A bright spot in what has been an especially difficult year for the hospitality industry: The Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA) presented its 2020 Industry Spotlight Awards on November 10 —virtually, of course—and the year’s winners represent an impressive variety of restaurants across the state.

“This has been the most challenging year for restaurants in living memory, which is why we thought it was so critical to preserve our annual tradition of celebrating the resilient people who make this industry great,” says CRA president Sonia Riggs.

Restaurants, employees, and diners nominate their favorite industry pros for the awards, and those nominees are then whittled down to the short list of winners by a committee of board members. For some categories, winners must come from CRA member restaurants.

“We receive deeply inspiring nominations, so it’s always a difficult choice for our nominating committee. This year was no different,” Riggs says. “We make an effort to recognize people from all over the state and at all different points in their career. This year, we also decided to recognize a number of philanthropic organizations that have sprung up during the pandemic because it’s been so humbling to watch restaurants continue to be such critical parts of their communities in a time when they’re facing their own grave crisis.”

Pandemic-born Colorado Restaurant Response—which raised $1.9 million and provided 320,000 meals to at-risk families and out-of-work hospitality workers, while keeping 60 people employed at nine area restaurants—won the philanthropist award. Eight other do-gooding groups, many of which made meals for frontline workers and industry pros impacted by COVID, received honorable mentions (see full list below).

Dave Woodruff, who started as a busser 15 years ago for Durango’s Steamworks Brewing Co. and worked his way up to general manager at the group’s El Moro Spirits and Tavern, won the regional outstanding professional award.

“It’s a huge honor, to be completely honest. It feels nice to be recognized,” Woodruff says. “We’ve all had a tough time…the CRA has been a beacon of light in a very dark time for all restaurants. Being recognized when we’re all going through this is just icing on the cake.”

Here, the complete list of Colorado Restaurant Association 2020 Industry Spotlight Award winners:

Signature Dish Awards

Allied Partner: Todd Fredrickson, Fisher Phillips
Exceptional Newcomer: Daniel Hoctor, Monarch Casino Resort Spa (Black Hawk)
Outstanding Media Professional: Meghan Lopez, Denver’s 7 (Denver); the Modern Eater (Denver) Outstanding Professional: Sheila Lucero, Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar (Denver)
Regional Outstanding Professional: Dave Woodruff, El Moro Spirits and Tavern (Durango)
Philanthropist: Colorado Restaurant Response (Denver)
Philanthropist Honorable Mentions: Colorado Family Meal (Denver); The Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado (Durango); In the Weeds (Durango); Feeding Colorado Heroes (Denver); Feeding the Frontlines (Boulder); the Good Food Collective (Durango); New Belgium Relief Fund (Fort Collins); Operation Family Meal (Denver)

Stars of the Industry Awards

Bartender of the Year: Jimmy Yadisernia, the Broadmoor (Colorado Springs)
Chef of the Year: Maria Busato, Sweet Basil (Vail); Gabriel Ledesma, Destination Hospitality (Steamboat Springs)
Front of House Employee of the Year: Su Hsu, Kokoro (Arvada); Samantha Smith, Momma Pearl’s Cajun Kitchen (Colorado Springs)
Legacy Employee: Brandy Harbin, Panino’s Restaurant (Colorado Springs); Ronaldo Munoz, the Cherry Cricket Ballpark (Denver); Noah Parman, Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar (Denver); Mariana Valdes, Parisi Foods, Inc. (Denver)
Manager of the Year: Hayley Charles, Carbon Café & Bar (Denver); KD Lynam, Strater Hotel (Durango)

Allyson Reedy
Allyson Reedy
Allyson Reedy is a freelance writer and ice cream fanatic living in Broomfield.