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Diversity and Inclusion, Community Service and Leadership in Restaurants and Foodservice Recognized at National Awards Gala

April 18, 2018

Washington, DC  – [April 18, 2018] – The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) announced today the 2018 Restaurant Neighbor, Faces of Diversity and Ambassador of Hospitality award winners, celebrating diversity and inclusion, community service and hospitality leadership in the restaurant industry.

Seven winners were selected from hundreds of nominations and the coveted Ambassador of Hospitality award went to chef Rick Bayless. The NRAEF honored each winner at a special VIP dinner in Washington, D.C. Their incredible stories of overcoming personal challenges, achieving their dreams and giving back to the community were shared with industry icons and members of Congress.

“We have a long tradition of recognizing and encouraging diversity and inclusion, and celebrating community engagement and our industry icons,” said Rob Gifford, Executive Vice President of the NRAEF. “With over one million restaurants in the U.S., our industry opens doors of opportunity for people of all backgrounds and cultures every day. Each year, the Foundation is excited and honored to recognize the people and businesses that truly embody these values and principles.”

Restaurant Neighbor Award Winners

The Restaurant Neighbor Award, developed in partnership with American Express, highlights outstanding local and national charitable service and philanthropy. Recipients of the 2018 Restaurant Neighbor Award receive a $10,000 contribution in their name to support the charitable organization or program of their choice. This year’s winners include:

BURGER KING McLAMORE℠ Foundation:­ Since 2000, the Foundation has provided scholarships, supported literacy projects and built schools and libraries, helping more than 700,000 children and families. In over a decade and a half, the Foundation has awarded more than $35 million, reaching students in North America as well as students in South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India and Dominican Republic. Watch the video here.

Wildflower Bread Company: A family-owned business operating 16 fast casual restaurants, the Wildflower Bread Company supports four principal pillars through the Wildflower Cares Foundation: food insecurity, education, women and animal advocacy. The company has donated more than $4.4 million in baked goods, and served breakfast to over 76,000 students. Watch the video here.

Anna Maria Oyster Bar: The owners of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar embarked on a journey to demonstrate how businesses in the community can improve grade-level reading for students – and did so by helping 74 kids read more than 1,600 books in the span of four weeks. Each student received backpacks filled with school supplies and one-on-one support in the four-week program. Watch the video here.

Faces of Diversity Award Winners

The Faces of Diversity award, sponsored by PepsiCo Foodservice, honors champions of diversity and inclusion and restaurateurs who have achieved the American Dream. This year’s winners include:

Anil Yadav, CEO, Yadav Enterprises, Inc. (locations in California and Texas): After emigrating from India to San Francisco at the age of 17, Yadav landed his first restaurant job as fry cook in a Jack in the Box – and is now the largest operator of the same concept. Today, his San Francisco-based company runs more than 350 restaurants, including Jack in the Box, TGI Friday’s, Denny’s, El Pollo Locos, Corner Bakery Cafe and Sizzler. Watch Anil’s video here.

George Wasai, Director of Food and Beverage, Legends Hospitality (Dallas, Texas): In his 28th season with the Dallas Cowboys Organization, Wasai came to the U.S. from Ghana with his parents at the age of 14 and started his foodservice career as a dishwasher. He has grown to become a pillar in his community, as he rose to the management ranks and earned the respect of colleagues who recognize him as an integral part to the organization, overseeing all food and beverage for the Dallas Cowboys. Watch George’s video here.

Michaela Mendelsohn, Owner and Chief Executive, El Pollo West Corporation (California): Mendelsohn’s rise from her start as a dishwasher to her position as Owner and Chief Executive of Pollo West Corporation, a 17-unit franchise of El Pollo Loco, is just a small piece of her story. Mendelsohn is also a transgender woman breaking barriers in the restaurant industry by creating safe spaces so that transgender/gender non-conforming persons can succeed – her company has hired more than 40 transgender employees and 25 percent are on the pathway to management. Watch Michaela’s video here.

Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality Award

Named in honor of Thad and Alice Eure, the Ambassador of Hospitality Award, sponsored by Ecolab, is bestowed upon an industry leader who displays an unwavering commitment to elevating and advancing the restaurant and foodservice industry. This year’s winner:

Rick Bayless, Chef, Frontera Restaurants (Chicago, Illinois): Rick Bayless, recognized and award-winning chef, is the 2018 winner of the NRAEF’s lifetime achievement award. He launched the Frontera Farmer Foundation in 2003, which has awarded 200 grants and provided more than $2 million; created the Frontera scholarship, and founded a culinary training program for low-income residents of Chicago’s West Side. Watch Rick’s video here.

For more information on each winner, including images and videos, go to:


About the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation

As the philanthropic foundation of the National Restaurant Association, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation is dedicated to enhancing the industry’s training and education, career development and community engagement efforts. The NRAEF and its programs work to Attract, Empower and Advance today’s and tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice workforce. NRAEF programs include:  ProStart® – a high-school career and technical education program; Restaurant Ready – partnering with community based organizations to provide “opportunity youth” with skills training and job opportunities; Military – helping military servicemen and women transition their skills to restaurant and foodservice careers; Scholarships – financial assistance for students pursuing restaurant, foodservice and hospitality degrees; and, the Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship Project – a partnership with the American Hotel & Lodging Association providing a  hospitality apprenticeship program for the industry. For more information on the NRAEF, visit