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Restaurant Neighbor Award

Celebrating Community Service And Philanthropy

With nine in 10 restaurants actively involved in community service, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) and American Express are honored each year to salute the best of the best with the Restaurant Neighbor Award. This year, we celebrate a small business, a mid-size restaurant company and a large, national chain by presenting each with $10,000 to support a favorite charity or community project. Judges evaluate the winners on overall philanthropic impact and the duration of their involvement, innovation and level of support.

2019 Awardee Profiles

Photo of Tropical Smoothie Cafe at Camp Sunshine

Large Business Winner

Tropical Smoothie Cafe, LLC
Locations Nationwide 

Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s company philosophy fosters a positive lifestyle while giving back to the community and supporting those who need a helping hand. For over a decade, Tropical Smoothie Cafe has partnered with Camp Sunshine to raise national awareness and funds to provide children with life-threatening illnesses and their families a fun and relaxing place to get away from their daily challenges.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s partnership with Camp Sunshine is a passion project for all of the company’s employees, from crewmembers to franchise owners and corporate team members alike. The awareness-building and fundraising efforts go on all year. Locations across the country host unique fundraisers, including golf tournaments, 5K runs, casino nights and vendor fairs. Corporate employees participate in Smoothie Takeovers, traveling around their hometown of Atlanta to deliver smoothies to local businesses. All locations participate in National Flip Flop Day, where guests wearing flip flops receive a complimentary Sunshine Smoothie, named after the charitable partnership. In return, patrons are encouraged to donate to Camp Sunshine.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe and Camp Sunshine share many important beliefs and values that resonate not only with the volunteers but the families at the camp. The partnership between these two community service-oriented organizations has raised national awareness of Camp Sunshine’s efforts. In 2018, Tropical Smoothie Cafe raised more than $1 million, and spent 800 volunteer hours in support of Camp Sunshine with the help of 20 franchisees and member volunteers. Since the partnership began in 2008, Tropical Smoothie Cafe has donated more than $6.3 million and 6,600 volunteer hours, providing 2,500 members with a much-deserved getaway.


Photo of Justin and Jennifer Jones

Mid-size Business Winner

Southern Hospitality Ventures, Inc.
dba Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers
Lincoln, Nebraska

The team at Raising Cane’s franchisee Southern Hospitality Ventures, Inc. (SHV) wanted to do something to support members of the military who sacrifice so much to protect and serve our country. In 2009, SHV began their partnership with Cell Phones for Soldiers, a nonprofit organization that exchanges old cell phones for calling cards that are given to active duty military members and veterans.

SHV’s restaurants jumped right in and created a free-meal-with-purchase offer to customers who donated their old cell phones. The team was delighted by the generosity of their customers, who donated phone after phone to the program. In 2013, they added a round-up feature to the campaign, inviting customers to increase their total donation. One percent of the funds raised are donated to the Nebraska National Guard Foundation to benefit Nebraska soldiers and veterans. Since the campaign began, Nebraska troops have received more than 822,000 minutes in calling cards, and over $102,000 has been raised for the Nebraska National Guard Foundation.

Southern Hospitality Ventures created two annual clothing campaigns to support individuals in the community. Raising Coats with Raising Cane’s was created in 2007 and has since collected nearly 21,000 new or gently used coats for people in need. In 2009, Stuff the Bus was formed to help in-need students. To date, the program has collected enough school supplies to help over 12,300 students and raised nearly $49,000 for local schools. Through these programs and others, since opening their first Raising Cane’s in 2006, SHV has donated over $1.8 million to the communities where they operate.

Justin and Jennifer Jones, owners of Southern Hospitality Ventures, each received a Certificate of Appreciation for their outstanding contributions to the United States Army, and in 2015, they were awarded a Homeland Defense Service Ribbon from the Nebraska National Guard for their patriotic commitment to the Warriors and Families of the Nebraska National Guard.


Photo of Great Full Gardens

Small Business Winner

Great Full Gardens
Reno, Nevada

The first Great Full Gardens restaurant opened in 2013, and since its inception, the team has been dedicated to supporting and nurturing their community by sharing their passion for locally sourced food and passing on the love of growing food to new generations.

Most recently, Great Full Gardens formed a partnership with a grassroots nonprofit called RootED that provides local schools, veteran’s groups and other nonprofits with donated or fund-supported greenhouses. The program allows the recipients to teach at-risk children where food comes from and how to grow their own produce. To date, Great Full Gardens has donated three greenhouses, with a fourth ready to go. These greenhouses have enabled students to grow enough greens and vegetables to offer “Free Salad Fridays” at their schools and launch a student-run Seedling Sale that raises money by selling starts from the gardens. The partnership’s long-term plan is to provide at least one greenhouse or more each quarter as the program grows. By providing schools with a potential means to earn funds by selling their produce, the program encourages self sufficiency and creativity while engaging kids in a healthy, productive pastime. Great Full Gardens encourages customers to get involved by donating $1 to RootED with the purchase of specially designated menu items.

They have also established numerous programs to benefit local charities and nonprofits. “Celebrity Chef” night invites a member of the community to create a special menu for a night with proceeds donated to the charity of their choice, including Fireman’s Assistance Program, Step 2, Animal Welfare and more. In addition, they created a program that allows schools to hold their fundraising events at the restaurants, volunteer with the Rise & Dine group to feed the homeless and regularly donate food to many local nonprofits and schools. Over the past five years, through these programs and more, Great Full Gardens has donated nearly $35,000 to community programs and charities with cash and in-kind donations.


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