The winners of the 2015 Georgia Restaurant Association Crystal of Excellence (GRACE) Awards were announced Sunday, November 1 at The Foundry at Puritan Mill in Atlanta. The GRACE Awards is the Georgia Restaurant Association’s (GRA) annual black-tie gala event honoring Georgia’s restaurant industry. Jim Stacy, host of the Cooking Channel's “Offbeat Eats” and owner of Pallookaville Fine Foods, served as the Master of Ceremonies and Willie Ziavino & C.O.T Band 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.
“The GRACE Awards is our chance to pay tribute to those who have demonstrated standards of excellence and serve as an inspiration to others in the restaurant industry and our community. On behalf of the organization, I am proud of the members we have and the outstanding accomplishments they make day in and day out,” says Karen Bremer, CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association.
2015 GRACE Awards Winners:
Lifetime Achievement Award – Doug McKendrick, McKendrick’s Steakhouse
Since its opening in 1995, McKendrick’s Steakhouse has enjoyed continuous success as one of Atlanta’s must-attend restaurants for any special occasion. It has also been rated as one of the coveted few Great Steak Houses of North America. McKendrick’s Steakhouse offers classic steakhouse dishes as well as off-menu cuts combined with locally grown fresh produce. It has also been named one of the top steakhouses in Atlanta by Zagat, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Open Table, and more.
Industry Partner of the Year – The Giving Kitchen
The Giving Kitchen (TGK) provides emergency assistance grants to those in the Atlanta restaurant community facing unanticipated hardship. TGK offers two types of grants, one covering the basic living expenses of those struggling as well as a grant that matches funds raised by a restaurant team on their behalf.
It all started when Atlanta Chef, Ryan Hidinger, was diagnosed with stage four cancer in December 2012. Following the diagnosis, the community rallied together to provide love and financial support. What started as helping out a fellow chef in his time of need has since evolved into something broader. The Giving Kitchen has achieved great success since its inception. They have provided more than 250 crisis grants totaling $500,000 for restaurant workers.
Distinguished Service Award – Fifth Group Restaurants
Since 1993, a love of food and desire to share it with the world has guided Fifth Group Restaurants to the success it has today, growing from one restaurant to seven. Its dedication to drive Atlanta’s reputation has led it to provide a superb dining experience, high quality food, and a connection to guests that makes them return time and time again. Within the community, they also give back by participating in the Atlanta Community Food Bank’s Hunger Walk/Run as the top corporate sponsor of the event for the past seven years, raising more than $250,000.
They are the founder and presenting sponsor of Taste of the Highlands, which benefits Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Sustainability has also been a core value since the beginning, recycling and composting 95 percent of its product and diverting more than 500,000 pounds of waste destined for landfills annually.
Restaurateur of the Year Award: Small/Independent – Kevin Rathbun, Cliff Bramble and Kirk Parks, Rathbun’s, KR Steak Bar, Kevin Rathbun Steak, Krog Bar
Kevin Rathbun, Cliff Bramble, and Kirk Parks have contributed to the Atlanta restaurant scene, starting with one restaurant and growing to four. Kevin Rathbun began working as a dishwasher in Kansas City, working his way up and receiving many awards, ultimately taking his talents to Atlanta where he opened Rathbun’s in 2005. Cliff Bramble has contributed to the hospitality industry for 30 years, at one time owning his own café, and is now the co-owner of Rathbun's, Krog Bar & Kevin Rathbun Steak. Finally, Kirk Parks discovered his love for the culinary field at an early age and has won many awards such as Baker of the Year in the Southwest region. He is co-owner of Rathbun's, Krog Bar & Kevin Rathbun Steak as well.
The partnership between Kevin Rathbun, Cliff Bramble, and Kirk Parks began in 2004 and continually receives recognition as some of the top restaurants both in Atlanta and the U.S.
Restaurateur of the Year Award: Franchisee – John Silvey, Poultry Partners, dba Zaxby’s
John Silvey has taken his passion for food and serving people through many different roles in the restaurant industry. After 30 years in the industry, he continues to learn and teach others, watching them become successful in their own endeavors. Poultry Partners employs approximately 50 employees, most of whom have worked with the company for more than five years.
Poultry Partners works with several community schools by supporting the students and their athletic programs. They have always focused their community service on the youth and provided food for 600 children in school during the 2014 ice storm. They also actively participate in Kamp Kizzy with Keshia Knight Pulliam, Ne-Yo Compound Foundation, and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. Poultry Partners hires those who share the spirit of community service, which helps continue to make an impact.
Restaurateur of the Year Award: Large/Corporate – Paul Damico, Moe’s Southwest Grill
Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Moe’s has more than 600 locations across the country. Now EVP and group president of Focus Brands, Paul Damico first started out in the industry cleaning dishes and helping out with his dad’s catering business. Damico became CEO of Moe’s Southwest Grill in 2008 and then was recently promoted to Focus Brands, focusing on oversight of Moe’s Southwest Grill, Schlotzsky’s Bakery and Café, and McAlister’s Deli.
Moe’s has been receiving recognition from national publications, including QSR Magazine. By continuously evolving the brand, remaining relevant, and having a strong team of employees, they are successful in delivering genuinely good food.
ProStart Student of the Year – Heather Bundy, Marietta High School
Now a senior at Marietta High School, Heather joined the ProStart Culinary Team in her sophomore year. Her passion for competing and learning the drive and dedication it takes to be successful in the culinary world are what led her to get involved. While participating in ProStart competitions, she contributes her skills and passion for food to the dessert course for her team.
Heather is now executive chef of Devil Rock Café, Marietta’s student-run restaurant where she manages 11 students. She also gives back to the community through the Culinary Arts Program and helps prepare food for a local men’s shelter at least once a month along with other culinary events. Her teachers at Marietta High School state that Heather demonstrates the tenacity needed to lead a bright future in the culinary field.
Restaurant Employee of the Year – Chris Gianaras, 4th & Swift
In 2008, Gianaras began as a food runner at 4th & Swift and has moved up through the ranks as the beverage director. As the longest tenured employee in the restaurant, he is responsible for curating the wine, spirit, and beer list as well as creating seasonal cocktails that pair well with dishes. Chris has also created his own farm-to-drink movement in farm-to-table concept.
What began as a job to help support other goals quickly became more than just a job, but rather a passion. At 4th & Swift, Gianaras is encouraged to be creative and has the freedom to explore new things to incorporate into the beverage menu. The culture and creative liberty has allowed Chris to expand his knowledge and understanding of the industry and bring value. He has a commitment and passion for his work and now has the honor of designing the beverage program for Noble Fin, another one of Jay Swift’s restaurants.
Manager of the Year – Dewey Funna, Hudson Grille Midtown
At Hudson Grille Midtown, Funna manages one of the busiest restaurants in Atlanta, and does it by providing an entertaining, high quality experience and playing an active role in the community. Like many others, Funna began at Hudson Grille in order to pay for his college expenses. He quickly noticed that this industry provided him with so many opportunities. Funna’s peers explain that he exhibits every quality of a successful manager and seeks to gain the respect of those he works around.
Throughout his 20 years in the restaurant industry, Funna has been a server, bartender, bar manager, and hourly manager.