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WRA Announces State Finalists for NRA Awards

Congratulations to the state finalists from Wisconsin who will go on to compete for these national awards.

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Restaurant Neighbor Award

Small business category:
Red Mill Supper Club, Stevens Point

Don and Melissa Thompson have always been active in their community supporting many non-profit groups like Kids from Wisconsin and the United Way, as well as food to the Salvation Army and Empty Bowls, but last year they created a new gift card fundraising program for area organizations. By selling a $20 gift card for half price to the non-profit organization and then allowing the group to resell the gift card for $15, the groups can raise $5 per card. Working with Trinity Lutheran Church youth groups and day care, J.F.K. Elementary School, St. Paul Lutheran Church and St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church, the Red Mill donated over $4,400 and over $2,200 was raised for the organizations. The Thompsons are delighted that their staff is involved in promoting the program and can see the direct impact in the community. The gift card fundraising program is expanding this year to include more non-profit organizations. Todd Lewis, Youth and Family Coordinator at Trinity Luther Church said, “As small business owners, the Thompsons believe very strongly in giving back to their community for all that has been given to them…there are so many organizations that have been helped by their community-mindedness.”

Medium business category:
The Bartolotta Restaurants, Milwaukee

The successful Bartolotta Restaurants are owned by brother Paul and Joe Barolotta and are an integral part of the communities where their restaurants are located. The philanthropic arm of the business, Care-a-lotta, is overseen by Joe’s wife, Jennifer Barolotta, and a board comprised of Bartolotta employees. Support for non-profit organizations is primarily provided in three ways: 1) Monthly gift certificate donations to local organizations for events, fundraisers and other special needs; 2) a donation equal to 10 or 15 percent of food and beverage costs for non-profit organizations that host a special event in any of the group’s restaurants or catering facilities; and 3) the year-long “Spot-on” partnership which highlights one local nonprofit organization to generate awareness and raise funds for its mission. Colleen Henry, a Pathfinders board member, had this to say about the organization’s “Spot on” experience last year, “The Care-a-lotta team has helped Pathfinders raise money to support homeless teens, but more importantly, it’s proved invaluable in raising community awareness needed to generate long-lasting resources.”

Large business category:
Wisconsin Hospitality Group, dba Pizza Hut and Applebee's

Applebee’s main charitable focus remains on the Childrens Hospital of Wisconsin Health System and during their 14 years supporting this cause, over $1,100,000 has been raised.  The focus for Pizza Hut has been One Heartland, a camp for children affected by HIV/AIDS. Since Pizza Hut’s campaign began, more than $900,000 has been raised.  In addition to those primary campaigns, Applebee’s has celebrated Veteran’s Day since 2008 by serving free meals and offering thanks to vets, active duty servicemen and women and their families.  Pizza Hut has also been a supporter for World Food Program (WFP) in collaboration with YUM! Brands, helping to feed 90 million people in over 70 countries.  Jeff Stewart, VP & COO of Children's Hospital and Health System Foundation wrote the following about WHG, "The philanthropic efforts of Wisconsin Hospitality Group/Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar have truly touched lives statewide.”

Cornerstone Humanitarian:
Jerry Arenas, Palmer Steak House, Hartland

Arenas became involved with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation 28 years ago after his son, Tony, was diagnosed with the disease. Initially the family’s fundraising efforts started small, a fishbowl to collect donations brought in $1,600. Their annual “Tent Event” draws between 500-700 attendees who enjoy delicious food, live music, auction items and celebrity guests. This year’s event raised $181,000! It has grown tremendously in scope, popularity and success over time and the total amount raised over the years is nearing the $2 million mark. It’s very meaningful to Arenas that former and current employees and customers have been incredibly supportive. Danelle O’Neill, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation said the following about Arenas, “ Jerry’s passion for our mission has helped to educate and bring together individuals who have no personal connection to the disease, creating a community of peopled dedicated to ending cystic fibrosis in our life. His leadership is pivotal to our success and has inspired many others to get involved.”

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Diversity Awards

American Dream Category:
Yinka Adedokun _ Reynold’s Pasty Shop, Milwaukee

Adedokun came to the United States from Nigeria in 1972 to attend college. He worked many jobs in the restaurant industry in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Wisconsin. After earning his Master’s Degree in textiles, Adedokun moved to Atlanta, Georgia where he worked as Garde Manger at the Ambassador Restaurant. In 1992 he moved with his family to Milwaukee where he helped establish African Kitchen. He often served as a guest lecturer in the Milwaukee Public School District and led workshops as a speaker on African issues and culture. He then operated Africa Hut with his wife Moji in downtown Milwaukee from 1994 – 2007. He is now the owner of Reynold’s Pasty Shop and is committed to maintaining their reputation for quality, authentic pasties (since its opening in 1956). Adedokun has three grown children who have all found success in their own fields. In describing the American Dream, Adedokun said “It’s there if you work hard and give it all it takes. It’s not for free. I don’t know why some people think it’s for free. It is achieved through hard work and persistence. The US is the one country in the world where you can get what you want by working hard.”

Will Allen, CEO & Founder of Growing Power, Inc., Milwaukee

Back in 1993, Allen, a farmer with land in Milwaukee, designed a program that offered teens an opportunity to work at his store and renovate the greenhouses to grow food for their community. Growing Power now employs over 100 people, feeds more than 10,000 locals each year through school kitchens, local restaurants (including their own Growing Power Café), affordable food baskets and a year-round farmers’ markets. Allen was the first African-American basketball player at the University of Miami, Florida and went on to a pro career. He worked in corporate marketing for Procter & Gamble before returning to his roots as a farmer, using his retirement package to purchase a plot of inner-city land with greenhouses. A national leader in urban agriculture, he has been awarded The John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellow, named one of Time magazine’s 100 World’s Most Influential People, is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative and the recipient of numerous accolades and awards recognizing his work. Allen describes his work with Growing Power as his privilege and duty, explaining, “Helping to provide equal access to all people from diverse backgrounds to healthy, safe and affordable food is one of the hallmarks of our American Dream!”

Peter Gebauer, Executive Chef, Potawatomi Bingo Casino, Milwaukee

Gebauer grew up in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps and developed a passion for the culinary arts and the desire to learn and improve himself. He began his career with a traditional apprenticeship in a hotel and became a certified chef after three years. Gebauer then sailed around the world onboard luxury cruise lines. After working in Hong Kong and the Middle East, he returned to Germany where he became a Certified Master Chef at 29. More prestigious cruise lines and resorts would be added to his resume before he became Executive Chef at Potawatomi Bingo Casino. A member of the American Culinary Federation (he is currently President of the ACF Chefs of Milwaukee) and the German Chef’s Association, Gebauer also serves on the advisory board for the culinary program at Waukesha Technical College. Gebauer serves on the WRA Education Foundation Board and has written two books, Omnivore’s Travel and My Culinary Academy. A strong believer in the impact of education, he created Potawatomi’s Culinary Academy. When asked about the American Dream, Gebauer stated, “Having a successful hospitality career can be democratic and open to anybody who is savvy, focused and determined. You don’t necessarily need an extensive culinary education. You need a lot of really good ideas and a strong work ethic.”

Doris Ng - GingeRootz Asian Grille, Appleton

Ng and her sister Alice are the proud operators of a popular restaurant in the Fox Valley.  Their motto of persistence and perseverance and subsequent well-deserved success epitomizes the American Dream.  Their parents came to America hoping to provide a better lifestyle and more opportunities for their family, like many immigrants.  With little money and limited English, they borrowed money from friends and family to open a restaurant.  Doris described shared, "Being able to continue my parent’s dream of sharing their love of food is the greatest sense of accomplishment.” In 2004 the sisters continued the family legacy by opening GingeRootz.  Future plans include bottling their own sauces and packaging frozen appetizers and perhaps opening additional locations in the Midwest. They also offer a Culinary Travel program, traveling with customers to foreign countries to learn and experience and appreciate the food.  Other interesting projects include Doris Ng's work educating students on the fundamentals of operating a business through Count Me In, Women's Leadership Exchange and Goldman Sach's 10,000 Small Business Initiative.  At GingeRootz a priority is placed on employee advancement at all levels, with a portion of the restaurant's budget going to education.

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Wisconsin Restaurant Association • 2801 Fish Hatchery Rd. • Madison, WI 53713 • Tel: 608.270.9950 • Toll Free: 800.589.3211 • FAX: 608.270.9960