National Restaurant Association Honors Bahjat Shariff with 2012 Faces of Diversity Award

The National Restaurant Association has honored Bahjat Shariff, Senior Vice President of Operations and Operating Partner for Panera Bread/Howley Bread Group in Cumberland, R.I., with its 2012 Faces of Diversity American Dream Award.

The award celebrates members of the restaurant and foodservice industry who are the best representation of how, through hard work and determination, one can achieve the American Dream in this industry. The National Restaurant Association presented the awards at a gala dinner during its 2012 Public Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C.

“The winners of our 2012 Faces of Diversity American Dream award serve as an inspiration for us all, and remind us that the entrepreneurial spirit that represents our industry remains strong,” said Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “The personal and professional journey of Bahjat Shariff is nothing short of remarkable. It serves as a reminder of the incredible opportunities that the restaurant industry can provide to those who put forth dedication and hard work.”

When he was 18 years old, Bahjat Shariff left his family and a war-torn Lebanon to come to the United States. With only $300 in his pocket and the hopes of making his parents proud, Shariff took a part time job at KFC, a decision that would change his life. He stayed at KFC for ten years, working his way up from part-time cook to market manager. When he left the company, Shariff was responsible for several restaurants with $25 million in annual sales.

Shariff’s career continued at several national chains, including Au Bon Pain and Betrucci’s, eventually leading him to Howley Bread Group, the fourth-highest volume franchisee in the Panera Bread system. Shariff, who became a U.S. citizen in 1994, was able to eventually bring his parents to America, where two of his three siblings also now live. Never forgetting his early years in Lebanon, Shariff emphasizes to his four children the importance of hard work and not taking life for granted.

The National Restaurant Association, in partnership with PepsiCo Foodservice, created the Faces of Diversity awards program in 2007. The American Dream Award honors individuals of diverse backgrounds who have found successful rewarding careers in the restaurant industry.

In addition to the award, a $2,500 scholarship was given to an aspiring student in their honor.

The other winners of the 2012 Faces of Diversity award are Leah Chase, Chef and Owner of Dooky Chase Restaurant in New Orleans, La.; and Jorge Levy, Owner of Desperados Mexican Restaurant in Dallas, Texas. For more information about the Faces of Diversity awards program, visit

To view a social media version of the Faces of Diversity awards news release, including downloadable photos and video, visit the Association’s website.

Founded in 1919, the National Restaurant Association is the leading business association for the restaurant industry, which comprises 970,000 restaurant and foodservice outlets and a workforce of nearly 13 million employees. We represent the industry in Washington, D.C., and advocate on its behalf. We operate the industry’s largest trade show (NRA Show May 5-8, 2012, in Chicago); leading food safety training and certification program (ServSafe); unique career-building high school program (the NRAEF’s ProStart, including the National ProStart Invitational April 27-29, 2012, in Baltimore, Md.); as well as the Kids LiveWell program promoting healthful kids’ menu options. For more information, visit and find us on Twitter @WeRRestaurants, Facebook and YouTube.