312 - 540 - 4400

Come hear Gold Plate winner Gene Lee speak at COEX 2019. He will share his personal experiences with brand adaptation in today’s foodservice landscape. You don’t want to miss this valuable session, Feb 18-20 in New Orleans! Click here to learn more.


IFMA Presents the 64th Annual Gold Plate Award to Gene Lee, President and Chief Executive Officer, Darden Restaurants

CHICAGO, MAY 19, 2018— Gene Lee, President and Chief Executive Officer, Darden Restaurants, was named the 2018 Gold Plate Award winner by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA). Gene was nominated by Ecolab and was one of nine operator all-stars who were eligible for the award after being nominated in March for an IFMA Silver Plate award. Gene represented the Chain Full Service category.  

“It’s an honor to receive this award. With all of the dignitaries and industry legends that have won this before me, it’s hard to believe that I’m on this stage, it’s really humbling,” said Lee while accepting his award during the IFMA Gold & Silver Plate Celebration. “This is a highlight of my career.”

Gene Lee has been working in the foodservice industry for more than 30 years. In 2015, Lee became the President and Chief Executive Officer of Darden Restaurants and has the strategic and operational responsibility of an eight-brand portfolio that includes Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Yard House, The Capital Grille, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze and Eddie V’s. In total, the organization operates more than 1,700 restaurants, employs 180,000 people and serves 380 million guests annually.


About the 2018 Silver Plate Class:

In addition to Gene Lee, the 2018 Silver Plate recipients (and the industry leading companies that nominated them) include:   

  • Health Care: Jim McGrody, Culinary Director, UNC Rex Healthcare
    • Nominated by Basic American Foods
  • Retail & Specialty Foodservice: Voni Woods, Experience Officer, Giant Eagle
    • Nominated by Nestlé Professional
  • Chain Limited Service: Paul Brown, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Inspire Brands
    • Nominated by Ecolab
  • Elementary & Secondary Schools: Ken Yant, Director, School Nutrition, Gwinnett County Public Schools
    • Nominated by SunOpta
  • Independent Restaurants/Multi-Concept: Craig Huse, President and Co-Owner, Huse Culinary
    • Nominated by Ecolab
  • Business & Industry/Foodservice Management: Michiel Bakker, Director of Food, Google
    • Nominated by Ecolab
  • Colleges & Universities: C. Dennis Pierce, Executive Director Dining Services, University of Connecticut
    • Nominated by Basic American Foods & Sysco
  • Hotels & Lodging: Susan Terry, Vice President of Culinary and Food & Beverage Operations, Marcus Hotels & Resorts
    • Nominated by Nestlé Professional

“Every year we are amazed at the accomplishments of all award nominees. The 2018 IFMA Gold & Silver Plate winners represent the industry’s absolute best in hospitality excellence and commitment to making a difference,” said Larry Oberkfell, IFMA President & CEO.

In addition to the announcement of IFMA’s coveted Gold Plate Award recipient, the National Restaurant Association bestowed the second annual Legends Award to the late Joe Fassler, and the inaugural WFF/IFMA Women in Manufacturing Award was presented to 11 manufacturing brands that have shown commitment to drive gender equity in their organizations and across the industry.

About the Gold Plate & Silver Plate Awards

The Gold & Silver Plate Awards, now in its 64th year, is the longest-running and most respected awards program in the foodservice industry. Each year, a distinguished jury of trade press editors and previous award winners weigh the merits of candidates who best represent IFMA’s vision, mission and values. Winners are honored with the Silver Plate Award. One of these accomplished and esteemed operators is chosen by secret ballot to receive the industry’s most coveted recognition, the IFMA Gold Plate Award for overall industry excellence.

About the Gold Plate Selection Process

The Gold Plate Award recipient was determined through secret ballot by a jury of past Silver Plate winners, national trade press editors and foodservice experts. The Selection Jury was chaired by Nancy Kruse, The Kruse Company. The ballot was tallied by BDO USA, LLP and kept confidential until the announcement at the Gold & Silver Plate Celebration on May 19.

About Past Gold Plate Winners

James Collins ('77), Ted Balestreri ('84), Richard Melman ('89), J.W. Marriott Jr. ('93), Joseph K. Fassler ('96), Ralph Brennan ('97), Timothy J. Dietzler ('10),  John Metz, Jr. ('13), Jim Broadhurst ('14), John Miller ('15), Rafi Taherian (’16) and Wolfgang Puck (’17) are among the renowned operators who have received IFMA Gold Plates over the years.

# # #

About International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA)

The International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) is an established trade association serving foodservice manufacturers for over 65 years to improve industry practices and relationships while equipping every foodservice manufacturer with the tools to navigate their future with confidence. By providing insights, developing best practices and fostering connectivity through events, we enlighten members and motivate change that leads to betterment for the individual member organization and the industry at large. For more information, visit ifmaworld.com. Follow IFMA on LinkedInTwitter: @IFMAWORLD and Facebook