May 3, 2017

Restaurant Neighbor Award Finalists

Wisconsin Restaurants Honored with Restaurant Neighbor Awards for Excellence in Community Engagement

Burger King, Cousins Subs, Saz’s State House, Wild Tomato Wood-fired Pizza and Grill and Wisconsin Hospitality Group were selected as Wisconsin finalists for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s Restaurant Neighbor Award.

The national winners – chosen in from state awardees by a panel of restaurant and foodservice industry leaders from across the country – were honored at a restaurant and foodservice industry gala awards ceremony in Washington, DC on March 28, 2017.

The Restaurant Neighbor Award, developed in partnership with American Express, celebrates the outstanding charitable service performed by restaurant operators throughout the U.S. Created 19 years ago, this award recognizes the impact restaurants and entrepreneurs have made on their local communities.

Wisconsin finalists did not win at the national level this year. Find more information and stories from all winning applicants at

The 2017 Restaurant Neighbor Award finalists from Wisconsin are:

Coach’s Fast Food, Inc. dba Burger King
Eau Claire, WI
The Burger Kings owned by Mike DeRosa in west central Wisconsin have been involved with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation’s Unmet Needs program since 2007. Through this program, these 12 Burger Kings franchises provide grants to support military members and their families when they encounter financial difficulties.. They rallied other Burger King franchisees to support the program and together have raised over $3.8 million dollars throughout the country. Every November, customers who donate to the cause receive coupons to use in the restaurants. DeRosa’s restaurants also offer blue bracelets for sale for Memorial Day and sell US flags on most military holidays. Furthermore, they have designated every November as “Military Family Month” with a goal of raising $30,000 each year.

Cousins Subs
Menomonee Falls, WI
Because Cousins Subs is committed to making a difference in the communities they call home, they created the Make It Better Foundation to provide support in three areas: youth education, hunger, and health and wellness. For one of their fundraising campaigns, they teamed up with the Milwaukee Bucks to launch Block Out Hunger, an annual anti-hunger campaign benefiting Hunger Task Force and food pantries around the state. In the first year 3,267 pounds of food was collected and $10,000 was raised through donations that Cousins made to HTF for every shot the Bucks blocked during their season. Another annual campaign is Combos for Cures during which a portion of every combo meal sold goes to the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation with an annual goal of $50,000. Their third annual campaign is the Wisconsin Sports Award Scholarship Contest for high school senior athletes who also excel in academics and are committed to philanthropy. Hundreds of students apply each year for the $7,500 scholarships. The Make it Better Foundation awards quarterly grant to hyperlocal nonprofits. On the local-store level, franchisees are empowered and encouraged to give back to the communities they serve. For example, one South Milwaukee franchisee has donated more than $50,000 to local organizations of the last five years.

Saz’s State House
Milwaukee, WI
Saz’s State House has been giving back to many local community organizations since its doors first opened in 1976. Annually, they host a golf outing and other events throughout the year, where proceeds benefit the Wisconsin State Fair Foundation and Variety - the Children’s Charity of Wisconsin. In 2015 alone, Saz’s Hospitality Group provided charitable contributions to over 400 local charitable groups, along with contributions to countless other causes, such as Just One More Ministries, where 275,000 pounds of food is collected annually by the ministry to feed local families in need. With food being donated twice weekly by Saz’s, they have become their primary supplier. In 2008, when Hurricane Ike ravaged the community of Woodville, Texas, Saz’s immediately stepped in and set up living quarters for emergency crews and victims of the storm. Using their expertise in off-premise catering, Saz’s was also able to provide support and sustenance to many relief workers throughout the campaign. This year, Saz’s partnered with Sendik's to sponsor Honor Flight, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping our nation’s veterans. Together, with a number of other local businesses, $222,000 was raised to send 160 US Veterans to Washington, DC on an all-expense-paid trip for a day of honor and remembrance.  

Wild Tomato Wood-Fired Pizza and Grille
Fish Creek, WI
Wild Tomato owners Britt and Sara Unkefer have always prioritized making a positive impact on the community through philanthropy. Since their opening in 2007, Britt and Sara have raised over $20,000 through their monthly Donation Creation pizza event, in which $1 of every pizza sold goes to a deserving Door County nonprofit organization. During the summer of 2016, Wild Tomato hosted their most successful Donation Creation to-date, raising over $1,000 for two local volunteer fire departments who were in competition to see who could bring in the most sales. As part of that fundraiser the Sister Bay Fire Department offered delivery via fire truck with free smoke alarm and carbon monoxide testing upon delivery. Other fun components include free pizza samples and onsite CPR training for customers.  

Wisconsin Hospitality Group
Waukesha, WI
In the last 15 years, the Wisconsin Hospitality Group (WHG) which owns Pizza Huts and Applebee’s restaurants across Wisconsin has donated more than $2.7 million to multiple causes. Since 2000, the group has hosted an annual golf tournament to benefit Children’s Hospital, and has raised over $1.4 million. Also to benefit Children’s Hospital, the Wisconsin Hospitality Group sells “apples for kids” paper hangs. In addition, WHG has supported One Heartland summer camps for children with HIV/AIDS. To support the camp, the hospitality group sells heart icons at their Pizza Hut locations for $1 and has raised over $1 million for the camp. Furthermore, WHG provides free meals to all veterans and active duty military personnel on Veteran’s Day. In 2015, they provided 18,594 meals and raised $4,000 for Honor Flights. Also in 2015 WHG introduced the Meaghan Fund – an employee-only grant fund available to those people in the company who are in need of special financial assistance. Employees donate through payroll deductions so fellow employees can use the funds in their time of need. The program was inspired by Meaghan Rath, the daughter of two WHG managers. When Meaghan was battling cancer, the company rallied to support the family. Now this fund honors her memory.

“Every year, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association is pleased to partner with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation to recognize those people that exemplify the industry’s philanthropic work in communities across our state and country,” said Ed Lump, WRA President and CEO. Lump also shared, “I can’t think of another industry that has deeper community roots. People so often turn to restaurants not just for sustenance and socialization, but also for support.”

With nine in 10 restaurants involved in community service, restaurants are often the first to give back to their communities which improves the quality of life for all they serve.

The NRAEF awards program also includes the Faces of Diversity American Dream Award, sponsored by PepsiCo Foodservice, and the Thad and Alice Eure Ambassador of Hospitality Award.

About the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation:
As the philanthropic foundation of the National Restaurant Association, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation is dedicated to enhancing the industry’s training and education, career development and community engagement efforts. The NRAEF and its programs work to attract, empower and advance today’s and tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice workforce. For more information on the NRAEF, visit