Restaurant Neighbor and Faces of Diversity award winners named

April 7, 2014

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation announced its 2014 Restaurant Neighbor and Faces of Diversity American Dream award winners, who will be recognized at a gala on April 29 during the NRA's Public Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C.

According to a news release, the Neighbor Award, developed in partnership with American Express, celebrates the charitable services performed by restaurant operators in 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 release said.

Recipients of the 2014 Restaurant Neighbor Award receive a $5,000 contribution to continue supporting their charitable initiatives. This year's winners include:

  • Matt Haley, CEO, SoDel Concepts (Rehoboth Beach, Del.): 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.
  • Passport Pizza (Clinton Township, Mich.): 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. 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.
  • Cohn Restaurant Group (San Diego): In 1996, Lesley 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. 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 throughout the past 16 years to benefit the program and staff have volunteered more than 4,000 hours.
  • Panda Restaurant Group (Rosemead, Calif.): Established in 1999, Panda Cares serves the health and education needs of underserved children. More than $41.5 million has been raised for charities and causes, including natural disaster relief. Panda Cares works with organizations across the U.S. to provide meals and raise funds in its close to 1,700 restaurants, which includes Panda Express, Panda Inn and Hibachi-San.

The 2014 Faces of Diversity American Dream Award include:

  • Griselda Barajas, president and CEO, Griselda's Catering (Sacramento, Calif.): Barajas immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 12 years old and began her own catering business in 1993. Today, Barajas owns and operates a thriving catering business, as well as Griselda's World Café in the Capitol building in Sacramento.
  • Mansour Ghalibaf, owner, Hotel Northampton (Northampton, Mass.): In 1979, Ghalibaf, an Iranian immigrant, was attending college and working in a restaurant to pay his tuition when he was told he would be deported back to Tehran. He secured a visa to remain in the U.S., earned a college degree, got married and continued working in the hospitality industry. After serving as general manager of the historic, 106-room boutique Hotel Northampton, Ghalibaf purchased the hotel and has since grown sales from $2 million to $7 million. 
  • Jahangir Kabir, district supervisor, White Castle System Inc. (Woodside, N.Y.): The ninth of 10 children, Kabir immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 1990 and was hired by White Castle as a cook. Kabir worked his way up to general manager after four years and has since grown to district supervisor, overseeing nearly 200 employees. All eight of his restaurants have received an award of excellence from White Castle.

Topics: Marketing / Branding / Promotion , National Restaurant Association , Operations Management

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