A smoothie chain encouraging a better-for-you lifestyle, an IHOP franchisee from Liberia, and a longtime restaurateur with a penchant for mentoring others, were among this year’s National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation Restaurant Award winners.

The Association honored the winners at a reception in Washington, D.C., during the National Restaurant Association’s 33rd Annual Public Affairs Conference. The Restaurant Neighbor and Faces of Diversity awards highlight outstanding charitable service, philanthropy, and inclusion.

American Express sponsors the Restaurant Neighbor awards, and PepsiCo Foodservice sponsors the Faces of Diversity awards.

Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association and its Educational Foundation, congratulated the winners.

Restaurant Neighbor winners:

Tropical Smoothie Café
The quickservice chain partnered with Camp Sunshine to raise national awareness and funds so children with life-threatening illnesses and their families could escape to a relaxing place and get away from the tough challenges they face. To date, 2,500 families have received a much-deserved vacation. Watch video

Southern Hospitality Ventures Inc.
This Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers franchisee wanted to support military members. It partnered with Cell Phones for Soldiers to exchange old phones for calling cards. It also created a free-meal-with-purchase offer to customers donating old cell phones. In addition, it launched Raising Coats, which donates outerwear to those in need, and Stuff the Bus, which collects school supplies. Watch video

Great Full Gardens
The company provides local schools, veteran groups and others with donated or fund-supported greenhouses. The greenhouses help teach at-risk children, students and community members how to grow their own produce. Great Full Gardens has donated three greenhouses, and nearly $35,000 in cash and in-kind donations to community charities. Watch video

Above: The Great Full Gardens team celebrates with Educational Chair Geoff Hill, left, and American Express' Curtis Wilson, right

Faces of Diversity winners:

Adenah Bayoh, IHOP franchisee
Bayoh fled Liberia when war broke out in her country. After nearly a year in a refugee camp, she immigrated to the United States, worked her way through college, and at age 27, bought her first IHOP franchise. Today, she is a successful entrepreneur in New Jersey. Watch video 

Pictured, left to right, are PepsiCo Foodservice's Scott Balmanno, Susannah Ryan, Diversity award winner Adenah Bayoh and PepsiCo Foodservice's Merary Simeon

The Abi-Najm Family, Lebanese Taverna
When war broke out in Lebanon in 1976, Dany Abi-Najm and his family immigrated to the United States. Three years later, the family purchased and opened the original Lebanese Taverna. Today, the company owns and operates five restaurants, four cafes, a market and an airport location. Watch video

The Abi-Najm-Family-Lebanese-Taverna-photo
Pictured, from left to right, are Educational Foundation Chair Geoff Hill with members of the Abi-Najm family and PepsiCo Foodservice's Merary Simeon

Francisco "Paco" Vargas, Rudy and Paco Restaurant & Bar
Francisco "Paco" Vargas escaped the Nicaraguan Revolution in 1978, settling in Galveston, Texas. He quickly opened his own restaurant, the Rudy and Paco Restaurant & Bar. His Paco Vargas Scholarship Fund has pledged $100,000 to students pursuing careers in hospitality and restaurant management. Watch video

Ambassador of Hospitality winner:

Roz Mallet, PhaseNext Hospitality
President and CEO of PhaseNext and an Association board member, Mallet received the Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality Award, sponsored by Ecolab. Known for her commitment to service, she joined the Association’s board in 2004, was elected to the Foundation’s board in 2006, and served as Association chair in 2012.


Pictured, left to right, are Ecolab's Chris Loflin, 2019 Ambassador of Hospitality Roz Mallet and the Angus Barn's Van Eure