The winners of the 2016 Georgia Restaurant Association Crystal of Excellence (GRACE) Awards were November 13 at The Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta. The GRACE Awards Gala is the Georgia Restaurant Association’s (GRA) annual black-tie gala event honoring Georgia’s restaurant industry. As a special 10-year celebration of the GRACE Awards, recognition was given to the finalists and honorees from the past decade. Jim Stacy, host of the Cooking Channel's “Offbeat Eats” and owner of Pallookaville Fine Foods, served as the Master of Ceremonies and the Joe Gransden Duo provided live musical entertainment.
The GRACE Awards are peer-nominated and winners are selected by the GRACE Academy. GRACE winners are presented with crystal works of art created by renowned local artist Hans Godo Frabel. Additionally, a portion of the proceeds from this event goes to the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
2016 GRACE Awards Winners:
Lifetime Achievement Award—Bob Amick, Concentrics Restaurants
Bob launched his journey in the restaurant industry washing dishes in a pizzeria at age 12, working his way up the ladder, and finally opening the Peasant Restaurants in 1974. Since then, he has pioneered chef-driven restaurants in Atlanta. With over 40 years of cooking up concepts, Bob has opened around 100 restaurants, including about 50 in Atlanta, and has nurtured some of the city's best known chefs.
Industry Partner of the Year—Coca-Cola
As a company who has called Georgia home for over 130 years, The Coca-Cola Company was one of the founding members of the GRA. They have continuously collaborated with the restaurant industry in order to contribute to Georgia’s prosperity.
The company also provides financial, strategic and leadership support by sponsoring events such as the GRACE Awards Gala, the GRA Golf Tournament and the GRA Chairman Reception.
As an active member in the community, the Coca-Cola team is one of the top fundraisers for the annual Hunger Walk and supports many other events in the foodservice community. Their dedication to the restaurant industry ensures that people will continue to come together to dine out and take pride in the culinary expertise found in this state.
Distinguished Service Award—Regynald Washington, Hojeij Branded Foods
Georgia continues to grow as a hub of business and travel, so naturally, Hojeij Branded Foods chose Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport as one of the 13 airports to operate their business. Before joining Hojeij Branded Foods in 2010, Regynald Washington contributed his extensive industry expertise to companies such as Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Disney Regional Entertainment and more. Regynald has also served as the chairman of the board for the National Restaurant Association.
Washington has ensured that the future of the hospitality industry thrives, gifting a large donation to Georgia State University’s Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality Administration in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. These funds were allocated to the graduate program within the university, renamed the Regynald G. Washington Master of Global Hospitality Management.
Restaurateur of the Year Award: Small/Independent—Jamie Durrence, Daniel-Reed Hospitality
Jamie Durrence, managing partner at Daniel Reed Hospitality, has created restaurants that make Savannah a top culinary destination. His entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and love of community have been his motivation throughout his 15 year journey in the restaurant industry.
Jamie has ensured that the restaurants put Savannah on the culinary map by offering the highest quality food and service and building relationships between the kitchen and service staffs, as well as patrons. By making sure each guest feels welcomed, they create a memorable dining experience that has people craving to return. Most recently, Jamie embarked on a new venture with Daniel-Reed Hospitality to open their newest concept, Artillery.
Restaurateur of the Year Award: Franchisee—Shawn Hooks, Firehouse Subs
Shawn Hooks has taken her passion for hospitality and, along with her partners, developed more than 175 Firehouse Subs restaurants throughout the Southeast. Firehouse Subs, founded by brothers and former firefighters Chris and Robin Sorensen, is a brand built on decades of public service, steaming hot subs piled high with the finest quality ingredients.
Their brand values and passion for flavorful food, community service and public safety has been at the center of their business operations. Through the establishment of their nonprofit organization, Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, they fulfill their promise of making a positive impact in the community.
Restaurateur of the Year Award: Large/Corporate—Waffle House
Headquartered in Norcross, Georgia, Waffle House operates over 1,500 restaurants. As a brand that brings people together through their unbeatable combination of good food and outstanding service since 1955, Waffle House is a beloved icon of the South.
Aside from their hospitable nature, The Waffle House Community Involvement program positively influences their local communities by developing partnerships, inspiring philanthropy and promoting goodwill both inside and outside the company. This initiative to improve their community is embraced by everyone on the job ladder, from entry-level positions to corporate roles.
ProStart Student of the Year—King-La’Keit Randall, Westover High School
Following in his father’s footsteps, King-La’Keit Randall is embracing what it means to be part of the culinary scene. Randall played a role on the Westover High School ProStart Culinary Program team which placed 2nd in the state invitational. Aside from participating in the ProStart Program, King-La’Keit also works at a restaurant and is part of the dual enrollment program. These activities are preparing him for his bright future in the culinary industry.
He has been accepted to the Art Institute of Atlanta where he will take the skills acquired in the ProStart program and use them to fortify the restaurant industry in Georgia. KingLa’Keit embodies the drive and sacrifice it takes in order to succeed.
Restaurant Employee of the Year—Valita Drayton, The Krystal Company
Valita Drayton truly represents the meaning of the American Dream. A native of Barbados, Valita has been a shift leader with The Krystal Company since 2002. She is responsible for overall store management, supervising team members, maintaining the restaurant image and sometimes acting as the manager on duty. Her success in this role is due in part to her vast experience acquired throughout 17 years of being in the hospitality industry.
Every time she wears the Krystal uniform, she demands excellent customer service despite daily challenges and the ever-changing nature of restaurants. As a leader for her team, her constant learning allows her to improve the quality of service Krystal delivers and embraces the opportunity to mold the next generation of hospitality employees.
She is a veteran in this industry, and finds it rewarding to watch those employees take the skills they learned and use them to grow into successful and dedicated members of the restaurant industry.
Manager of the Year—Yvette Pearson, The Public Kitchen and Bar
With over 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Yvette Pearson brings her diverse skill set to the hospitality industry with eagerness to learn from others while encouraging others to do the same. Yvette strives to display a strong work ethic and a willingness to mentor her employees. When she began her career in the hospitality industry as a teenager, she saw a chance to acquire valuable life skills and quickly move up the ladder.
As a manager, she is responsible for overseeing daily operations and that the restaurant positively represents Savannah, its commitment to the local farm to table movement, and making sure that guests feel welcome and important. Her team is a family, which fosters camaraderie and a dedication to making sure every guest leaves full and happy.