April 26, 2022

Changemakers share their stories at Journeys That Inspire gala

Foundation lauds the achievements of Guy Fieri, Alexander Smalls, Ben’s Chili Bowl, and Elephants Delicatessen.
Ben’s Chili Bowl

Ben’s Chili Bowl Chief Administrative Officer Nizam Ali said his restaurant focuses on treating everyone “equally and with respect, no matter their status or color.”

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation honored restaurant industry changemakers at this year’s Journeys That Inspire gala during the National Restaurant Association’s Public Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C. They were honored for their work in diversity, equity and inclusion, community service, and leadership.

Celebrity chef and TV personality Guy Fieri was named the Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality, while Ben’s Chili Bowl was recognized for its contributions to DEI, and Elephants Delicatessen for its community service efforts, especially during the pandemic.

At the gala, award-winning chef-entrepreneur Alexander Smalls, owner of The Cecil and Minton’s in Harlem, N.Y., sat down with Michelle Miller, co-host of CBS Saturday Morning, for a far-reaching discussion on diversity and inclusion in the industry.

The event, held April 26, was emceed by local TV and radio personality Tommy McFly, and sponsored by PepsiCo, American Express and Ecolab.

“Our honorees perfectly symbolize the impact our industry has on the lives of millions of people every day,” said the Foundation Chairman Kent Walrack. “We’re so happy to tell their stories, which represent our Foundation’s mission—to empower people from all backgrounds with the training and education they need to secure better futures. With the support of our partners and people in this room, we’re literally changing lives and uplifting communities everywhere.” 

Here’s a look at the honorees:

Ben’s Chili Bowl: The restaurant, which opened 54 years ago in segregated Washington, D.C., was recognized for its work in diversity and inclusion. Over the last 10 years, the company donated more than $240,000 to various charitable organizations. It’s also provided over 6,000 meals to first responders since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The landmark eatery is known for serving everyone from U.S. presidents to diplomats to District regulars. In describing what’s made Ben’s special for half a century, Chief Administrative Officer Nizam Ali said it’s “always been a safe place for everyone, a place where a judge could sit next to someone he or she had [once sent to prison], and have a meal. It’s a place that’s hired returning citizens over the decades and given them a second chance, and where everyone is treated equally and with respect no matter their status or color.”

Elephants Delicatessen: Honored for its community service, the Portland, Ore.-based, Certified B Corporation uses “the power of business to solve social and economic problems” to “help people help people.” The company, recipient of the Foundation’s 2020 Restaurant Neighbor award, used its $10,000 grant money to keep the pantry filled at an 80-unit low-income apartment building. It also introduced a “Good Neighbor Menu” offering affordable menu items for purchase and donation to shelters, health-care workers, and first responders during the pandemic.

Guy Fieri: Fieri received the Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality award for his leadership over the last two years, helping restaurants and their employees get through the pandemic. In 2020, he championed the NRAEF’s Restaurant Employee Relief Fund (RERF), which raised more than $21.5 million in financial aid for more than 43,000 unemployed restaurant workers. Unable to attend in person, the celebrity chef, in videotaped remarks, thanked the National Restaurant Association and the Educational Foundation for supporting all restaurants, large and small. 

“For me, being an Ambassador of Hospitality is a great responsibility,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be in the hospitality business. It’s taken me to places I never could have dreamed of. Now, more than ever, the industry needs our support, and I’m committed to being there. Whether it’s partnering with RERF, raising money at my restaurants, or helping shape the next generation, it’s my privilege to be on the front lines, working to rebuild our industry.”