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April 14, 2015

Wisconsin Restaurants Honored with Restaurant Neighbor Awards for Excellence in Community Engagement

Palmer’s Steak House, Food Fight Restaurant Group, Wisconsin Hospitality Group and Bruce Kroll from Culver’s of Platteville were selected as Wisconsin finalists for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s Restaurant Neighbor Award.

Wisconsin finalists did not win at the national level this year. The national winners – chosen in from state awardees by a panel of restaurant and foodservice industry leaders from across the country – will be honored at a restaurant and foodservice industry gala awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 2015.

The Restaurant Neighbor Award, developed in partnership with American Express, celebrates the outstanding charitable service performed by restaurant operators throughout the U.S. Created 17 years ago, this award recognizes the impact restaurants and entrepreneurs have made on their local communities.

The 2015 Restaurant Neighbor Award finalists from Wisconsin are:

Small business category:
Palmer’s Steakhouse, Hartland
Arenas became involved with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation 30 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 $200,714! It has grown tremendously in scope, popularity and success over time and the total amount raised over the years is closing in on the $2 million mark. It’s very meaningful to Arenas that former and current employees and customers have been incredibly supportive. The 2015 Tent Event will be celebrating its 30th anniversary. Danelle O’Neill, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation said the following, “Jerry and Marie’s dedication to helping us find a cure for this disease has been paramount to the progress our organization has made in reaching our goal.”

Medium business category:
Food Fight Restaurant Group, Madison
In addition to Food Fight’s work in the community with their Cards for a Cause and Food Fight Against Hunger programs, their Sweet Revolutions fundraiser benefits Home Health United’s Meals on Wheels program which provides nutritious meals to those in need living in Madison, Middleton, Monona and Sun Prairie communities. This upscale, carnival for grownups features tasting stations, carnival games and a mega calk walk. Food Fight restaurants participate with festive food stations offering delicious food and drink choices. Sweet treats donated from other local bakeries and businesses help make the cake walk such a success with over 500 desserts for participants to win. The event, held on April 9th at Madison’s Overture Center, has great participation from the many and varied Food Fight restaurants and brings together chefs, managers and staff who all pitch in. Awareness about the Meals on Wheels program is raised through increased visibility in the community, particularly among Food Fight’s loyal customer base.

Large business category:
Wisconsin Hospitality Group, dba Pizza Hut and Applebee's (headquartered in Waukesha)
The main charitable focus of Applebee’s owned by WHG since 2000 has been on the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and during their years supporting this cause, over $1,200,000 has been raised.  The focus for Pizza Huts owned by WHG since 2001 has been One Heartland, a camp for children affected by HIV/AIDS. Since Pizza Hut’s campaign began, nearly $1,000,000 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.  This year 18,604 guests came in and received a free meal. Additionally $4,000 was raised for Honor Flight. 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.  Individual locations also support their local communities with “Dining to Donate” fundraisers with 15% of each guest check donated to a local group.  As their application noted, “At Wisconsin Hospitality Group, giving to the community isn’t just a passing thought; it is an integral part of our company’s culture.”

Cornerstone Humanitarian:
Bruce Kroll, Culver’s of Platteville
In November of 2013, a fire destroyed the Culver’s of Platteville. Owner Bruce Kroll’s insurance policy covered 60 days of his employees’ salaries, but it would take six months before the restaurant could reopen. Kroll considers his employees family and making sure they would be taken care of during that period of rebuilding was a priority. Kroll decided to pay his Platteville employees’ salaries for the four months beyond what insurance would cover out of his own pocket – approximately $144,000. He also owns a successful Culver’s location in Dubuque, Iowa and was able to use those profits to assist the Platteville team. Kroll stipulated that his employees needed to volunteer their time to help out in the community. Employees often wore their Culver’s uniforms while volunteering and identified areas of need in the Platteville area. This resulted in several successful employee-led fundraisers. At that time, Kroll had operated the Platteville location for 19 years and was committed to keeping his “Culver’s family” together.” In an interview for Channel 3000 he explained, “It is just a building and Culver’s of Platteville is much more than that. It is the people and not the building.”

“Each year, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, in partnership with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, recognizes people and businesses who exemplify the good work and great achievements that are possible in the restaurant industry,” said Ed Lump, WRA’s President and CEO. “This year’s finalists showcase the philanthropic and entrepreneurial spirit unique to Wisconsin’s robust restaurant community – one that gives back in communities each and every day.”

The NRAEF awards program also includes the Faces of Diversity American Dream Award, sponsored by PepsiCo Foodservice, and the Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality Award.

“The NRAEF’s awards program honors the many ways restaurants support and enrich America’s communities,” said Rob Gifford, executive vice president strategic operations and philanthropy, National Restaurant Association and National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. “From the unlimited opportunity for people of all backgrounds to find success, to the countless ways in which restaurants invest in their communities, the awards help elevate the stories of impact that define our industry.”

For a complete a complete list of the 2014 state and national winners, please visit www.nraef.org/awards.

About the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation:
As the philanthropic foundation of the National Restaurant Association, the NRAEF exists to enhance the restaurant industry’s service to the public through education, community engagement and promotion of career opportunities. The NRAEF works to attract, develop and retain a career-oriented professional workforce for the restaurant industry. The restaurant and foodservice industry comprises 980,000 restaurant and foodservice outlets and a workforce of more than 13 million employees, making it one of the nation's largest employers. For more information on the NRAEF, visit NRAEF.org.

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Since 1933, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association has been dedicated
to the promotion, protection and improvement of the foodservice industry.

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