NRA Announces Winners of 2009 Restaurant Neighbor Award

(Washington, D.C.)  The National Restaurant Association today announced the winners of its 2009 Restaurant Neighbor Award, which recognizes restaurants for outstanding community service. Honored at an award ceremony in Washington, D.C., the winners each received a $5,000 donation to their respective causes. The winners are: BJ’s Restaurants, headquartered in Huntington Beach, Calif., with locations nationwide, in the large business category; Rod’s Steak & Seafood Grille in Morristown, N.J., in the mid-size business category; Madam’s Organ in Washington, D.C., in the small business category; and Alex Ray, owner of Common Man Family of Restaurants in Ashland, N.H., in the Cornerstone Humanitarian category. American Express is the founding partner of the Restaurant Neighbor Award.

“We are proud to honor these exceptional restaurants and community leaders for their dedicated commitment to enhancing the quality of life for everyone in their communities,” said National Restaurant Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney. “Our industry has a strong foundation and long history of philanthropy, and works to make a difference in local communities across the nation. This year’s Restaurant Neighbor Award winners were selected for their innovative approaches and enormous efforts.”

The national winners of the 2009 Restaurant Neighbor Award are:

Large Business: BJ’s Restaurants, headquartered in Huntington Beach, Calif.
When one of BJ’s Restaurants’ 90 locations finds a philanthropic activity they want to support, its staff goes into TASC Force mode, or Team Action to Support Communities. Restaurants in the San Diego region joined forces last December to cheer athletes in the Southern California Special Olympics Floor Hockey tournament. The Greenwood, Ind., team built a playground with 40 volunteers for KaBoom!, a national playground-building organization. Employees from the Oxmoor restaurant in Louisville, Ky., participated in a Memorial Day vigil. And those are just a few examples. Stories and photos of more than 70 events are posted at  Read more.

Mid-Size Business: Rod’s Steak & Seafood Grille in Morristown, N.J.
When the Keller siblings took over their parents’ restaurant in 1972, they inherited a sense of community service – feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless, in particular. They supported the local Community Soup Kitchen and the Market Street Mission. In 1990, they got involved with Eva’s Village, a Paterson, N.J., organization that provides emergency shelter, job training, transitional housing, medical and dental care, and drug/alcohol treatment. It also serves hot, nutritious lunches to the homeless. The Keller family supports Eva’s Village’s through an annual fundraising gala, a golf tournament, holiday dinners and special luncheons. Read more.

Small Business: Madam’s Organ in Washington, D.C.
Billy Duggan was driving home from his beach house 13 years ago when he passed children playing on a run-down, inner-city playground. Duggan, who owns Madam’s Organ, a Washington, D.C. restaurant and bar, wanted to give the children a chance to be kids in a better environment. So, with the help of staff, family and the community, he started bringing groups of inner-city kids to his property in Dewey Beach, Del., each summer. The Madam’s Organ team also holds an annual Christmas party for about 70 neighborhood kids and their parents. Read more.

Cornerstone Humanitarian: Alex Ray, owner of Common Man Family of Restaurants in Ashland, N.H.
Alex Ray’s “doing good” philosophy is a matter of good business, according to Ray. In the past 38 years, Ray’s Common Man Family of Restaurants and its 800 employees have been involved in hundreds community-service events. Ray began small, with personal causes. Today, Ray reimburses employees at his 17 restaurants for community service and allows them to choose their projects. He was also instrumental in turning the homestead of 19th-century statesman and orator Daniel Webster into the Webster Place Recovery Center for people with drug and alcohol addictions, and is currently building a cooking school in Honduras. Read more.

“American Express is proud to partner with the National Restaurant Association to honor restaurants across the country for the invaluable contributions they make to their communities,” said Curtis L. Wilson, Vice President and General Manager, Restaurant Industries Group, American Express. “The impact restaurateurs have in their communities through charitable activities and relief projects is tremendous, and we hope their actions inspire others to do the same.”

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

The Restaurant Neighbor Award honors charitable contributions in four categories (small business, mid-size business, 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.

For more information on the award program, as well as more information on national winners and state finalists, visit the National Restaurant Association’s Web site,

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