National Restaurant Association Announces Winners of Third Annual Faces of Diversity Awards


(Washington, D.C.)  The National Restaurant Association today announced the winners of its third annual Faces of Diversity awards. Recipients will receive their award at a ceremony held during the Association’s 2009 Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, May 16-19, at McCormick Place in Chicago. Winners in two award categories—the American Dream Award and the Inspiration Award—are recognized for inspirational success stories and exceptional efforts to embrace diversity. The awards celebrate diversity and inclusion in the restaurant-and-foodservice industry and among the industry’s 13 million employees.

“The restaurant and foodservice industry is one of the most diverse industries in America, and prides itself on representing and serving those from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures,” said Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the Association. “The Faces of Diversity awards are a great way to acknowledge the many incredible success stories of our industry, and the commitment of restaurant companies to embrace diversity and inclusion. We are proud to celebrate these accomplishments.”

The winners of the American Dream award are:

Ben and Virginia Ali, Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington, D.C.: Originally from Trinidad, Ben Ali came to the United States when he was 18 years old. He tried several jobs before finding his calling in the restaurant industry while working at Ann’s Hot Dogs. Ali met Virginia Rollins who had been working as a bank teller and together they opened Ben’s Chili Bowl one week before they were married. Since opening in the summer of 1958, Ben’s Chili Bowl has faced some tough times, including race riots in the late 1960’s and drug wars in the surrounding area in the 1970’s, and in 1987 when construction began on a nearby subway line that nearly crippled their business for nearly five years. Today, two of their three sons operate the restaurant and a bar, Ben’s Next Door, which opened in the fall of 2008. Ben’s Chili Bowl attracts visitors from around the world and even hosted President Barack Obama just days before his inauguration. Read more.

Amy Igloi Matsuno, Amy’s on the Bay, Port Orchard, Washington: At just 3 years old, Amy Matsuno’s biological parents died, leaving Matsuno in a Korean orphanage where she contracted a high fever that caused hearing loss. She was adopted and moved to the United States where testing revealed a 33 percent hearing loss in one ear and a 36 percent loss in the other. Matsuno used hearing aids and started speech therapy. Despite adversity, Matsuno excelled in school and in sports. With her father’s guidance, Matsuno knew she wanted to be her own boss one day, which led her to the restaurant industry. At just 25, Matsuno opened her own restaurant. Matsuno and her husband Grant now own and operate Amy’s on the Bay in Portland, Washington, a steak and seafood restaurant with Asian influences. Read more.

Siraj Virani, Dunkin’ Donuts, Chicago: In 1971, Siraj Virani lived in Bengal, now known as Bangladesh, when the Indo-Pakistani War broke out. Virani embarked on a treacherous journey through war-torn areas to safety in Karachi, Pakistan. While working as a typist and bookkeeper in Karachi, Virani won a scholarship to the United States, where he studied to be an accountant. He worked as a server at a restaurant to earn extra money. After obtaining an associate’s degree from the Central YMCA College in Chicago, he studied accounting and finance at Roosevelt University. When he was laid off from a pharmaceutical company, Virani began to consider franchising opportunities. Today, Virian is a father of three and owns 13 Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants and supplies baked goods to 18 other stores in the Chicago area. Read more.

The Inspiration Award winner is:

McDonald’s Corporation: McDonald’s has consistently been recognized as a “Best Place to Work” for African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and people with disabilities. The McDonald’s system supports five employee business networks for African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women and gay/lesbian/allies, offers a diversity education curriculum as well as career development coursework for women and minorities. Diversity is apparent at all levels of the organization. More than half of McDonald’s leaders, directors/senior directors, managers and restaurant managers are women and people of color and 43 percent of franchisees are women and minorities. Read more.

The Faces of Diversity awards program, created by the Association in partnership with PepsiCo Foodservice, celebrates the restaurant industry’s successes and inspires restaurateurs to embrace inclusion and expand their diversity efforts. The American Dream Award honors individuals from diverse backgrounds who, through hard work and determination, have realized the American dream. The Inspiration Award honors restaurant companies that have exhibited leadership and vision as an advocate of diversity and inclusion.

For more information about the Faces of Diversity program, the 2009 award winners and finalists, visit

The Faces of Diversity Awards ceremony will be held at the 2009 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show® in Chicago on Sunday, May 17 at 2 p.m. during the General Session & Keynote Executive Panel.

Celebrating its 90th year, the annual National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show is the largest single gathering of restaurant, foodservice and lodging professionals. NRA Show 2009 will be held May 16-19, at McCormick Place in Chicago. The event attracts attendees and visitors from all 50 states and 100+ countries, and showcases more products, services, innovative ideas and other growth opportunities than any other industry event. For more information, visit the Show Web site at