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Our History

Since 1920, RAMW has been proud to be the voice of the metropolitan Washington food service industry and establishments of hospitality ranging from casual eateries to internationally acclaimed fine dining restaurants.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) are the same age. Both organizations were founded in 1920. The NRA started February 26, one month after the passage of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and on October 29 the "Washington Restaurant Association" was launched, exactly nine months after Prohibition. 

The object of WRA was to unite the restaurant community of the Washington area into a permanent trade association. A goal was to establish cooperation and confidence among its members and the restaurant industry as a whole. RAMW continues to be the voice of restaurant and food service industry members in Washington, DC, the City of Alexandria and Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William Counties.

Ben Rosenfield, Manager and Treasurer of the Belvedere Farms Lunch Company, was credited as being the "guiding light" for the establishment of WRA. He was also tapped for national service; having been elected an NRA director for 1920-1921. His enthusiasm resulted in Washington being selected as the site for the NRA's 1922 annual convention held at 5th and K streets, over the K Street Market. This exposure to the national industry gave WRA an early view of the industry on a broad basis, and contributed greatly to membership growth.

In 1932-1933, restaurant prices were at their lowest ebb during the Depression. A small group of restaurateurs called a first meeting of a second restaurant group at Epstein's Restaurant on 11th Street. At that meeting the 50 attendees adopted a resolution calling for the establishment of the "Washington Restaurant Association" and the new President was Allen Prather, 1933-1934

It is not clear from the records, but one of the two groups was associated with the Merchants and Manufacturers Association as a "Division," possibly the group founded in 1920. Both organizations represented the industry and had the same name. Both sought recognition from the NRA and asked for a charter. The two groups combined forces on February 16, 1934, with more than 50 members. Subsequently a charter was granted by the NRA. The organization was known as the "Washington Restaurant Association". A Constitution and By-Laws were drawn up and adopted for the WRA. The names of the trustees for the first year were: J. Allen Prather, Hubert H. Keller, Mrs. Harriet L. Pieper, Abe Epstein, Peter Borras, Mrs. Harry Papps, Milton Hollander, George L. Goodacre, James N. West, A. G. Earnest, Mrs. C.L. Justus, John E. Jenner, Evan A. Scholl, Aris H. Bacas, Theodore D. Sloat, Richard A. Hearn, Charles R. Ferris, and Raymond Lubra.

The early days of the Franklin Roosevelt administration were the days of programs such as the National Recovery Act and others, which confronted business and industry with new laws and regulations. Al Carder was then the NRA President. He moved to Washington and set up quarters at the Willard Hotel to represent the industry in the Nation's Capitol.

Coming from North Carolina to join the NRA staff in DC in 1933, Robert J. Wilson was subsequently appointed business manager of the WRA. There was a rebirth of enthusiasm as the organization had staffing for the first time. In 1935 the organization was incorporated. Membership grew. The first convention was held in 1937 at the Mayflower Hotel.

In 1941 the Association set up its office at 2003 I (Eye) Street, NW in a building purchased five years later. At this point John S. Cockrell was hired to promote membership. He later became Executive Secretary and was appointed Executive Vice President in 1959, a post he held until his 1986 retirement.

In 1945 the Association started to hold a trade show, the "East-South Show," which eventually converted from every other year to annual. The Restaurateur, a monthly foodservice industry magazine, was started in August 1947 and ran through the mid 1990's.

Following the end of World War II, the WRA represented the industry in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia on many issues. Some of these were especially difficult for the foodservice industry, such as price stabilization, minimum wage, unemployment compensation, stand-up drinking, workers' compensation, and health department regulations. WRA accepted membership applications of restaurants in Virginia and Maryland starting in 1935. Although the name was not changed a logo showed that the states were included as part of the greater Washington area.

In the November of the 1960 Restaurateur, a new logo appeared for the first time to reflect the new name of the organization: Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. The first Restaurant Awards Gala was held in 1982 attended by a small handful of area restaurateurs. Today, the event is known as The RAMMY Awards Gala and has grown to over 2,500 attendees and serves as a benchmark of success and prestige for nominees and RAMMY award winners​.

In February 1986 Jack Cockrell retired. Coming from an 18-year post as Executive Director of an association of lawyers and having earned his CAE (Certified Association Executive), Tom Rouland was appointed the new Executive Vice President on March 1 during the 1986 East-South Show.

In 1990 the East-South Show had outgrown the Sheraton National trade show space so in 1991 it moved to the Washington Convention Center. A new Executive Vice President took the reigns in October of 1992. William D. Lecos came to RAMW from the NRA.

In January 1999, a new President, Eric Peterson, joined the Association from Capitol Hill. The office was also moved to a new space in Arlington, VA. In January 2001, RAMW relocated to Washington, DC in the National Restaurant Association building. In 2001, former RAMW Board Member and restaurateur, Lynne Breaux became the Executive Director, and then President, of RAMW. Under her leadership membership grew to over 700 restaurants, service providers, vendors and organizations. Kathy E. Hollinger served as President and CEO of RAMW from December 2012 until January 2023. She served as the official voice, advocate, and resource for 1,300 members across the region. She worked to promote and sustain the growth and development of the industry while providing members legislative and regulatory representation, marketing and small business support, and programming and industry events. 

Shawn Townsend was named President and CEO of RAMW in January 2023 and currently serves in this role.  Since his arrival, RAMW membership has grown to more than 1,400 members. RAMW’s voice in the legislative and regulatory arena has grown.


About the RAMW Education Foundation (Educated Eats)

Founded in 2004, Educated Eats (501(c)3) advocates for the value of employment through the restaurant and foodservice industry and is committed to creating the next generation of culinary professionals.
Frans Hagen scholarships are designed to assist individuals who demonstrate an interest in and commitment to the restaurant industry. Scholarships are provided to both high school students pursuing a course of undergraduate culinary study, as well as to those already active in the restaurant industry who are interested in opportunities to return to school to refresh and deepen their skill set. 
Past scholarship recipients have gone on to graduate at the top of their classes at some of the nation’s finest culinary schools, like the Culinary Institute of America and Johnson & Wales.