The industry where the American Dream still thrives

Achievement through hard work is the American way, and few industries offer more opportunity for that kind of success than the restaurant business. Generations of Americans have reaped the financial rewards and personal satisfaction that come from serving others a good meal.

In today’s high-competition workplace, the restaurant industry also remains one of the few in which people can literally start at the bottom and work their way to the top. More than one restaurant industry executive started his or her career as a busboy or waitress.

“The restaurant industry is one of the most diverse in the country, employing more minority managers than any other industry,” says Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “It’s also one of the most charitable. Many in the industry play an important role in improving the quality of life for others.”

In recognition of the opportunities those in the industry create and their penchant for giving back to their communities, the association will present its prestigious 2012 Restaurant Industry Awards. The Restaurant Neighbor Award, sponsored by American Express, recognizes restaurants for outstanding community service. The Faces of Diversity Award, sponsored by PepsiCo Foodservice, celebrates the diversity of the industry and honors three individuals who have realized the American Dream.

Now until Dec. 5, 2011, patrons and restaurants can submit nominations for both awards by logging on to

Four winners of the Restaurant Neighbor Award will each receive $ 5,000 to support their community efforts. Last year’s winners include a 52-restaurant coalition in Charleston, S.C., that addresses hunger in the community; a restaurateur who founded a camp for disadvantaged youth; and a chain of restaurants in western Pennsylvania and Ohio that has raised millions of dollars for a children’s hospital.

Last year’s Diversity Award winners represent the diversity of the industry and the opportunity it presents for those willing to work hard. They include two sisters from Ethiopia who fled their war-torn country and eventually opened their own restaurant in New Jersey; an Hispanic native of Del Rio, Texas, who now owns the largest Hispanic McDonald’s franchise; and a Thai woman who immigrated to the United States with nothing and is now the executive chef of a restaurant in Delaware. The three diversity winners will have a ProStart scholarship for $ 2,500 presented in their names.

To learn more or to submit a nomination (by Dec. 5), visit

“With the holiday season upon us, it seems especially appropriate to celebrate both the opportunities we, as Americans, have to succeed, and those who not only seize those opportunities but who use their success to help others,” Sweeney says.