The National Restaurant Association honored restaurant entrepreneurs and a culinary college with its 2011 Faces of Diversity.
Among the honorees were Richard Castro, a McDonald's franchisee in El Paso, Texas, and Amporn Vasquez, executive chef of Pizza by Elizabeths in Greenville, Del.
In addition to earning the award, a $2,500 scholarship was given to a student in each winner's respective communities.
"The restaurant industry is one of the most diverse industries in the United States, and we are celebrating that by honoring these individuals and companies with our 2011 Faces of Diversity awards," said Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association.
This year's American Dream Award winners are:
- Berekti and Akberet Mengistu, owners of Mesob restaurant, Montclair, N.J. These Ethiopian-born sisters witnessed the horror of the Red Terror political campaign in Ethiopia during the late 1970s and eventually immigrated to the United States, where, for the last seven years, they have successfully operated Mesob, their restaurant.
- Amporn Vasquez, executive chef of Pizza by Elizabeths, Greenville, Del.: Vasquez escaped familial abuse and an arranged marriage when she was 14 by hiding in a zoo in her native Thailand. Vasquez eventually made her way to Delaware, where she settled into odd jobs and domestic work until she met restaurateur Betsy LeRoy, who was planning to open Pizza by Elizabeths. LeRoy inspired Vasquez to go to culinary school and then hired her as the restaurant's kitchen manager.
- Richard Castro, McDonald's franchisee, El Paso, Texas: As a child in Del Rio, Texas, Richard Castro had big dreams, but was poor and had few successful Hispanic role models to emulate. But Castro ended up attending college and became a city manager before turning to real estate and finally a career as a McDonald's owner-operator. He now owns 20 restaurants in the El Paso area. He also founded RMHC/HACER, a scholarship program for Hispanic students, in 1985. The program, since its inception, has awarded more than $20 million to 14,000 students.
The Inspiration Award winner is:
- The Culinary Institute of America and Silver Ventures Inc., San Antonio: In an attempt to increase the number of Hispanic managers and restaurant owner-operators in business, the CIA partnered with Texas billionaire Kit Goldsbury and his private-equity firm, Silver Ventures Inc., to open a CIA campus in San Antonio. It offers scholarships to students with the same curriculum as the college's Hyde Park, N.Y., campus and also provides classes and research on Mexican and Latin American cuisine. The campus has so far graduated 180 students from its culinary arts program.
The National Restaurant Association, in partnership with PepsiCo Foodservice, created the Faces of Diversity awards program in 2007.