded RMHC/HACER, a scholarship program for Hispanic students, in 1985. The program, since its inception, has awarded more than $20 million to 14,000 students.

The Inspiration Award winner is:

The Culinary Institute of America and Silver Ventures Inc., San Antonio, Texas:In an attempt to increase the number of Hispanic managers and restaurant owner-operators in business, the CIA partnered with Texas billionaire Kit Goldsbury and his private-equity firm, Silver Ventures Inc., to open a CIA campus in San Antonio.

It offers scholarships to students with the same curriculum as the college’s Hyde Park, New York, campus and also provides classes and research on Mexican and Latin American cuisine. The campus has so far graduated 180 students from its culinary arts program, with many choosing to continue their degree education in Hyde Park.

CIA president Dr. Tim Ryan calls the project El Sueño, Spanish for “The Dream.” He says with more access to financial aid and education, more Latinos will be able to propel themselves further in their careers.

The National Restaurant Association, in partnership with PepsiCo Foodservice, created the Faces of Diversity awards program in 2007. It highlights diversity in two categories—the American Dream Award and Inspiration Award.

The American Dream Award honors individuals of diverse backgrounds who, despite hardship, have achieved success through hard work and determination. The Inspiration Award recognizes a restaurant company or organization that has exhibited leadership and vision through its advocacy of diversity and inclusion.

Industry News, Philanthropy