It Takes a Village: The 2017 Delaware Restaurant Association Cornerstone Awards

By / Photography By Allen Luzak | December 14, 2017
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At 2017 Cornerstone Awards, Carrie Leishman (center) and the Delaware Restaurant Association Board of Directors toast all those who contribute to the hospitality industry.

When traveling across this beautiful state, I am constantly amazed and humbled by the talented and dedicated professionals who weave together the rich fabric of Delaware’s restaurant community. Those that choose restaurant careers are part of a melting pot of diverse individuals from all backgrounds, with unique stories and circumstances. There is no other business that has a multitude of people from all generations, ethnic and economic backgrounds who come together as a “family” to serve its customers—and Delawareans are so lucky to have them!

We celebrated what is best about Delaware Restaurants in November at the Delaware Restaurant Association’s Annual Cornerstone Awards at The Queen Theater in Wilmington. It was a luminescent event – historically dedicated to a hospitality individual or company who is regarded as successful in their business and for the work they do in their communities. This year was different. We asked for submissions of unique stories and pathways toward individual success and wow! – we received hundreds of stories! This was an exciting opportunity to gather to shine a spotlight on those who have accomplished so much—and share their stories, in their own words.

Simply said, there is no other industry where an individual from any circumstance can elevate themselves from a dishwasher to an executive chef, a hostess to a general manager, or a busser to a business owner than in the restaurant industry. Restaurant success stories have similar themes. Individuals who truly are living the “American Dream” are full of passion and share a tireless work ethic. Restaurants are full of fearless entrepreneurs, creative chefs and passionate managers willing to work and do whatever it takes to create success and to serve others well.

We are proud to celebrate Delaware’s restaurant community—an industry of choice for almost 50,000 Delawareans (1 in 10 citizens) in its 2,000 establishments. Restaurants are the largest small business employer and the largest component of Delaware’s tourism industry. Most restaurants are small but they mean big business to Delaware with almost 4 billion dollars in annual sales.

The compelling stories we highlighted made us proud—and brought tears to many eyes. It is the emotion and warmth most of us already know well when dining in our favorite neighborhood restaurant. The people of hospitality add luster to our experiences when we are with them—it is why we love what we do and why diners keep coming back for more!

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Photo 1: Governor John Carney (left) and Sergio Repesco, a server at Striper Bites in Lewes who came to the US from Eastern Europe five years ago in search of a better life. Here, he found a love and passion for the restaurant industry, and was recently able to buy his first home.
Photo 2: Tysun Hicks (center), a Cape Henlopen graduate working at Bluecoast Rehoboth, shared his story about overcoming some tough life situations, and appreciation for his bright future with SoDel Concepts.
Photo 3: Iren Biklarian (center, right) with colleagues from the Claymont Steak Shop, where she has spent her career since first arriving in the US 25 years ago.
Photo 4: Staff from The Starboard, some of whom were featured in the video, with DRA Chairman of the Board Steve "Monty" Montgomery, who introduced the video during the program.
Article from Edible Delmarva at
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