Dayton restaurateurs take home major awards from Ohio Restaurant Association

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Two well-known local restaurant owners and culinary talents were recognized Monday, Dec. 4 in Columbus at the Ohio Restaurant Association’s Industry Awards Celebration.

Chef Elizabeth Wiley, former owner of Meadowlark and Wheat Penny, took home a Lifetime Achievement Award, and Dan Young, CEO of Young’s Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs, was inducted into the Ohio Restaurant & Hospitality Alliance Hall of Fame.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

The Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest given each year to one restaurateur for exceptional lifetime service to the restaurant industry and his or her community, was presented to Wiley by her business partners, chefs Dave Rawson and Liz Valenti, who she sold the restaurants to last year.

In a video that played prior to the award presentation Wiley shared, “Our industry is unlike any other professional community it’s got everything — it’s got community, it’s got working with your hands food and beverage is our medium, but our real job is developing young people and it turns out if you dedicate your career to that you develop into something really good too ... As a person who cares about cooking for people and hospitality it’s a whole life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Valenti shared of her friend, “Wiley is one hundred percent all the time. She’s fiery about what she does, but always she’s got your back and anybody who has worked at the Winds with her or Meadowlark or Wheat Penny they have felt that love and that support. I can’t express enough the legacy she’s left all over this part of the country. When I walk into Wheat Penny in the middle of the night it’s a great gift, but there would have been no Wheat Penny without Wiley. It’s been the longest friendship I’ve had in my life and it’s been the best friendship.”

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

The industry awards celebration focuses on the hard work, commitment and outstanding professional and community services of Restaurant Association members. The celebration of culinary talent from around the state included industry innovators, rising stars, outstanding vendors, and more highlighting innovations in technology, charitable contributions, transformative products and dedication to education.

“Our industry faced historic inflation, continuing labor shortages, and the aftereffects of the pandemic, and we know that 2024 will continue to test our resolve. ... The fabric of the restaurant, foodservice, and hospitality industry are the good people seated throughout this room. And we continue to be optimistic about the future of the hospitality industry because Ohioans love going out for food and drinks from more than 23,000 foodservice locations in this great state,” said Kathleen White, customer marketing manager with Gordon Food Service. “We are people who face challenges head-on. People who bring out the best in others. People who provide their patrons with top-notch service and amazing food. It is this resilience and dedication that brings us together this year and every year to celebrate the industry we all love.”

The two-hour program featured 19 award winners from across the state of Ohio. During the program, the ORA unveiled a new brand and vision. Going forward the organization will be known as The Ohio Restaurant & Hospitality Alliance.

Six award winners were selected by public vote:

  • Best Restaurant North: The Blue Door Café & Bakery in Cuyahoga Falls, owned by Michael Bruno
  • Best Restaurant Central: Little Italy Ristorante in Groveport, owned by Avery Ward
  • Best Restaurant South: Boca in Cincinnati, owned by David Falk
  • Best Community Partner: Totally Baked Pizza in Akron, owned by John Taylor
  • Best Guest Experience Provider: Brittnee Vermillion of Brewfontaine in Bellefontaine
  • Best Behind the Scenes Employee: Nicole Cline of Sweets & Meats BBQ in Cincinnati

Three titans of Ohio’s restaurant industry were inducted into the Ohio Restaurant & Hospitality Alliance Hall of Fame for their lasting impact on the state’s food scene and more than 25 years of service to Ohio’s hospitality community. In addition to Young, Rick Malir, founder of City Barbeque in Dublin, and Rodney Wasserstrom, CEO of The Wasserstrom Company in Columbus were inducted.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Dan Young is the CEO and self-described “Chief Ice Cream Dipper” of the famous Young’s Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs. He has worked in the family business since 1964 and under his guidance, the business has added a full-service restaurant, a cheesemaking operation, The Golden Jersey Inn and more. He leads more than 300 employees, and Young’s Jersey Dairy hosts more than 1 million visitors a year.

Rick Malir founded City Barbeque, along with his business partners, in 1999. He was fascinated by restaurants and loved serving people. Under his leadership, City Barbeque has grown to more than 60 locations in eight states and is on pace to reach 100 eateries by 2025.

Rodney Wasserstrom is the CEO of The Wasserstrom Company, founded in 1902. He began his first official role in the family company in 1961 and has led the company as the CEO for decades. For more than a century, The Wasserstrom Company and the Wasserstrom family have been trusted industry partners supplying equipment for the smallest diners, the largest restaurant chains and all businesses in between.

Young, Malir and Wasserstrom join 10 other Hall of Fame winners that have previously been recognized: Billy Ingram, Cameron Mitchell, Jeff Ruby, Emily Bennett, The Gregory Family, Dave Thomas, Jim Grote, Suzy DeYoung, Buddy LaRosa and Dan Ponton.

In addition to the awards voted on by the public and the Hall of Fame inductees, the following winners were selected by a committee of Alliance staff and Board of Directors:

  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Elizabeth Wiley, Retired Owner of Meadowlark Restaurant & Wheat Penny Oven and Bar in Dayton
  • Industry Innovator: Mike Mariola, Founder of Mike Mariola Restaurants in Wooster
  • Rising Star: Luar Romero, Chief Financial Officer of Jackie O’s in Athens
  • Spotless Award: Chick-fil-A Kenwood Towne Center Mall, owned by Garth Truter
  • Outstanding Public Officials: Representative Bride Rose Sweeney, Ohio House of Representatives for Western Cuyahoga County and State Senator George Lang for Ohio’s 4th District
  • Outstanding Industry Educator: Mitchell Mzik from Warrensville Heights High School
  • Ohio ProStart® Student of the Year: Lily Klein from South-Western Career Academy
  • ORA Ambassador: Erin Lutes, Human Resource Director of Four Entertainment Group in Cincinnati
  • Outstanding Vendor Award: Ecolab

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