Congratulations to the state finalists from Wisconsin. None of the Wisconsin finalists were selected at national winners, but WRA was proud to have them represent our state. For information on the national winners – click here.
Restaurant Neighbor Award
Small business category:
Palmer’s Steakhouse, Hartland
Arenas became involved with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation 30 years ago after his son, Tony, was diagnosed with the disease. Initially the family’s fundraising efforts started small, a fishbowl to collect donations brought in $1,600. Their annual “Tent Event” draws between 500-700 attendees who enjoy delicious food, live music, auction items and celebrity guests. This year’s event raised $200,714! It has grown tremendously in scope, popularity and success over time and the total amount raised over the years is closing in on the $2 million mark. It’s very meaningful to Arenas that former and current employees and customers have been incredibly supportive. The 2015 Tent Event will be celebrating its 30th anniversary. Danelle O’Neill, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation said the following, “Jerry and Marie’s dedication to helping us find a cure for this disease has been paramount to the progress of our organization has made in reaching our goal.”
Medium business category:
Food Fight Restaurant Group, Madison
In addition to Food Fight’s work in the community with their Cards for a Cause and Food Fight Against Hunger programs, their Sweet Revolutions fundraiser benefits Home Health United’s Meals on Wheels program which provides nutritious meals to those in need living in the Madison, Middleton, Monona and Sun Prairie communities. This upscale, carnival for grownups features tasting stations, carnival games and a mega calk walk. Food Fight restaurants participate with festive food stations offering delicious food and drink choices. Sweet treats donated from other local bakeries and businesses help make the cake walk such a success with over 500 desserts for participants to win. The event, which will be held on April 9th at Madison’s Overture Center, has great participation from the many and varied Food Fight restaurants and brings together chefs, managers and staff who all pitch in. Awareness about the Meals on Wheels program is raised through increased visibility in the community, particularly among Food Fight’s loyal customer base.
Large business category:
Wisconsin Hospitality Group, dba Pizza Hut and Applebee's (headquartered in Waukesha)
Applebee’s main charitable focus since 2000 has been on the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and during their years supporting this cause, over $1,200,000 has been raised. The focus for Pizza Hut since 2001 has been One Heartland, a camp for children affected by HIV/AIDS. Since Pizza Hut’s campaign began, nearly than $1,000,000 has been raised. In addition to those primary campaigns, Applebee’s has celebrated Veteran’s Day since 2008 by serving free meals and offering thanks to vets, active duty servicemen and women and their families. This year 18,604 guests came in and received a free meal. Additionally $4,000 was raised for Honor Flight. Pizza Hut has also been a supporter for World Food Program (WFP) in collaboration with YUM! Brands, helping to feed 90 million people in over 70 countries. Individual locations also support their local communities with “Dining to Donate” fundraisers with 15% of each guest check donated to a local group. As their application noted, “At Wisconsin Hospitality Group, giving to the community isn’t just a passing thought; it is an integral part of our company’s culture.”
Bruce Kroll, Culver’s of Platteville
In November of 2013, a fire destroyed the Culver’s of Platteville. Owner Bruce Kroll’s insurance policy covered 60 days of his employees’ salaries, but it would take six months before the restaurant could reopen. Kroll considers his employees family and making sure they would be taken care of during that period of rebuilding was a priority. Kroll decided to pay his Platteville employees’ salaries for the four months beyond what insurance would cover out of his own pocket – approximately $144,000. He also owns a successful Culver’s location in Dubuque, Iowa and was able to use those profits to assist the Platteville team. Kroll stipulated that his employees needed to volunteer their time to help out in the community. Employees often wore their Culver’s uniforms while volunteering and identified areas of need in the Platteville area. This resulted in several successful employee-led fundraisers. At that time, Kroll had operated the Platteville location for 19 years and was committed to keeping his “Culver’s family” together.” In an interview for Channel 3000 he explained, “It is just a building and Culver’s of Platteville is much more than that. It is the people and not the building.”
American Dream Category:
John “JD” Draper, CEO, Viridian Group, LLC and Multi-State, Multi-Unit Franchisee with Pie Five Pizza Co.
“JD” as he’s known, has over 43 years of retail and operational management experiences. He was part of the team at V & J Holdings Companies, Inc. in Milwaukee from 1994 until a new opportunity as CEO of the Viridian Group presented itself in early 2015. Draper and his son, John Draper II, have been up to 55 franchise units of Pie Five Pizza Co. The father-son team plans to introduce the concept throughout Michigan as well as to cities in Wisconsin. Draper, who has been recognized for his ability to multi-task and develop teams, attended Wayne State University where he majored in business administration. Throughout his career he’s had director responsibility for over 100 restaurants including Pizza Huts, Burger Kings, Auntie Annie’s, Coffee Beanery’s, Cinnabon Bakeries, Haagen Dazs shops and MyYoMy yogurt shops. In sharing his story he revealed, “My parents taught me to stay focused and to always be hospitable. Which is really the reason why I choose the food industry.” He also revealed this observation from his many years working in the industry, “regardless of age, race or religion, people are people and if you can find that common bond, you can achieve success.” He’s done that, having been appointed to the International Franchise Association Diversity Institute as a board member and being named their Ronald E. Harrison Diversity Award recipient for his accomplishments in diversity and inclusion.
Caitlin Suemnicht, Food Fight Restaurant Group, Madison
Suemnicht began working at Food Fight’s Johnny Delmonico’s as a junior in college. After earning her degree in Sociology she worked her way through the ranks: server, maître d’, manager, event planner and now is one of five managing partners with the 17 unit restaurant group where she is in charge of Fresco, DLUX, Bassett Street Brunch Club and Cento. She played a key role in coming up with the concepts and design of several of those locations and became a certified sommelier in 2012 to assist with many of the restaurant’s wine dinners/events, staff education and wine list management. When asked about challenges in her career, she shared, “In the early 2000s there weren’t as many female manager in the restaurant business as there are now, so I looked at that as a challenge and when I was studying to become a sommelier, that was also a male-driven field, so I’m proud that I was able to establish myself in both fields as a young female.” In describing what the American Dream means to her she said, “a career with advancement options and opportunity for growth, a career that inspires you, rewards you and makes you proud.”