National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation Celebrates Diversity, Equity + Inclusion Across the Industry

WASHINGTON – The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) launched “Restaurants Advance: Journeys that Inspire” spotlighting excellence in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). The series of uplifting stories, brought to you by PepsiCo, features members of the restaurant, foodservice and hospitality industry who represent the highest standards in DEI and achieved the American Dream.

“The pandemic and the past 18+ months have been challenging for the restaurant industry and its employees, but there are so many inspiring stories of resilience and finding new opportunities,” said Rob Gifford, president of the NRAEF. “We want to celebrate those who took positive steps to further DEI, support their communities, and be an example for us all.”

The NRAEF has selected the following inspiring stories from among the 12 million hard-working members of the restaurant industry:

Raveen Arora, Owner
The Dhaba
Tempe, Ariz.

This 2017 NRAEF Faces of Diversity honoree with “a business mind and a servant heart” was born in a refugee camp in India and grew up in poverty. Having achieved phenomenal success as a business consultant and small restaurant owner, Arora’s devoted to enriching the lives of the less fortunate. Read more.

Elisia Flores, CEO
L&L Hawaiian BBQ
Honolulu, Hawaii

This second-generation CEO is awed by the company’s impact on future owner-operators, many of whom are immigrants or come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are creating wealth and a legacy of their own.  “It’s my dad’s story 100 times,” says Flores.  Read more.

Ivan Flores, CEO & Founder
Buffalo Spot
Long Beach, Calif.

This self-taught, up-and-coming entrepreneur and creator of the “world-famous buffalo fries” is a mentor to future franchisees. “It’s a neat experience to watch them invest their time and resources and grow alongside you,” says Flores. He looks for leaders who share his values of hard work, customer service and quality, and tells them to “never stop dreaming.” Read more.

Austina Smith, Chef
Grand Living at Bridgewater
Coralville, Iowa

Since winning NRAEF’s Faces of Diversity award in 2020, Smith has felt empowered to have deeper conversations about race with residents at her senior living community, as well as at her sons’ school.  “I can tell a story through food, which brings people together and builds trust,” she says. Read more.

“These stories remind us that the restaurant industry is made up of people who are making an impact in their communities and together are taking steps that can spark broader changes in society,” said Anne Fink, Global Foodservice President at PepsiCo.  “We’re proud to support the NRAEF in sharing these inspiring journeys that celebrate the diversity and future of our industry.”

PepsiCo, a long-time partner of the NRAEF and champion for DEI, is also partnering with NRAEF and the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA) on Pathways to Black Franchise Ownership – a new innovative franchising initiative sponsored by PepsiCo that is designed to equip aspiring entrepreneurs to operate high-performing businesses, with a goal of creating 100 Black-owned franchise restaurants by the end of 2023.

All friends and fans of NRAEF are invited to support the restaurant industry and spread a little joy by sharing these uplifting stories across social media. 

Visit and follow NRAEF on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn and Twitter to “like” and “share” these stories as they unfold throughout the month of October.

About the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation:
As the philanthropic foundation of the National Restaurant Association, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s mission of service to the public 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 todays and tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice workforce. NRAEF programs include: ProStart® – a high-school career and technical education program; Restaurant Ready – partnering with community based organizations to provide opportunity youth and previously incarcerated individuals with skills training and job opportunities; Military – helping military servicemen and women transition their skills to restaurant and foodservice careers; Scholarships – financial assistance for students pursuing restaurant, foodservice and hospitality degrees; and, the Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship project – a partnership with the American Hotel & Lodging Association providing a hospitality apprenticeship program for the industry.

For more information on the NRAEF, visit