The West Michigan Food & Beverage Industry Awards were held recently to recognize standout staff in the region’s hospitality industry.
First launched in January 2020 by AHC Hospitality Vice President and Managing Director George Aquino, the awards had to go on COVID-19 hiatus until this year when they could be held in person again on Jan. 2 at the Amway Grand Plaza, Curio Collection by Hilton.
“The reason we created this event was we felt we needed to do something more fun and engaging for the food and beverage industry, to celebrate our accomplishments,” Aquino says. “We are in the face-to-face business, so to actually see our colleagues dressed up and really congratulate them on their accomplishments is a great thing for us and a good way to connect with the community and with our suppliers.”
It was especially heartening to be able to celebrate after the harrowing past two years for the hospitality industry, Aquino says.
“It was the worst time, with associates having to wear masks, social distancing, having to deal with 25% to 50% occupancy and still make money, and contact tracing,” Aquino says. “There would be days we would lose five or seven service staff in the restaurant because of contact tracing.
“For the restaurant owners, it was very, very tough … we are very thankful our associates, our suppliers, our ownership, all persevered through the toughest times.”
Some 300 people attended the sellout gala, which was planned by members of the AHC Leadership Academy. Each year a group of AHC employees is selected to receive leadership training as well as experience other parts of the business they may not normally, Aquino says. Planning the event was one of those opportunities. Proceeds support scholarships at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at Grand Rapids Community College.
Thirteen awards were presented. Individuals were nominated by members of the local hospitality industry as well as a panel of judges, with three finalists selected for each category. Judges then selected the winners.
Doug Small, president and CEO of Experience Grand Rapids, received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Aquino credits Small with helping make Grand Rapids and surrounding areas a premier dining destination over the past 15 years.
Jenna Arcidiacono, owner of Amore Trattoria Italiana, won a Community Impact Award for making a difference by creating Food Hugs. That’s what she called her passion for dropping off food to her neighbors, people in need, and frontline workers. She’s spearheaded some other community efforts, Aquino says, and has established a scholarship for an aspiring female chef.
“She utilized her massive social media following, and her generosity,” he says. “COVID made her realize she needed to do more for the community … and we gave her this award for what she’s done.”
Other recipients include:
Cocktail/Bar Program of the Year – Buffalo Traders Lounge
Wine Program of the Year – GRNoir
Brewery of the Year – Brewery Vivant
Distillery of the Year – Eastern Kille
Outstanding Service of the Year – Bowdie’s Chophouse Grand Rapids
Dive Bar of the Year – Anchor Bar
National Chain Award for Service – Nothing Bundt Cakes (28th Street)
Ethnic Origin Restaurant of the Year – La Vencedora
Local Farm of the Year – Revolution Farms
Bartender/Mixologist of the Year – Justin Whitman, MDRD
General Manager of the Year – Chris Durso, Social Misfits
Chef of the Year – Phong Nguyen, Monsoon Vietnamese Cuisine
Restaurant of the Year – MDRD
Sponsors included Sysco and Alliance Beverage Distributing.