Awards and Honors

Colorado Restaurant Association Announces Lifetime Achievement Awards

Last month, the Colorado Restaurant Association held its annual Industry Spotlight Awards dinner, handing out more than a dozen awards to chefs, bartenders, restaurant managers, media professionals and other stars of the Colorado hospitality industry. This month, the honors continue, as the CRA recognizes its Lifetime Achievement Award winners at its Directors Inaugural Dinner at the Broadmoor tonight, October 15, in Colorado Springs.

This year's winners were chosen for "the significant contributions they made through their leadership, service and dedication to the foodservice industry and community," according to the association. Awards will be handed out to six individuals. The winner of the Richard P. Ayers Distinguished Service Award, given to "those individuals who have contributed and served the Colorado Restaurant Association and our industry far above and beyond the call of duty," will be named at the ceremony, but here are the other five, and why they were chosen for the honor:

Noel & Tammy Cunningham Humanitarian Award
Josh Wolkon, Secret Sauce F&B
This award is one of our most prestigious awards and is named for Noel and Tammy Cunningham due to their dedication to serving their community through volunteer work, advocacy, leadership, and philanthropy in a significant way

Community outreach has been a cornerstone of Josh Wolkon’s restaurant endeavors since the day he opened Vesta in 1997, and it quickly became a pillar of the “Vesta Vibe” of positive energy, genuine hospitality, philanthropy, and fun. Shortly after the restaurant debuted on Blake Street, Josh realized it was important to him that his team be more deeply involved in its community than just participating in one-off events. The entire Vesta staff identified youth causes as philanthropy in which they wanted to be involved, which informed a series of events and efforts aimed at helping groups like The Spot, a center for homeless youth in crisis, and Urban Peak, for which Vesta has raised more than $300,000. The same spirit of philanthropy has been the bedrock at Josh’s subsequent restaurants in the Secret Sauce F&B restaurant group, Steuben’s Food Service (Uptown and Arvada) and Ace Eat Serve. In addition to annual events like Plates for the Peak, Steuben’s Uptown Holiday Toy Drive, and Ace’s Wings & Whiskey, Secret Sauce establishments contribute to a number of local causes, including via Dineback Tuesdays, a weekly Steuben’s Arvada initiative under which the restaurant gives 15% of its Tuesday sales to various local organizations. Josh is invested in the betterment of his own employees, encouraging them not just to participate in humanitarian efforts, but to take care of themselves via an annual cleanse. He’s a founding board member of EatDenver, a recipient of Denver Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Top Business Professionals award, and a winner of the Colorado Restaurant Association’s Outstanding Professional award. He and his wife, Jen, received the Business Honoree award at Urban Peak’s Maverick Thinkers Gala in 2014. Josh and Jen live in the foothills of Denver with their two sons.

Colorado Foodservice Hall of Fame
The Colorado Foodservice Hall of Fame was established in 1978 to honor those individuals who have served as an inspiration and example through their service and contributions to the industry.

Patricia Calhoun, Westword
Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977, and she’s been the editor ever since. Food coverage has been an essential part of Westword since the beginning, back when, as Patty says, Denver was a town full of fern bars. As the dining scene evolved, so did the coverage, as Westword made it a mission to cover the breadth of restaurants in this town, from the drive-thru breakfast burrito joints to the fine dining vanguard, from the oldest spots in town to the trendiest openings, and everything in between. Patty has nurtured a number of food critics over the years, many of them award-winners at Westword who have gone on to national renown, and one of whom chairs the national James Beard Journalism Awards committee, on which she also sits. She’s a passionate defender of the local green chile scene, and so well-known in Denver restaurants; several have menu items named after her — and several more keep a stash of Corona Light cold just in case she walks in the door. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature writing.

Kevin Clair, Sweet Basil
When Kevin Clair opened Sweet Basil in 1977, its center-of-Vail location was considered off-the-beaten-path. The restaurant quickly blazed its own trail, raising the caliber of the town’s whole dining industry in the process. After graduating from the University of Denver’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, Kevin spent a year in France as an apprentice cook at two Michelin three star restaurants, Maxim’s in Paris and L’Ousteau de Beaumaniere. He brought a philosophy of constant improvement to his own restaurant, becoming one of the first restaurants in Vail to serve varietal wine by the glass (everyone else was still working with boxed wine) and to get rid of smoking. It’s credit to Kevin’s zeal for continuous evolution that Sweet Basil remains a stalwart in Vail’s restaurant scene, and has spawned several siblings: Kevin opened Montauk Seafood Grill with partner Gary Boris in 1988, Zino Ristorante in Edwards in 1997, and Mountain Standard with partners Matt Morgan and Paul Anders in 2012. All of the restaurants are still operating successfully. Kevin was the first president of the Vail Restaurant Association and was a founder of the Taste of Vail. He and his wife Sally spend their free time traveling, biking, and boating.

Jeff Hermanson, Larimer Square
Jeff Hermanson has dramatically changed downtown Denver’s core twice in just over 20 years. The first renewal began in 1993, when he acquired Larimer Square and oversaw its transition from a retail block into a chef-driven dining destination rife with independent restaurants. In the process, he closed the restaurants he operated there in favor of working with culinary talents like Jen Jasinski, Beth Gruitch, and Troy Guard, who rose to become leaders in Denver’s burgeoning dining scene. In 2014, he and his partners unveiled a second turn-around: a re-imagined and award-winning refurbishment of Union Station, which they’d transformed from a drab transit station into a national landmark featuring some of the city’s most renowned chefs. A strong proponent of incubating skilled, local restaurant talent, Jeff has partnered with a number of Denver’s notable chefs and restaurateurs to bring their visions to life across the Mile High City and beyond. Jeff is passionate about remaking the food system, land conservation, and alleviating hunger, and he focuses his philanthropic and social responsibility efforts on these causes. He has served on the Board of Directors of We Don’t Waste and has been a board member and served as the President of the Crested Butte Land Trust. Jeff co-founded the Good Food 100, is a primary sponsor and supporter of Slow Food Nations, and founded the Crested Butte Wine & Food festival.

Jose Ramirez, Los Dos Potrillos
Jose Ramirez opened the first Los Dos Potrillos location in Centennial in 2002 with just $5.18 left in his bank account, and still, he told the first customers that if they didn’t like their food, he would buy it for them. Born into a family with 15 children, Jose Ramirez was “lucky number 7.” He started his pursuit of this dream as a 13-year-old bag boy at a grocery store in what is now known as The Highlands area of Denver. He later worked as a server at Las Palmas, working 60-70 hours per week, eventually becoming the server manager. He would work so much that he would often times sleep in his car while providing for his wife, Martha, and his two sons, Luis and Daniel. Built on family recipes from his native Jerez, Zacatecas, Mexico, and named for a memory of his sons galloping like colts through his family farm, Los Dos Potrillos has grown from a 1400-square-foot restaurant into a four-restaurant group, with locations in Littleton, Highlands Ranch, and Parker, where the family has also opened a brewery. 
The awards ceremony and dinner begin with a cocktail reception from 6 to 7 p.m., followed by the awards presentation from 7 to 9 p.m. For tickets and additional details, contact Emie Ewing at 303-830-2972 or [email protected].
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation