The restaurant industry is a major player in Colorado’s economy: There are 11,800 eating and drinking establishments in the Centennial State which contribute a whopping $13 billion in annual sales and more than 285,000 jobs. The Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA), which supports that community, will host its annual Industry Spotlight Awards during the Colorado Restaurant & Bar Show on September 17 to celebrate the passionate individuals who bring those restaurants to life. 

“It’s always a highlight of our year to celebrate these people, who do so much to continually raise the bar in hospitality here,” says Sonia Riggs, president and CEO of the CRA. “We’re thankful for their leadership and role in making dining in our state exceptional, and we look forward to seeing what else they accomplish in the future.”’

Among those being honored are 5280 food editor Denise Mickelsen and Chef or Death podcast host Eric Chiappetta, who were named Outstanding Media Professionals (former food editor Amanda Faison won in 2016). “It’s such an honor to be recognized by the Colorado restaurant community in this way,” Mickelsen says. “Sharing the stories of our talented local chefs and producers is a dream job already, so to be included in this class of incredible professionals is the icing on the proverbial cake.” 

Others recognized include co-executive chefs Kelly Jeun and Eduardo Valle Lobo of Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine (Outstanding Newcomers), Tim Kuklinski of Rioja (Outstanding Professional), Danielle Youngerman of Rioja (BOH Employee of the Year), and Sean Kenyon of the Occidental and Williams & Graham (Bartender of the Year).

Here’s a complete list of winners:

Signature Dish Awards

Outstanding Professional:
Tim Kuklinski, Crafted Concepts
Craig Jones, Angelo’s Taverna and Carboy Winery

Regional Outstanding Professional:
Kevin Charles, Mazzola’s Italian Diner (Steamboat Springs)
Franco Pisani, Paravacini’s Italian Bistro and Sopra Antipasto & Wine Bar (Colorado Springs)

Exceptional Newcomer:
Laura Posiak, Mambo Italiano (Steamboat Springs)
Kelly Jeun and Eduardo Valle Lobo, Frasca Food and Wine (Boulder)

Outstanding Media Professional:
Denise Mickelsen, 5280 Magazine
Eric Chiappetta, Chef or Death

Outstanding Allied Partner:
Sysco Denver

Stars of the Industry Awards

Manager of the Year:
Jodi McAllister, Frasca Food and Wine (Boulder)
Rachel Hendrickson, KM Concessions
Danette Churchill, Little Pub Company 

FOH Employee of the Year:
Jessica Palmer, Mo’ Betta Gumbo (Loveland)

BOH Employee of the Year:
Danielle Youngerman, Rioja

Bartender of the Year:
Sean Kenyon, Occidental and Williams & Graham 

Chef of the Year:
Chris Melton, KM Concessions
Roy Benningfield Jr., Salt the Bistro and Pepper the Noshery (Boulder)

Regional Chef of the Year:
Vicki Connacher, Rex’s Family of Restaurants (Steamboat)

Legacy Employee:
Cheryl “C” Marden, Shamrock Foods (Denver)
Patrick Derringer, Morning Story (Arvada)

Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia joined the 5280 staff in July 2019 and is thrilled to oversee all of the magazine’s dining coverage. Follow her food reporting adventures on Instagram @whatispattyeating.