The winners of the 2015 Georgia Restaurant Association Crystal of Excellence Awards include longtime restaurateur Doug McKendrick, the Giving Kitchen and Fifth Group Restaurants.

The GRACE Awards are peer-nominated; the nine winners receive crystal works of art, with some proceeds an annual year-end gathering going to the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Here’s a closer look at the winners:

Lifetime Achievement Award


Doug McKendrick of McKendrick’s Steakhouse, first joined the restaurant industry as vice president of finance at Mimi’s and Max’s Restaurants, formerly in the Omni Hotel in downtown Atlanta. He’s also involved with Dunwoody Schools, the Wounded Warriors Project, Camp Twin Lakes and the American Cancer Society.

McKendrick’s, which opened in 1995,  is known as one of Atlanta’s must-attend restaurants and has been rated as one of the coveted few Great Steak Houses of North America by the Independent Retail Cattleman’s Association. McKendrick’s also has been named a top Atlanta steakhouse by Zagat, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Open Table.

Industry Partner of the Year 

givingkitchThe Giving Kitchen provides emergency assistance grants to those in the Atlanta restaurant community facing unanticipated hardships. Its grants cover basic living expenses and match funds raised by a restaurant team on a colleague’s behalf.

The program began in 2012, when Atlanta chef Ryan Hidinger was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. What began as a helping hand for oner person has evolved into a program that takes care of the food industry’s own. In its three years the Kitchen has provided more than 250 crisis grants, totaling $500,000.

Distinguished Service Award 

Alma Cocina
Alma Cocina

Fifth Group Restaurants has been a part of Atlanta since 1993, growing from one eatery to seven — Alma Cocina, Ecco, Lure, South City Kitchen (Midtown and Vinings), La Tavola Trattoria and  the Original El Taco — plus Bold American Catering.

Fifth Group has been the top corporate sponsor of the Atlanta Community Food Bank’s Hunger Walk/Run, raising more than $250,000. It’s the founder and presenting sponsor of Taste of the Highlands, which benefits Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and it stresses sustainable practices. Fifth Group restaurants recycle or compost 95 percent of their waste, keeping more than 500,000 pounds out of landfills.

Restaurateur of the Year Award: Small/Independent 

cliff bramble
Kirk Parks Rathbuns

The honor goes to Kevin Rathbun, Cliff Bramble and Kirk Parks of Rathbun’s, Kevin Rathbun Steak, Krog Bar and KR Steak Bar.

The trio has grown its Atlanta footprint from one eatery to four, all of which routinely make lists of top restaurants in Atlanta and the United States. Rathbun’s, Kevin Rathbun Steak and Krog Bar are near each other at Krog Street and Inman Alley in Atlanta’s Inman Park neighborhood. KR Steakhouse is in Buckhead.

Restaurateur of the Year Award: Franchisee 


John Silvey, Poultry Partners (Zaxby’s) has spent 30 years in the restaurant industry. His company has 50 some employees, most of whom have been on staff for more than five years.

Poultry Partners works with schools, supporting students and athletic programs. It provided food for 600 children in school during the 2014 ice storm and actively participates in Kamp Kizzy with Keshia Knight Pulliam, Ne-Yo Compound Foundation and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges.

Restaurateur of the Year Award: Large/Corporate

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Paul Damico, North American president for FOCUS Brands, oversees Moe’s Southwest Grill, Schlotzsky’s Bakery and Café, and McAlister’s Deli. His first industry job was cleaning dishes at his dad’s catering business. He joined Moe’s in 2006.


ProStart Student of the Year 


Heather Bundy, a senior at Marietta High School, joined the school’s ProStart Culinary Team as a sophomore, competing and learning what it takes to work in the culinary world. She’s now executive chef of Devil Rock Café, Marietta’s student-run restaurant, where she manages 11 others. She also helps prepare food for a men’s shelter on a monthly basis.

Restaurant Employee of the Year 


Chris Gianaras of 4th & Swift began working at the restaurant in 2008 as a food runner and is now beverage director.

As the longest-tenured employee there, he’s responsible for curating the wine, spirits and beer list and creating seasonal cocktails to pair with food dishes. Gianaras created his own farm-to-drink movement in conjunction with 4th & Swift’s farm-to-table concept.

 Manager of the Year 


Dewey Funna of Hudson Grille Midtown manages one of the busiest restaurants in Atlanta, and does so by providing an entertaining, high-quality experience and being active in the community. He began at Hudson Grille to pay for college but has stayed for 20 years, working as a server, bartender, bar manager and hourly manager.

About Kathy Janich

Kathy Janich is a longtime arts journalist who has been seeing, working in or writing about the performing arts for most of her life. She's a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, Americans for the Arts and the National Arts Marketing Project. Full disclosure: She’s also an artistic associate at Synchronicity Theatre.

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