Faces of Diversity

Past Winners

2015

  • Nafees Alam, CEO, DRG Concepts (Dallas, Texas): Alam, who came to the U.S. from Bangladesh at age 17, entered the restaurant industry right out of college as an executive with Waffle House. As a leader, he joined DRG Concepts, a restaurant operations brand that has helped revitalize Downtown Dallas. Alam and his staff have been incredibly involved with various charities, including: The Bridge, a homeless recovery center; Vogel Alcove, which provides free childhood development services for children in poverty; and 6 Stones, a non-profit that provides a variety of services to help those in need.
     
  • Carlito JocsonCorporate Executive Chef, Yard House (Irvine, Calif.): Jocson emigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines at a very young age. While studying biochemistry in college, he worked at a restaurant to earn extra money — eventually leaving his pre-med program to become a chef. Over the last 30 years, Jocson has enjoyed a successful career, including 16 years as Yard House’s executive chef and an original partner. He continues to be involved in organizations that help educate younger generations about Filipino culture and feeds up to 150 homeless and at-risk families every week.
     
  • Pamela Patton, Patton’s Restaurant & Catering, (Des Moines, Iowa): Raised in rural Georgia with her seven siblings, Patton was the first member of her family to graduate college. Her passion for cooking began in rural Alabama under her great grandmother, Gussie Hayes, at the age of ninePatton loved to cook, and began inviting Drake college students to her home after church, offering them a home cooked meal and leftovers to carry them over for a few days. The number of students she helped grew from 25 to 100. While working in corporate America in Des Moines, she started a catering business while still feeding the college students. Some graduated and were transitioned into employment at the company where she worked. In 2010, she secured a loan from the Targeted Small Business (TSB) when banks were not lending monies, and her business opened in 2011. Patton wanted to establish her business in a diverse neighborhood and currently has a diverse staff, reflective of the neighborhood she serves.

 

2014

  • Griselda Barajas, president and CEO, Griselda’s Catering (Sacramento, Calif.): Barajas immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 12 years old and spent countless hours in the restaurant of Ninfa Laurenzo, the godmother of Tex-Mex cuisine, where her parents worked. Inspired to enter the restaurant industry, Barajas began her own catering business in 1993, but turned to blackjack when the business struggled to help make quick money to cover expenses and pay her employees. Today, Barajas has abandoned gambling and owns and operates a thriving catering business, as well as Griselda’s World Café in the Capitol building in the heart of Sacramento. She has received several small business awards, including Business Woman of the Year from the Sacramento and California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
  • Mansour Ghalibaf, owner, Hotel Northampton (Northampton, Mass.): In 1979, Ghalibaf, an Iranian immigrant, was attending college and working in a restaurant to pay his tuition when he was told he would be deported back to Tehran — at the height of the Iranian Revolution. Along with those closest to him, Ghalibaf endured a tense month under scrutiny from government officials and was on the brink of homelessness before he secured a visa to remain in the U.S. His status no longer in jeopardy, Ghalibaf pursued the American dream with dedication: he completed his college degree, got married and continued to excel in the hospitality industry. His persistence and passion for the industry allowed him to work his way up from the kitchen to a hotel owner. After serving as general manager of the historic, 106-room boutique Hotel Northampton, Ghalibaf purchased the hotel and has since grown sales from $2 million to $7 million. Ghalibaf has been named Restaurateur of the Year by the Massachusetts Restaurant Association and was inducted into the Massachusetts Hospitality Hall of Fame.
  • Jahangir Kabir, district supervisor, White Castle System, Inc. (Woodside, N.Y.):The ninth of 10 children, Kabir immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 1990 and, with the help of an older brother who was already in the country, was hired by White Castle as a cook. In just six months, the very determined Kabir learned English, so he could begin to interact with White Castle’s customers, and both front- and back-of-house operations. Kabir’s strong emphasis on customer service led to his promotion to general manager after just four years. He has since grown to district supervisor, overseeing nearly 200 employees. All eight of his restaurants have received an award of excellence from White Castle. In addition to his success in the restaurant industry, Kabir has a relentless commitment to giving back to his community and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Business Administration degree at Wilmington University in Delaware, where he plans to write his dissertation on customer satisfaction in the restaurant industry.