13th Annual GRACE Awards Winners Announced

Restaurant Industry News,
The winners of the 2019 Georgia Restaurant Association Crystal of Excellence (GRACE) Awards were announced Sunday, August 11 at the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta. The GRACE Awards Gala is the Georgia Restaurant Association’s (GRA) annual black tie event honoring Georgia’s restaurant industry.
The GRACE Awards are peer-nominated and winners are selected by the GRACE Academy, made up of past honorees. GRACE winners are presented with crystal works of art created by renowned local artist Hans Godo Frabel. A portion of the proceeds from the event goes to the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Also presented at the event was the 2019 GRA Chairman’s Award, given to Carl Muth with FoodService Resource Associates.
‚Äč2019 GRACE Awards Winners:
Lifetime Achievement – Regynald Washington
Regynald Washington currently serves as President of the Paradies Lagardère Dining Division. After its acquisition of Hojeij Branded Foods (HBF) in 2018, Paradies Lagardère became the third-largest operator in the North American airport travel retail and restaurant industry with total annual sales exceeding $1.2 billion. The combined brand portfolio offers airport partners and the traveling consumer a vast array of concepts including Vino Volo, Chick-fil-A, P.F. Chang’s, Pei Wei, Bar Symon by Chef Michael Symon, illy Caffè, Longhorn Steakhouse, and Cat Cora.
Prior to his role at Paradies Lagardère, Washington was a former Morgan Stanley Private Equity portfolio CEO, a member of the MSPE/HBF board, and equity partner for HBF. He spent 12 years of his career with the Walt Disney Company, where he was vice president of Food and Beverage for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts globally. Washington served as vice president and general manager for Disney Regional Entertainment, where he was responsible for the strategy, direction and growth of Disney’s ESPN Zone sports entertainment and food and beverage brand, based in Burbank, California. He was also director of Resort Food and Beverage Operations for the Walt Disney World Company in Orlando, Florida, where he was responsible for all food and beverage operations for 18 Walt Disney Resorts. Previously, he was the general manager, Food & Beverage for Epcot, which entailed leading the operations of 12 internationally themed full-service restaurants, 10 quick service restaurants, 21 outdoor food locations, and a multi-million-dollar special events and catering organization. Washington was also responsible for the Epcot International Food & Wine festival, the largest food & wine festival in the U.S.
Washington’s previous experience includes ascending through the corporate ranks of Concessions International Inc., where he ended up directing the overall operations as corporate executive vice president.
Washington proudly holds leadership roles on several boards, and has earned multiple awards for excellence in the industry. Most recently, he was named the 2019 Gold Plate Award recipient by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA), awarded IFMA’s 2019 Silver Plate Award in the Retail & Specialty Foodservice category, and inducted into IFMA’s Gold & Silver Plate Society. He was named one of the nation’s Top 50 Taste Makers in the restaurant industry by Nation’s Restaurant News and in his role with Hojeij Branded Foods, received the Georgia Restaurant Association’s 2016 GRACE Award for Distinguished Service. Washington has been given the Outstanding Achievement Torch Award from his alma mater, Florida International University and was also inducted into the College of Diplomats of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.
Regynald Washington is a member of the Georgia State University Foundation Board of Trustees, the Board of Directors of the Chicago Sinfonietta, and serves as the Dean’s Advisory Board Member of the Chaplin School of Hospitality Management at Florida International University. He formerly held board roles with the National Restaurant Association, where he served as the elected chairman, and the California Chamber of Commerce. He personally donated $1 million to Georgia State University’s Cecil B. Day Hospitality School, allowing the school to offer a master’s program named The Regynald G. Washington Master of Global Hospitality and Management Program. Washington has delivered commencement addresses for Florida International University’s Doctoral, Masters and Undergraduate programs, Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business, and the Culinary Institute of America.
Washington is an Honorary Alumnus of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University, an Honorary faculty member of the Michigan State University School of Hospitality Business, and a Distinguished Darden Professor of the Department of Hospitality Tourism Management at Purdue University. He was named a Conti Lifetime Professor (an endowed chair), at the School of Hospitality Management, Pennsylvania State University.
Washington is a graduate of Florida International University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in International Hotel & Restaurant Administration. He holds dual certification as a Foodservice Management Professional through the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, and is a Certified Food & Beverage Executive through the Educational Institute of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. His hobbies include music, food, wine, and deep-sea fishing.
Industry Partner of the Year – Retail Data Systems
As the largest Point of Sale System value added reseller in North America, Retail Data Systems represents a variety of products from the leading manufacturers in the POS technology industry. The company provides end-to-end Point of Sale business solutions including business analysis, hardware, software, installation, support and repair service.
"We know and love this industry -- the people, the restaurants, the trends, and yes, the technology. When we partner with a restaurant, we are invested in their success," says General Manager Walt Davis. "We work hard to earn the title ‘trusted advisor’ by analyzing and providing all those essential pieces that customers did not even know they needed."
Retail Data Systems has been an engaged member of the Georgia Restaurant Association since 2005. Davis has served on the Board of Directors since 2011.
Distinguished Service – Georgia Mountain Food Bank
Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s mission is to address hunger, health and quality of life by serving those in need. Together with the Atlanta Community Food Bank, the organization rescues unsaleable or surplus food and distribute through a network of feeding partners filling empty bowls of people in need.
"Georgia's hospitality industry is a major advocacy partner for all of the food banks in the Georgia Food Bank association. Through donations of food, funds, time and talents, this industry stands with us in creating awareness and empowering communities to work toward a hunger-free Georgia," says Executive Director Kay Blackstock.
Georgia Mountain Food Bank's relationship with the Georgia Restaurant Association began with the joint advocacy efforts of Georgia Food Bank Association, Georgia Restaurant Association and Georgia Department of Agriculture.
"At the center of all we do is people and food. Food is necessary for survival but food brings people to the table for so many reasons. We believe that much is accomplished together, and everyone should have a seat at the table," says Blackstock.
Diversity Leadership – Meherwan Irani, Chai Pani Restaurant Group
An immigrant from India, Meherwan Irani serves as Chef & CEO of Chai Pani Restaurant Group, which has two restaurant concepts in Georgia: Botiwalla at Ponce City Market and in Alpharetta and Chai Pani in Decatur. The group also has four restaurants in Asheville, North Carolina. Irani joined the restaurant industry about ten years ago with the intention to change the perception of Indian food in the US - to make it fun and approachable.
In January 2018, Irani started Brown in the South supper series, collaborating with some of the most renowned chefs in the region. The series has started a conversation around race, identity, belonging, and food.
“For people born in America, their southern identities are inherited, but for people who immigrate here their southern identity has to be forged,” Irani explains. “Too many are afraid of accepting that identity, of staking a claim, of boldly stating that they too belong here. If I can inspire others to stand up and be counted, then we will indeed be recognized as one of the most diverse parts of the country.”
Irani understands that identity doesn't stop at race. Gender, orientation, religion, and ethnicity are all are part of the cultural expression of a community and a region. He wants his restaurants to not just be a passive safe space but an active participant in the expression of diversity.
Irani was named one of Time Magazine's 30 People Changing the South in September 2018. A month later he was named one of Southern Living Magazine's Southerners of the Year.
He says, “To be recognized on those list alongside people who I admired so much, as well to accepted by the south as one of their own even though I was an immigrant from India was a life changing shift in perspective for me - from thinking that I was an Indian that happened to live in the south, to being a southerner that happened to be from India.”
Restaurateur of the Year: Small/Independent – Doug Turbush, Seed Hospitality Group (Seed Kitchen & Bar, Stem Wine Bar, Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar)
Doug Turbush is Owner and Chef at Seed Kitchen & Bar, Stem Wine Bar, and Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar, collectively known as Seed Hospitality Group. Wanting more restaurant options by his house in East Cobb County, Turbush opened Marietta's Seed Kitchen & Bar in 2011, serving chef-driven, modern American cuisine. He then followed with Stem Wine Bar in 2013. The restaurant features European small plates and a variety of Old World and New World wines. Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar was added to the roster in 2016.
Seed Hospitality Group plays an essential role in Georgia’s hospitality industry through their support of local and sustainable food sources, their contribution to several local and national charities, and through a commitment to nurturing and developing hospitality industry professionals.
Seed Kitchen & Bar pioneered the idea of a chef-driven restaurant concept with an in-town vibe in the suburbs of Atlanta, and helped East Cobb become recognized as a viable dining destination. Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar made waves by being the first official Georgia restaurant partner of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program, an organization designed to promote and educate consumers about seafood sustainability. Stem Wine Bar brought food and wine tasting to a whole new level inside an unassuming East Cobb strip mall.
“I've traveled extensively to bring bold and exciting tastes to my guests. But the driving force has always been quality. As a chef, you can have the greatest menu in the world, but it doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t have the very best ingredients,” says Turbush. “Having that commitment to local sourcing and highest-quality ingredients is my top priority.”
In 2016, Turbush was named a Georgia Grown Executive Chef, tasked with promoting the relationship between farmers and chefs in Georgia.
In addition to a great menu and great ingredients, Seed Hospitality Group is committed to developing great leaders and professionals in hospitality.
Turbush says, “At Seed Hospitality, we hope to leave the restaurant industry better than we found it by creating a safe, professional work environment. We are active in placing individuals from local culinary and hospitality programs and have fostered an operating system in-house that drives results and grows leaders.”
Restaurateur of the Year: Large/Corporate – Taco Mac
Taco Mac been operating restaurants in Georgia for the past 40 years and is known in neighborhoods around the state as the place to go for beer, wings and sports. Taco Mac has a unique program called Brewniversity, which combines loyalty and beer education. Through their partnerships with local craft brewers, Taco Mac has become an integral part of the beer ecosystem in Georgia.
Taco Mac is a proud partner of Camp Twin Lakes, which delivers fully adaptive, medically supportive, and deeply impactful camp experiences to more than 10,000 of Georgia’s children and young adults. Last year, Taco Mac raised over $60,000 for Camp Twin Lakes and has a goal is to raise more than $100,000 in 2019.
"In addition to raising money for Camp, our managers and leadership team spend time each year volunteering at Camp - whether it's cleaning cabins or laying gravel for paths. We are 100% committed to Camp Twin Lakes!" says CEO Harold Martin, Jr.
ProStart Student of the Year – Matthew Gilleland, Statesboro High School
ProStart is a nationwide, two-year high school program that unites the classroom and industry to develop the best and brightest talent into tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice leaders.
Matthew Gilleland is a recent graduate of Statesboro High School, where he was enrolled in the ProStart Program. During his last two years in high school, he worked in restaurants, performing a variety of tasks from bussing to cooking. His ProStart teacher, Cindy Hart, describes him as “the most well-rounded and talented student I have ever had the opportunity to teach.” This young chef is currently working on starting a food blog and has future plans to obtain a degree in business, travel oversees to international culinary knowledge and eventually, open and operate a boutique hotel.
Employee of the Year – Donte Jenkins, Dantanna’s
Donte Jenkins is passionate about food, people and hospitality. It all started when he was just six years old, cooking alongside his mother in the kitchen. His first job in the industry was as a busser and host, and twelve years later, he still loves what he does. He currently serves guests with a smile at the table and the bar at an upscale sports restaurant here in Atlanta. His ultimate goal is to open a restaurant of his own, where he can mentor and guide young, passionate foodservice workers to be successful in their careers, because to him, that is the true meaning of service.
Manager of the Year – Andres Loaiza, Aria
Andres Loaiza lives and breathes excellence, consistency and gracious hospitality. His goal every time he comes into work as general manager and head sommelier at Aria is to create wonderful experiences and unforgettable memories for his guests. A native of Columbia, Loaiza has been living his dream in hospitality for the past 20 years. He has a true love for delicious food, fine wine, and most of all - people. The connection he makes with customers and co-workers on a daily basis is what gives him joy, purpose and fulfillment. 
About the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA)
The GRA’s mission is to serve as the voice of Georgia’s restaurants in advocacy, education and awareness. The GRA is sanctioned by the National Restaurant Association to operate as Georgia’s only not-for-profit representing the state’s foodservice industry. The GRA serves as the unified voice for over 18,400 eating and drinking place locations in the state of Georgia with total sales in excess of $22 billion. Georgia’s restaurants provide their communities with more than 488,000 jobs statewide. From large chains to start-ups, the GRA helps make Georgia a better place for restaurants and helps make restaurants better for Georgia.
About the GRACE Awards
The GRACE Awards is the Georgia Restaurant Association’s annual black tie gala honoring Georgia’s restaurant industry. The GRACE Awards finalists are peer-nominated and honor the top performers in the following categories: Lifetime Achievement, Industry Partner of the Year, Distinguished Service, Restaurateur of the Year, ProStart Student of the Year, Employee of the Year, and Manager of the Year. The winners are announced at the event and are presented with crystal works of art created by renowned local artist Hans Godo Frabel. A portion of the proceeds from this event benefit the Atlanta Community Food Bank, whose mission is to fight hunger by engaging, educating and empowering the community.