Gerry Fernandez is retiring from the president’s job at the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MF&HA), the organization he formed 27 years ago to promote diversity and cultural awareness within the leadership ranks of the restaurant business.
After leaving the post he’s held for all of those years, Fernandez will continue to serve the organization in an advisory capacity, according to an announcement from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, of which the MF&HA is now part. He officially steps down as president on Dec. 31.
The announcement stated that the MF&HA will conduct a nationwide search for a successor.
Fernandez left a promising and more traditional career track within the foodservice industry to form the group. A chef and graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., the city where he still resides, Fernandez held prominent positions at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and Oyster Bar in New York City, Hemenway’s Seafood Grill in Providence and The Capital Grille, which started in New England.
He left the operators’ side of the business to work in research and business development for General Mills. The industry supplier provided crucial initial support for the MF&HA.
All told, he has spent 50 years in the foodservice business.
Fernandez often drew from his personal experiences to show the fallacy of racial preconceptions. A black man whose family heritage traced back to the Caribbean, he’d note how poorly racial stereotypes fit his life. His sport of choice was ice hockey, a pastime seldom associated with people of color, and his favorite style of music was country-western.
He would also air details of his experience to open an audience’s eyes to challenges the white middle class might have never imagined. He spoke of being taken by a mentor to buy his first blue blazer, a standard item of clothing for white-collar workers. Told he needed a suit, he bought one from J.C. Penny’s, a far cry from Brooks Brothers or Armani.
His zeal for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion was palpable, even when developments like the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic made those causes a hard sell.
“Gerry always has his finger on the pulse of what’s happening both at the corporate level and with the people this industry depends on,” MF&HA Chairman Max Langenkamp said in the announcement of Fernandez’s retirement. “He understands the impact social and cultural changes have on us all and what we can do together to effect positive change.”
“He is highly regarded as a leading DEI expert and is not afraid to tackle cultural and DEI issues head-on,” said Rob Gifford, head of the NRA Educational Foundation. “I’m confident Gerry will continue to be on the front lines of advancing our industry and its people for many years to come.”
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