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Restaurant Neighbor Award logo
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 16, 2013

Four Wisconsin Restaurants Honored with Restaurant Neighbor Awards

Liberty Hall Conference Center, PJD Investments, Inc., Wisconsin Hospitality Group and Marsh Shapiro from the Nitty Gritty were honored as Wisconsin finalists for the National Restaurant Association Restaurant Neighbor Award.

Liberty Hall Conference Center, located in Kimberly (owner Mike Van Asten), was honored in the small business category.

When longtime banquet and beverage manager, Jim Weiss, lost his life after a tragic accident this summer, his co-workers and friends at Liberty Hall established the James C. Weiss Fellowship at St. Norbert College in his honor. Annually, between $7,500 - $10,000 will be awarded to a student who best models Jim’s leadership style of steady determination and unwavering commitment in the pursuit of excellence.  Liberty Hall owner, Mike Van Asten, a proud alum of St. Norbert’s delivered a heartfelt eulogy for Weiss, his friend for over 25 years in which he said, “He believed in doing the right thing and doing things right.  His old fashioned work ethic was legendary and he took genuine pride in a job well done.”  Thomas Kunkel, St. Norbert's President wrote, "Mike grieved, of course -- but he also thought hard about how to try to make something positive out of something that was so terribly sad. His solution: Establish an endowed fellowship in Jim's name at St. Norbert College. Thus Jim's good name and great work ethic for Liberty Hall will live on in perpetuity, and in a way that will assist worthy young SNC students for years to come."

PJD Investments, Inc. in Medford (dba Toppers Pizza), based in LaCrosse (owners Phil and Denise Downing) was honored in the mid-size business category.

PJD Investments, Inc. owners Phil and Denise Downing have been leading the charge against hunger.  Toppers Pizza and its franchisees have been proud partners of Feeding America.  In 2012, the Downings, along with their store team members, were an inspiration to all franchises and lead the way by fighting hunger in their local community.  Of the 33 Topper Pizza stores at the time, the La Crosse and Onalaska stores run by the Downings finished first and second (respectively) in canned goods raised. Then when Toppers asked stores to volunteer at local food pantries and soup kitchens, team members from La Crosse and Onalaska had some of the highest volunteer hour totals in the company.  The Downings also volunteer in the community by providing in-class “pizza demonstrations” to local school children for over ten years.   In the application completed by their employees, Phil and Denise are described as “excellent franchisees and true leaders within the Toppers Pizza Company.”

Wisconsin Hospitality Group (dba Applebee’s and Pizza Hut), based in Waukesha (Mark Dillon, CEO), was honored in the National Chain category.

Applebee’s main charitable focus remains on the Childrens Hospital of Wisconsin Health System and during their 13 years supporting this cause, over $1,106,000 has been raised.  The focus for Pizza Hut has been Camp Heartland, a camp for children affected by HIV/AIDS. Since Pizza Hut’s campaign began, $865,000 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.  Pizza Hut has also been a supporter for World Food Programme (WFP) in collaboration with YUM! Brands, helping to feed 90 million people in over 70 countries.  Jeff Stewart, VP & COO of Children's Hospital and Health System Foundation wrote the following about WHG, "Like a good neighbor, you help us create a community that can offer comfort and small reminders that our patients are not alone in their battles.  They have the support of a community, filled with caring, compassionate neighbors."

The late Marsh Shapiro, former owner of the Nitty Gritty in Madison and Middleton, was honored posthumously as the Cornerstone Humanitarian.

This posthumous nomination by the Wisconsin Restaurant Assocation honors Shapiro’s many contributions to the Madison area.  Born and raised in Madison, he was an iconic local figure who juggled two very successful careers – as a television broadcaster with WKOW and as the owner/operator of The Nitty Gritty (known as Madison’s Official Birthday Place and home of the famous Gritty Burger).  Heartfelt letters of support from Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, UW Athletic Diretor Barry Alvarez, Second Harvest Foodbank and the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools accompanied the application and showed the range and depth of Shapiro’s community involvement.  Perhaps his most lasting gift to the city that he loved was the creation of the Marshall the Marshal Fund at American Family Children’s Hospital shortly before his death this winter from brain cancer.  The fund will assist young patients and their families. Mayor Paul Soglin said this about him, "Marsh was the consummate host both on television and in his restaurant.  He had the ability to make people feel more than welcomed, that the seat next to him was only for them." 

The Restaurant Neighbor Award recognizes foodservice businesses throughout the U.S. for their commitment to community service and innovative community projects in four categories (Small Business, Medium to Large Business, National Chain, and Cornerstone Humanitarian). Each participating state restaurant association selects winners in their respective states that compete with winners from other states for the national award.

A panel of industry leaders selected four national award recipients from winners of participating states. The national winners of the 2013 Restaurant Neighbor Award each received a $5,000 contribution to continue their community programs and were presented the awards at a ceremony this spring in Washington, D.C. Both national and state winners are also recognized on the National Restaurant Association website.

The National Restaurant Association and Restaurant Neighbor Award founding partner American Express developed the award to raise awareness about the restaurant industry’s contributions in local communities across the country and to inspire other restaurant owners and operators to showcase their enormous contributions in their communities.

Wisconsin finalists did not win at the national level this year. For more information and for a list of the national winners, visit the National Restaurant Association’s web site at http://www.nraef.org/Build-Talent/What-We-Do/Restaurant-Neighbor/Recipients

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Since 1933, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association has been dedicated to the promotion, protection and improvement of the foodservice industry.

 
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