STATE LEADERS IN COMMUNITY SERVICE AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP TO BE HONORED APRIL 22 IN SACRAMENTO
The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) developed the Restaurant Neighbor Awards to raise awareness about the restaurant industry’s contributions in local communities across the country and to inspire other restaurant owners and operators to showcase their enormous contributions in their communities. The Faces of Diversity American Dream award is given to diverse members of the restaurant industry who have, through hard work and perseverance, achieved the American Dream.
The Restaurant Neighbor Award winners – who are national finalists – are:
- Rio Grill (Carmel): Established the Rio Grill Resolution Run 23 years ago, which has raised more than $500,000 for various causes, most recently the Natividad Medical Center Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
- Cohn Restaurant Group (San Diego): For more than 30 years, Cohn Restaurant Group has supported Balboa Park Foundation, Promises 2 Kids, San Diego Zoo, Project Wildlife, Epilepsy Foundation and UNICEF, among others. In 1996, the Cohns co-founded the Garfield High School Foundation, which raises funds for the alternative continuation school’s culinary arts ProStart program.
- Maria’s Italian Kitchen (Los Angeles): Supports dozens of regional events and organization, including several dedicated to helping children with disabilities, as well as the Los Angeles County Education Foundation and its Probation Youth Committee.
- The Habit Burger Grill (Irvine): Raised more than $100,000 in 2013 among its 80 locations, funds went to support a variety of charitable organizations, including the Boys & Girls Clubs, the American Red Cross and local high school programs, as well as the CRA Educational Foundation.
- Panda Restaurant Group (Rosemead): Through its GIVING branch, the company raised nearly $30 million over the past three years for health and education programs targeting underserved children, including the Children’s Miracle Network. In 2013, the company donated more than 55,000 meals and more than 7,000 volunteer hours.
- Jamba Juice (Emeryville): Raises nearly $2 million annually to support the American Heart Association through various campaigns.
“Restaurants across California give back to their communities every day, and we are thrilled to honor just a few of those who go above and beyond in their efforts and are making a big difference,” CRA President + CEO Jot Condie said. “In addition, it’s inspiring to find examples of leaders who are truly living proof that the American Dream can be found through careers and entrepreneurship within the restaurant industry.”
The 2014 Faces of Diversity American Dream Award went to three California entrepreneurs. The winners are:
- Griselda Barajas, president and CEO, Griselda’s Catering (Sacramento): Barajas immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 12 years old and spent countless hours in the restaurant of Ninfa Laurenzo, the godmother of Tex-Mex cuisine, where her parents worked. Inspired to enter the restaurant industry, Barajas began her own catering business in 1993 and operates Griselda’s World Café in the Capitol building, as well. She has received several small business awards, including Business Woman of the Year from the Sacramento and California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
- Edgar Escalante, franchise owner, Poquito Mas (Los Angeles): An immigrant from El Salvador, Escalante worked his way up from his initial role as a dishwasher more than 30 years ago, earning the titles of cook, head chef then manager and was ultimately made the first franchisee of Poquito Mas. He has since opened two more restaurants and is preparing for more.
- Carlito Jocson, executive chef, Yard House Restaurants (Irvine): Jocson and his family immigrated from the Philippines. He has worked in the industry for more than 30 years after leaving college to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. He works to serve as a mentor to his employees and is fiercely devoted to both his faith and his social responsibility to give back to his community through his work with Athletes and Entertainers for Kids, Share Our Strength and the CRA Education Foundation, as well as two organizations that work to educate kids about the Filipino culture.
- Makhan Bains, owner, Raja Sweets (Union City): Bains arrived in the United States from India with $8 in his pocket in 1985. With businesses in Union City and Hayward, Bains credits his community for everything he has today, so works to give back however possible. He raises money for countless political, religious and social causes, including disaster relief projects. He also has served on the CRA Board of Directors for more than a decade.