G.J. Hart, CEO of California Pizza Kitchen, was chosen as 2017’s top full-service chain leader and Chris Newcomb, CEO of Newk’s Eatery, was named top limited-service executive in the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association’s annual competition for foodservice operator of the year.
Wolfgang Puck, whom many regard as the model for today’s celebrity chefs, was selected as the year’s outstanding operator of independent restaurants.
The three were among the eight foodservice executives who were announced by IFMA at its annual COEX meeting as winners of the association’s Silver Plate, a recognition of the top operators in nine segments of the industry. The Silver Plate winners in effect become finalists for the operator of the year honor, known as the Gold Plate.
The winner of the Gold Plate, selected via secret ballot, will be revealed at an awards gala on May 20 in Chicago, during the National Restaurant Association’s annual convention.
The Silver and Gold Plate honorees are selected by a jury consisting of past Silver and Gold Plate winners, editors of the industry’s business-to-business publications, and other recognized authorities in the industry.
Peter Romeo, editor at large for Restaurant Business and FoodService Director, was a member of the jury.
Hart has been credited with rejuvenating CPK by broadening its appeal beyond pizza and giving the brand a fresh image. Earlier, as CEO of Texas Roadhouse, he turned that full-service chain into one of casual dining’s stellar performers.
Newcomb co-founded Newk’s after his family sold McAlister’s Deli, a pioneer of the fast-casual segment. In between his leadership roles with the two chains, he served as a McAlister’s franchisee, an experience that shaped the operations and culture of Newk’s. It has also been a leader in community involvement.
Puck is one of the industry’s living legends. His original Spago restaurant in Hollywood introduced the industry to gourmet pizza. It helped to expand the boundaries of fine-dining by serving high-end but approachable foods in a more casual setting. He has since diversified his portfolio, opening such restaurant as Cut, a contemporary steakhouse.
The winners in the so-called noncommercial portion of foodservice are Betti Wiggins, executive director of the Office of School Nutrition for Detroit Public Schools, in the Elementary & Secondary Schools category; Ted Faulkner, director of dining services, Virginia Tech, Colleges & Universities; Jeff Metz, CEO, Metz Culinary Management, Business & Industry; and Patti Oliver, director of nutrition, UCLA Health, Healthcare.
Chris Gheysens, CEO of the WaWa convenience-store chain, was named the Silver Plate winner in Retail & Specialty Foodservice.
A Silver Plate winner was not named this year in the lodging category.