Georgia Restaurant Association Announces GRACE Award Winners

The winners of the 2022 Georgia Restaurant Association Crystal of Excellence (GRACE) Awards were announced on Tuesday, September 27 at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. The GRACE Awards Gala is the Georgia Restaurant Association’s (GRA) annual event honoring Georgia’s restaurant industry.

The GRACE Awards are nominated by peers and winners are selected by the GRACE Academy, made up of past winners. GRACE winners receive crystal artwork created by renowned local artist Hans Godo Fräbel. The 2022 GRA President’s Award was also presented at the event to Georgia State Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller.

2022 GRACE Awards Winners:

Lifetime Achievement – Dr. Debra F. Cannon, Ph.D.

Dr. Debra F. Cannon, Ph.D. is director of the Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality at Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University. A faculty member since 1991, Dr. Cannon has served as principal of the school since 2001. Under her leadership, the school has expanded into highly ranked undergraduate and graduate programs and is one of the few nationwide programs to be dual-accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate. Schools of Business (AACSB) and the Accreditation Commission for Programs in Hospitality Administration (ACPHA).

Dr. Cannon’s areas of specialization include human resources and quality service management. She has extensive industry experience, including real estate and corporate level positions at Hyatt Hotels and The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. She is co-author of the manual “Training and development for the hospitality industry”, sits on several academic editorial boards and is a frequent contributor to industry publications.

Dr. Cannon is a member of the board of directors of the Georgia Restaurant Association, a member of the executive committee and board of directors of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, and a member of the advisory board of the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association. She also sits on the board of the International Society of Hospitality Consultants and is a member of Les Dames Escoffier International – Atlanta Chapter. She received the Distinguished Service Award from the Georgia Restaurant Association, was inducted into the Atlanta Hospitality Hall of Fame in 2013, and received the Georgia Women in Lodging Leader of the Year Award.

Restaurateur of the Year – Southern Proper Hospitality

Southern Proper Hospitality received the Restaurateur of the Year award in recognition of its service to customers and the Georgian community. Southern Proper Hospitality has 17 locations throughout Georgia and the Southeast. Chris Hadermann is the co-founder and partner of Southern Proper Hospitality. Hadermann credits his hotel group’s success to being one of the best places to work in its class and having staff who are passionate about working in the hospitality industry.

Rookie Restaurateur of the Year – Korean Fried Chicken Mukja

Sean Chang is the owner of Mukja Korean Fried Chicken in Atlanta and this year’s Rooke Restaurateur of the Year. Chang’s Restaurant is a small, unique concept located in the heart of Midtown Atlanta. His restaurant allows him to meet and socialize with all walks of life. It also strives to become a neighborhood fixture in the community and seeks work-life balance for employees in the restaurant industry.

Hospitality Hero of the Year – Sterling Hospitality

Sterling Hospitality is the 2022 Hospitality Hero of the Year for delivering world-class hospitality to its customers, suppliers, employees, guests and the neighborhoods and communities they serve. John C. Metz, Executive Chef, CEO and Co-Founder of Sterling Hospitality credits his longtime staff with the “secret sauce” that makes each of his restaurants and cafes unique and different. Metz is looking for opportunities to support associations that are close to its heart.

Industry Partner of the Year – Melissa Libby & Associates

Melissa Libby & Associates has worked closely with entrepreneurs, small business owners, marketing managers, consultants, leaders and inventors for over 25 years to effectively tell their stories through strategic planning, creating content, community outreach, media relations, social media marketing, crisis management and more. They were named “Industry Partner of the Year” for their longevity in the industry and their commitment to supporting the restaurant community. Their team also supports many non-profit organizations focused on food insecurity and hunger relief.

Restaurant Manager of the Year Jose “Pepe” Fundora

The 2022 Restaurant Manager of the Year credits his love of hospitality to his parents while growing up in the restaurant business. Having worked in the industry for 24 years, he is co-owner of the family restaurant as well as a certified sommelier. He believes that nothing is impossible through hard work and that by taking risks you will see results. It’s about serving guests with grace and a smile as they choose to return again and again to dine and celebrate special occasions.

Restaurant Employee of the Year – Katherine “Cristina” Najera

The 2022 Restaurant Employee of the Year is deeply passionate about training and developing others. “People” are Najera’s favorite part of her job, whether it’s interacting with customers to make them feel at home or coaching employees and seeing them grow within the company. . She is celebrating her eighth working anniversary this year at the restaurant where she started her first job. She is an asset to company management with her holistic, solution-oriented work ethic and is well-liked by guests and team members alike with her commitment to excellent customer service and unwavering support for the company’s growth. the team.

Georgia ProStart Teacher of the Year – Chef Elissa Oliver

This year’s Georgia ProStartâ Teacher of the Year defines her motivation as the students choosing to take her course and the excitement of watching what they will create. Colleagues of Chef Elissa Oliver describe her as having a heart of gold who never turned down an opportunity to involve her and her students in volunteer events, competitions and industry collaborative events. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, she found plenty of ways to keep her students engaged in the kitchen during virtual learning through an interactive YouTube channel and even provided food for students in need. Her greatest hope for her students when they leave her class is that they will be successful, proactive and happy in what they choose for their future.

Georgia ProStarta Student of the year – Jennifer Pacheco

Georgia ProStartâ 2022 Student of the Year, Jennifer Pacheco has demonstrated exceptional culinary skills and served as team captain for her school’s leadership team in the Georgia 2022 ProStart competition. She and her team won first place and were invited to participate in the National ProStart Invitational in May. Pacheco will return to his ProStart school as an intern and plans to apply to the Culinary Institute of America after graduation. She hopes to one day own her own gourmet restaurant and bring jobs to customers through her food, just like others have done for her.

Hall of Fame – Ellen Hartman

A public and media relations veteran, Ellen Hartman has served the Georgia restaurant industry community for over 45 years. Representing many well-known national, state and local brands, his expertise in consumer and business-to-business communications, social responsibility, media relations and crisis management has helped clients navigate tricky areas such as management of COVID-19, the legal and the work. challenges, gender and diversity issues, workplace violence, foodborne illnesses, environmental disasters, product recalls and finances.

Hall of Fame – John Harof

John Harof started in the restaurant industry in 1975. Originally from Long Island, New York, he moved to Atlanta in 1984 to work with Liberty House Restaurant Group before joining Ruth’s Chris Steak House in 1993. As Manager information technology, he has deep expertise in many aspects of restaurant technology, including reservation and point-of-sale systems, credit card processing, systems security, digital cooking and dining room verification systems. He is described by his colleagues as “a consummate professional, a tireless advocate for the industry and an unparalleled mentor”. Harof says his main motivation for his career choice was the excitement of everyday work, working with people makes work enjoyable and if you are lucky enough to find a career you love, you will be successful.

Hall of Fame – Mario Antonio “Tony” Fundora

The GRACE Academy is honored to include Tony Fundora in the GRACE Awards Hall of Fame posthumously. Fundora has left a legacy of hospitality and community service on Metro Atlanta’s food scene. Originally immigrating from Cuba in 1962, he opened many restaurants with the love of his life and his wife Maria by his side. In 1998 they built their dream Casa Nuova Italian Restaurant in Alpharetta. Fundora has spread its love for food by sharing it with the community. His passion for fresh food inspired him to grow his own fruits, vegetables and flowers on his farm in North Fulton, which he loved to share with everyone who came to the restaurant. He said, “I’m not better than anyone else because they’re not better than me. And everyone in this world deserves respect and kindness.