Industry Excellence Award Winners Announced at #BRE2022

That’s a wrap on Bar & Restaurant Expo 2022! With so many activations and events happening, you think it would be hard to pick a favorite. But the Industry Excellence Awards, presented by Bar & Restaurant Expo and sunday, are a strong contender.

After a two year-hiatus, the awards program formerly known as the Nightclub & Bar Awards returned with a new name and ethos: the Industry Excellence Awards, presented by Bar & Restaurant Expo, and sponsored by sunday.

The purpose of these awards is to recognize, celebrate, and support the people who make the independent bar and restaurant industry great. These awards honor leaders and teams for their talent, in addition to their integrity and commitment to equality, sustainability, community and culture across the industry.

We launched with ten categories, and winners were selected through a two-part judging process (more on that here). After months of planning and judging, we were finally able to celebrate with operators who are leading the industry.

My only regret is that I wasn’t able to film each acceptance speech. If you were in the audience, you know what I mean. Every single person who took the stage offered up something profound, and left us inspired to continue making the industry a better, safer place to work.

Special thank you to our Executive Council members, Mia Mastroianni and Molly Wellman for being wonderful event hosts. And of course, thank you to our team of judges for giving so much of yourselves to this. Our judging panel this year was comprised of Executive Council members and previous year’s winners: Adrian Lipscombe, Brian Duffy, Chad Michael George, Jabin Troth, Lindsay S. Bolster, Megan Breier, Mia Mastroianni, Molly Wellmann, Nik Kundra, Sean Sullivan, TaChelle Lawson, Travis Tober, Vance Henderson.

Sports Bar of the Year

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Dawg House Saloon & Sports Book has elevated the traditional sports bar. To quote one of our judges, this is “exactly what a sports bar should be”. Boasting almost 100 TV screens, there are few places better watch the game. And if sports isn’t your thing, they’ve brought in a hint of their original Nashville location, with dueling pianos and live performances from top names like Riley Green, Anthony Orio, Uncle Cracker and more.

Restaurant of the Year

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Lumi has embraced dining as an experience. This beautiful rooftop restaurant is making waves in their city for their international flavor inspirations, immersive atmosphere and stunning presentation. Unfortunately they weren’t able to join us this year.

LGBTQ Venue of the Year

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Community, Culture and Innovation – these are the three tenants that Downtown Olly’s lives by. Despite Covid-19 shut-downs, this bar ensured their staff was paid. And as soon as they were able, the owners quickly pivoted to accommodate outdoor dining, which allowed them to support guests, but also local artists and musicians. To quote their nomination: “they have proven, in a time where queer-safe spaces are closing left and right, that if it is done correctly, these spaces are still needed, valued and can prosper.”

Cocktail Bar of the Year

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These days, being the best means going beyond the bar. It’s not just about the incredible cocktail program – which DrinkWell has – or the wonderful bar atmosphere – which DrinkWell has – but it’s also about taking care of your people, working sustainably and investing in your team. DrinkWell made critical choices throughout the height of Covid-19 that allowed them to come back stronger than ever.

Most Original Concept

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Cosmic Gorilla has reinvented the nostalgic and the familiar. Taking a traditionally male-dominated genre and making it inclusive, diverse and of course – completely immersive, with great cocktails and heroic deeds. They have become an integral part of their community, with their ‘undercover hero’ initiative and commitment to children in need.

Community Leadership Award

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They say that one good deed leads to another. For Jeremy and Natalee Price of Taste of Tuscany Ristorante, that certainly seems to be true. For over a decade they have been serving their community. First, with holiday gifts for children in need. Then, with holiday dinners for families in need. Over the years, they have become a major lifeline for their community, stepping in wherever they’re needed, whether it's fires or Covid-19. Through their efforts, over 10,000 people were fed during Covid-19.

Chef of the Year

Rhonda McCullar / Uchi Dallas

Rhonda McCullar of Uchi Dallas truly embodies each element we wanted to recognize with this award: culinary excellence, sustainable practices and an inclusive culture. This chef is committed to limiting waste within the kitchen, and has found innovative ways to repurpose ingredients that are commonly tossed aside. She has become of the heart of her kitchen, leading by example behind the pass and beyond it. Unfortunately, she was unable to join us this year.

Operator of the Year Award

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Barbara Sibley of La Palpa New York / Holiday Cocktail Bar is no stranger to operating throughout a crisis. As she said in her acceptance speech, she used the same tables to feed people after 9/11 that she used throughout COVID-19. She has proved, time and time again, that she is capable of sustaining a business and taking care of her team. Her people-first approach extends beyond her staff, into her community, where she feeds those in need. She has created a long-lasting legacy for herself in New York, championing regional Mexican cooking at a time when Tex-Mex reigned supreme, expanding her concepts, opening within a food hall, restoring a bar and serving as creative director for a cocktail program.

Innovator of the Year

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This award is supposed to go to someone in F&B who has worked tirelessly to move the industry forward and establish new foundations that are equitable and sustainable. Someone who has paved the way to open opportunities for those within the service industry through education, connection, and peer support. However, our judges found themselves in a perfect tie. As a result, we recognized two winners in this category. Christie J. Lawler founder of The WITI Group, a non-profit to empower women in hospitality, and Lindsey Johnson, founder of Lush Life Productions.

Bartender of the Year

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“A bartender of exemplary performance, both behind the bar and beyond it… working to improve the industry at large and serving as a positive example for other beverage professionals.” That was the criteria for this award, and our winner nailed every category. Josh Davis, founder of Brown & Balanced has dedicated himself to uplifting the next generation of bartenders, and highlighting exceptional talent that is often overlooked. Our winner is a champion of Black bartenders, in addition to running an iconic bar program and serving as a source of guidance for bartenders around the country.

This is just the beginning for the Industry Excellence Awards, presented by Bar & Restaurant Expo. We look forward to growing this program and continuing to recognize exceptional talent within the industry. Save the date for Bar & Restaurant Expo 2023, March 27 – 29 at the Las Vegas Convention center. Join the Guest List now to be the first to hear when registration opens!

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