NJRHA Recognizes Garden State’s Best and Brightest at Annual Gala in Jersey City

2017 NJRHA
(L-R) Back Row: Lou and Anthony Calandra (Hospitality Award winners) - Calandra Enterprises, Raoul and Carlo Momo (Restaurateurs of the Year) - Terra Momo Restaurant Group with Marilou Halvorsen (NJRHA), Wade Avondoglio (Deborah Roy-Dowdell Lifetime Achievement Award winner) - Perona Farms. Front Row: Michael Sirianni (Gold Plate Award winner) - Principal of the Culinary Education Center of Monmouth County Vocational School District, Kirk Ruoff (Gold Plate Award winner) - Turning Point Restaurants

The New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association (NJRHA) honored the state’s best and brightest last month at the 37th Annual Awards Gala held at the Liberty House Restaurant in Jersey City. Highlights of the Gala included Raoul and Carlo Momo receiving this year’s “Restaurateur of the Year Award” as well as Wade Avondoglio’s accepting the “Lifetime Achievement Award” while his family celebrates 100 years in business at Perona Farms.

In addition, the 2017 NJRHA Gold Plate Award winner was presented to Michael Sirianni. He is the Principal of Monmouth County Vocational School District Culinary Education Center.  Gold Plate honors also went to Turning Point Restaurant’s Kirk Ruoff.  The NJRHA’s annual Hospitality Award  was presented to Anthony and  Lou Calandra of Calandra Enterprises.

Following in the footsteps of their parents, brothers Carlo and Raoul Momo are leaders instrumental in the growth of Terra Momo Restaurant Group from a take-out pizzeria to a full-service multi-concept restaurant group. Established in 1982, Terra Momo Restaurant Group is now a cornerstone in the Princeton community having grown to three full-service restaurants, an artisan boulangerie, and a kiosk in the Princeton Public Library.

“I say this every year, but it’s true—picking the winners is hard. We have so many impressive restaurant owners and culinary teachers that have influenced our industry and continue to make a difference,” said Marilou Halvorsen, president of the NJRHA. “This year, these were the few that stood out to us, especially the Momo brothers and their continued growth and support of their community, and Perona Farms for their impressive longevity,” she added.

​“Our passion for food is what keeps us growing and excited about what we do. This award is an affirmation to my family, employees, and community that our efforts matter,” said Carlo Momo. “We especially work hard to raise awareness of the importance of buying from local farms by sponsoring many farm-to-table events and fundraisers that benefit half a dozen environmental groups that work to protect land in New Jersey for the production of the fresh vegetables we use in our restaurants,” he added.

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​This year’s Lifetime Achievement award winner Wade Avondoglio has spent most of his life working at family-owned Perona Farms, eventually becoming president in 1989. Wade runs the fourth-generation business with the help of his three siblings, Mark, Kirk, and Tracey. Together, they manage an expansive event staff and a large on-site restaurant, boasting the world’s best smoked salmon. What began 100 years ago as dinner around a boardinghouse table has become one of today’s most sought-after wedding and event venues in the state.

Wade has served as NJRHA Chairman and currently sits on the Board of Directors. He is also a Trustee and the Vice President of the New Jersey Restaurant Educational Foundation (NJREF). Notable awards include the NJRHA’s “Restaurateur of the Year Award,” as well as “New Jersey Family Business of the Year” (New Jersey Monthly Magazine) and “New Good Neighbor Award” (New Jersey Business and Industry Association). His Lifetime Achievement Award comes at a perfect moment: the 100-year anniversary of Perona Farms. Through the venue’s annual wild game dinners and other events, Perona Farms has raised over half a million dollars for various charities over the years.

Wade Avondoglio has played an important role in the industry, with such roles as representing New Jersey on the National Restaurant Association’s Board of Directors, and representing the United States as an Exchange Director for the Canadian Restaurant Association. Wade is particularly proud of his time traveling around the world to judge the best food service program in the United States Air Force.

Gold Plate honoree Michael Sirianni is the Principal of the Culinary Education Center at Monmouth County Vocational School District. He helped create the two-year innovative culinary arts program. He is instrumental in assisting students with college placement as well as helping them find jobs in local restaurants and hotels during school and after graduation. Most importantly, he is creating a talented workforce feeding into our state’s hospitality industry while providing careers for our state’s youth.

​Kirk Ruoff, Founder and CEO of Turning Point Holding Company  was recognized by NJRHA for his fast-growing restaurant chain. Comprised of 14 restaurants to date, Turning Point has 11 locations in New Jersey and 3 in Pennsylvania. The company is very involved in each of the communities in which it resides. Last year, Turning Point raised close to a quarter of a million dollars for various charities to support its customers and communities.

​Anthony and Lou Calandra learned the inner workings of their family’s business, Calandra’s Bakery, at a young age. The small, family-owned bakery in Newark that their father, an Italian immigrant, founded in 1962 quickly earned a reputation for producing delicious bread. Today, Anthony and Lou have expanded their family business with two additional bakeries, three Italian restaurants, and four family-owned and operated hotels. The bakeries deliver their products to more than 500 supermarkets, delis, and restaurants in the tri-state area. The family also produces and sells their own line of olive oil, coffee, fresh pasta, homemade sauces, and wines from their vineyard in Italy. Although their business has grown substantially within the past 50 years, the Calandra family remains driven by hard work, traditional family values, and a focus on customer service.

The 2017 NJRHA Annual Awards Gala, a black tie event created to honor the winners and celebrate the restaurant and hospitality industry, is traditionally held the Monday evening after Thanksgiving and hosts approximately 350 people.

Established in 1942, the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association represents the Garden State’s 25,000 eating and drinking establishments—the state’s largest private sector employers, generating $14.2 billion in annual sales and employing over 318,000 people. Support, education, and advocacy for its members are part of the NJRHA’s recipe for success and why it has become an essential ingredient for the hospitality industry.


To learn more about 2017 NJRHA updates and beyond, please visit their website