Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality Award Winner

Carlton Curtis

Vice President of Industry Relations
The Coca-Cola Company



It was only a matter of time before Carlton Curtis would officially and forever more become a designated “ambassador” of the restaurant industry. As the 2015 Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality, Curtis joins one of the most elite clubs in foodservice.

“When you look at the people who have their name attached to this honor — it becomes really hard to fathom,” says Curtis, who is vice president of industry affairs for the foodservice and on-premise division of Coca-Cola North America.

A sampling of those celebrated individuals includes foodservice royalty such as Ralph Brennan, Joe Lee, Jackie Trujillo, S. Truett Cathy, Ted Balestreri, Bill and Richard Marriott, Norman Brinker, Pete Harmon, John Farquharson, and Curtis’ former colleague, Donald Keough, president and chief operating officer of The Coca-Cola Company from 1981 to 1993.

The award honors people who have demonstrated extraordinary achievement and exemplary leadership in the restaurant industry and is named in honor of Thad and Alice Eure, who owned and operated The Angus Barn in Raleigh, NC, earning a national reputation for excellence second to none.

Ubiquitous at industry events, Curtis has been in his current position for the last 12 years. With a smile that can light up a room, Curtis is always measured, strategic, diplomatic and in full command of his wit and sense of humor. Clearly comfortable in his own skin, he’s the type of person who is at ease with heads of State but equally engaged with students in the ProStart program. Curtis is always that person in the room who says things you wish you had thought of first. He’s the guy who makes you ruminate on a whole range of topics.

For Curtis, who will retire in July, the restaurant industry has been hospitable from the get go. “When I came into this role and showed up at my first National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation meeting, two people could tell I was the new person in the room and both went out of their way for me — Julie Flik (Flik International) and Kevin Malchoff (Rich Products Corp.). They immediately made me feel very welcomed and comfortable,” says Curtis.

Since then, Curtis has paid it forward many times over. When he was chairman of the NRAEF he not only spent countless hours mentoring and coaching young people — he also oversaw the organization at a time when it was being completely overhauled and reinvented. “The organization had gone through several years of evolution,” says Curtis.

In the end, the NRAEF’s ServSafe program was licensed to the NRA. “The NRAEF still owns ServSafe, but the NRA runs it and pays a licensing fee to the Ed Foundation, which created the opportunity for the EF to focus on philanthropy,” says Curtis.

Curtis steered that philanthropic emphasis towards ProStart.

“Previously, ProStart had been a child of the States but we knew it needed to be front and the center of what the NRAEF did.”

Since making that shift in 2010 the program went from 70,000 participants annually to upward of 100,000. “Now ProStart’s profile is measurably more central within the organization and we are dealing with much larger budgets.”

Curtis says he relishes his time at the helm of the NRAEF.

“The last 12 years have given me a wonderful opportunity to invest in such a broad range of relationships with people it is so easy to like and admire,” says Curtis. “And to do that in a context of the Ed Foundation, and the work it is trying to do, has been a real treat.”

His work with ProStart is especially rewarding. “ProStart gives young people a way to think about their future. So many of them are in that period of their lives where they are a little rudderless,” says Curtis.

Curtis, whose career at Coca-Cola started in public relations 43 years ago, has held several positions in the global beverage company including vice president of corporate communications and corporate public relations, vice president and director of worldwide educational marketing, and vice president and executive assistant to the president of The Coca-Cola Company.

When Curtis transitioned into his present role he says there was a steep learning curve. “I had to assimilate a lot quickly. Previously I had been working across all channels of commerce and had visited some 60 odd countries for Coke, but the opportunity to focus exclusively on foodservice in the U.S. certainly had its allure.”

Aside from his NRA involvement Curtis also serves on the board of directors of the International Franchise Association and is the current chair of IFA’s Diversity Institute. He is a member of the Hall of Fame of the Distinguished Restaurants of North America and a past trustee of the National 4-H council. He is an emeritus trustee of the University of Georgia and past president of the University of Georgia’s Alumni Association.

He’s looking forward to retirement so he can spend more time at home in Greensboro, GA, with his wife Jan, their two grown kids, Hilary and Grant, as well as their dog, Bayley.

“This has been a thrill ride for me. I really am very dedicated to this industry,” says Curtis. “I used to joke at Coke that I would do this job for free, but I am sure glad they never asked me to.”

Past Ambassador of Hospitality Award Winners


Jackie Trujillo

Chairman Emeritus, Harman Management
2014 Winner


Ralph Brennan

Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, LLC
2011 Winner


S. Truett Cathy*

2010 Winner


Robert E. Rich, Jr.

Rich Products Corporation
2009 Winner

Joseph K. Fassler, FMP

Viad Food Service and Hospitality
2008 Winner

John Farquharson, FMP

International Food Safety Council
2007 Winner

James A. Collins, FMP

Worldwide Restaurant Concepts, Inc.
2006 Winner

Donald G. Tober

Sugar Foods Corporation
2005 Winner

Richard E. Marriott, FMP

Host Marriott Corporation
2004 Winner



Allan L. Schuman

2003 Winner

Joe Lee

Darden Restaurants
2002 Winner

Chef Paul Prudhomme*

K’Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen &
Magic Seasoning Blends
2001 Winner

Dr. Morris J. Gaebe

Johnson & Wales University
2000 Winner

Norman E. Brinker*

Brinker International
1999 Winner 

Ted J. Balestreri, FMP

The Sardine Factory, Inc.
1998 Winer

John W. Teets*

VIAD Corp.
1997 Winner

Dr. Lewis J. Minor*

L.J. Minor Corporation
1996 Winner

Walter J. Conti

Conti Cross Keys Inn
1995 Winner

J. W. “Bill” Marriott

Marriott International
1994 Winner

Leon W. “Pete” Harman*

Harman Management Corporation
1993 Winner

Dr. Lendal H. Kotschevar, FMP*

Florida International University
1992 Winner

H. Jerome Berns*

21 Club
1991 Winner

William H. Edwards*

Hilton Hotels Corporation
1990 Winner

Thad Eure, Jr.*

The Angus Barn
1989 Winner

Patrick L. O’Malley*

Canteen Company
1988 Winner

Donald R. Keogh*

The Coca-Cola Company
1987 Winner

*Identifies the individuals who have passed from us, but remain alive in our memories.