Cincinnati Public Schools' Jessica Shelly named 2023 operator of the year

The director of student feeding for the district was chosen as this year's winner of IFMA's Gold Plate Award.
Jessica Shelly
Shelly was selected from a group of nine foodservice professionals. / Photo courtesy of IFMA

Jessica Shelly, director of student dining services for Cincinnati Public Schools, was named Saturday night as the 2023 winner of the Gold Plate Award, the honor bestowed by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association on the year’s outstanding foodservice operator.

Shelly was selected from a group of nine foodservice professionals recognized as the best within their segment of the industry. Those honorees are each presented with IFMA’s Silver Plate Award. Shelly won that prize in the Secondary & Elementary Schools category.

The other Silver Plate winners were:

  • Dave Deno, CEO of Outback Steakhouse parent Bloomin’ Brands, in the Chain Full Service category;
  • Rob Lynch, CEO of Papa John’s, Chain Limited Service;
  • Dickie Brennan, owner, Dickie Brennan & Co., Independent Restaurants;
  • Sharon Eliatamby, senior project manager, The World Bank Group, Business & Industry/Food Management;
  • Jill Horst, executive director of campus dining, University of California-Santa Barbara, Colleges & Universities;
  • Mendy Meriwether, director of fresh food & beverage, Wawa, Grocery, Convenience & Specialty Retail;
  • Max Knoepfel, executive chef, Music City Center, Travel & Leisure;
  • Randall J Sparrow, director, Food & Environmental Services, ProHealth Care, Healthcare.

The nine were selected in a two-stage process that begins with a preliminary screening by industry executives assembled by IFMA. Their choice of the top contestants within the nine categories of competition are then passed along to a jury composed of past Silver Plate winners and editors of foodservice and retail business media. (The author was a member of that jury.) That panel selects the Silver Plate winners, and then votes for which of the nine deserves the designation of operator of the year.

Shelly was visibly moved by her selection and acknowledged that she was stunned. “There are so many rock stars and superheroes in this group that I didn’t prepare any comments,” she confessed to an audience assembled in Chicago’s Union Station banquet hall.

She thanked her staff, then offered her appreciation to the supplier community for helping her provide the school children of Cincinnati with healthful food.

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