Tulsa, Okla., November 6, 2023— The Oklahoma Restaurant Association (ORA) honored over 65 of Oklahoma’s top food service talent at the 23rd annual Hirst Hospitality Awards.
The event took place at The Summit Club in Tulsa on November 6, where over two hundred and fifty restaurant industry professionals attended to celebrate the outstanding contributions of the 2023 Hirst Hospitality Awards honorees.
“Oklahoma’s hospitality industry is one worth celebrating and we are honored to recognize some of the finest employees working in the industry today,” said James Leewright, President and CEO of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association. “Because of their passion and commitment to the industry, it is incredibly easy to call these employees honorees.”
The ORA’s two most prestigious awards - the Distinguished Service Award and the Distinguished Industry Leadership Award - were presented at this year's ceremony. For the very first time, there were three recipients of the Distinguished Industry Leadership Award, recognizing their enduring influence and advancement of Oklahoma's hospitality sector. These three awards represent the highest distinctions given out annually by the ORA, celebrating careers defined by outstanding service, leadership, and commitment to the state's hospitality industry.
The Distinguished Service Award was bestowed to Barbara Flanagin with Integris Health of Spencer, Oklahoma. Barbara has dedicated 41 years to the food service industry all at Integris Health.
“Barbara’s contributions to both the company and the broader hospitality industry are substantial,” said Samuel Brannaman, Integris Health. “Her experience and expertise have been invaluable in maintaining operational excellence. Her journey from an entry-level position as a Food Service Worker to her current role as a Food Service Supervisor exemplifies her growth within the company.”
One of the Distinguished Leadership Awards, presented to a long-standing ORA member who has demonstrated continuous support for the industry, was presented to Rusty Loeffler and Robert “Rosser” Ross. These two extraordinary individuals began their remarkable journey in 1969, as friends waiting tables at Steak and Ale. Fast forward to 1976, and their vision became a reality as they co-founded their first Interurban Restaurant in Norman, Oklahoma. Today, their legacy continues within Urban Management overseeing seven establishments across Oklahoma, including the concepts, Interurban, Packard’s New American Kitchen, and HunnyBunny Biscuit Co.
”I have been blessed to learn this business from two of the greatest mentors.” said Business Partner Nick Schaefer. “Rosser and Rusty became my friends and family over the years and I miss Rosser every day. They have been outstanding businessmen and even better people. These two men have meant more to me and my family than I will ever be able to express.”
The second Distinguished Leadership Award was presented to Bill Ricks of Braum’s Ice Cream and Dairy Stores where he served as Vice President of Retail Operations for 35 years. Bill also served as the chairman of the National Ice Cream & Yogurt Retailers Association and was their “Man of the Year”.
"Bill has been a faithful and active member of the ORA for 30+ years. It would be hard to find a current or former director who was as active and involved as Bill. He has given his time, experience, and knowledge in an unselfish way to the benefit of the ORA. He has provided wise counsel in many important board discussions", said Craig Bothwell, ORA Past Chair.
Honorees from more than 25 restaurants were given a commemorative gift and were eligible for raffle prizes and cash awards. Additionally, a $1,000 cash prize was presented to Jessi Martinez from Mexico Joe’s.
The proceeds from the Hirst Hospitality Awards support the Oklahoma Hospitality Foundation. The funds go back into the restaurant community in the form of scholarships to students engaged in culinary, restaurant management, and hospitality-related studies.
“The scholarship fund is a great way for the foundation to invest in the future of our most precious resource, hospitality professionals,” said Jimmy Mays, Oklahoma Hospitality Foundation Board Member and the Hirst Hospitality Awards Committee Chair. “As a former scholarship recipient myself, it is really satisfying to be able to provide these kinds of opportunities and see the process come full circle.”
The program, emceed by The Oklahoman’s Dave Cathey, highlighted distinguished vintner, Benoit Trocard from Les Artigues-de-Lussac, France, as the featured guest of the awards dinner.
Partners included Auto-Chlor System; Ben E. Keith Foods Company; Bryan Close; Dr. Pepper; Premium Brands; The Summit Club; Thirst Wine Merchants; ECOLAB; Republic National Distributing Company; Shake Rattle & Roll; 110 Events; Coca-Cola; Go fresh; McGregor Insurance Group; and Southern Glazer’s of Oklahoma. In-Kind supporters are Artisan Fine Wine & Spirits; Buthion Fine Food & Wine Shop; Handcrafted-Dynamic Brands; Premium Brands; Republic National Distributing Company; Revolution Syndicat; Southern Glazer’s; Thirst Wine Merchants; and Vignobles Trocard.
Founded in 1933, the Oklahoma Restaurant Association is the trade association of restaurants and foodservice operations, the state's largest private industry employer. Representing more than 4,000 restaurants and members, the ORA actively monitors legislation and regulatory agencies; helps foodservice management develop and strengthen business; and develops the membership to do together for the industry what cannot be done individually.
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