It’s our 75th Anniversary! Every year we award the Manager of the Year, Chef of the Year, Restaurant Neighbor, and Restaurateur of the Year. We are not letting COVID-19 stop us from showcasing the talent and tenacity of our wonderful industry. Instead of our annual Hospitality Industry Awards In-Person Gala, we are spreading the celebration out for several weeks.


The Restaurateur of the Year Award is the highest honor a person can receive in the New Mexico restaurant industry. The winner is chosen based on the recipient’s advancement of the industry and involvement in their communities. The New Mexico Restaurant Association has been honored to present this award every year since 1967.

NMRA is proud to honor our 2020 Restaurateur of the Year, Matt DiGregory of the Range Café Restaurants. Learn about Matt and his restaurants here.

Many have found success in this business. But this year was also about survival. As NMRA celebrates its 75th Anniversary, we also celebrate all of our restaurant operators. They have shown such strength and conviction while facing a challenge none of us have seen before. They are the head of the restaurant family, and their care for their employees, customers, and community really shined through. Their dedication has helped the industry as a whole as we try to look positively toward the future. The 2020 nominees exemplify excellence in customer service, employee relations, innovation, and all have a true passion for the restaurant industry. We are lucky they are in our corner.

Jason & Heather Armstrong, O’Hares Grill & Pub – Rio Rancho
Dale Balzano, The Trinity Hotel – Carlsbad
Eddie Burgarello, Mario’s Pizza – Albuquerque
Marcuss Cassimus, Hello Deli – Albuquerque
Marie Coleman, Church Street Cafe – Albuquerque
Jimmy & Nadine Daskalos, El Patron – Albuquerque
Matt di Gregory, Range Café – Bernalillo
Vicki Garcia-Golden, Garcia’s Kitchen – Albuquerque
John Haas, M’Tucci’s Restaurants – Albuquerque
RussellHernandez, Salud! De Mesilla – Las Cruces
Frank Holloway, Hollow Spirits Distillery – Albuquerque
Mike Hsu. King Dragon – Gallup
Vicki Jaramillo, The Dog House – Albuquerque
WanitaJones, El Camino Restaurant – Socorro
Mark Kiffin, The Compound – Santa Fe
Chiaki Miyazaki, Mix Pacific Rim Cuisine – Las Cruces
Janet Montano, La Dos Gringas – Belen
JeremyPeck, Vigil’s Beef Jerky – Albuquerque
Pete Rallis, Copper Canyon Café – Albuquerque
Jessica Tafoya. Sunnyside Up Restaurant – Albuquerque
Ray Trombino, Trombino’s – Albuquerque
Dominic Valenzuela, Tako Ten – Albuquerque
Jason Vinson, Yo Mama’s – Socorro
Curtis Williamson, Schlotsky’s Ruidoso
Tom Willis, 66 Diner – Albuquerque
Kimberly & Bob Yacone, Forghedaboutit – Las Cruces


The restaurateurs and industry team members who call New Mexico home take their wits, talents and skills outside of their restaurants and give their hearts to their communities. This is what makes a good restaurant neighbor. 2020 has called for a lot of support and kindness from our neighbors, including restaurants.

NMRA is proud to honor our 2020 Restaurant Neighbor of the Year, Central Grill – George & Alicia Griego.   Check George out on the NMRA Podcast New Mexico Restaurants NOW!

Despite the challenges 2020 has brought to businesses and employees, these restaurant neighbors reached out to their communities to pay forward. Like many hard working folks who are so giving of their time and generous with their resources, they are not always recognized. There’s no more needed time than now to focus on the hope and kindness of those who strive to make their communities better.

This award recognizes restaurants that are active supporters of their communities and make a positive contribution to the places where they live and work. These restaurateurs and their staff really go the extra mile to be true neighbors and partners with their communities.


George & Alicia Griego, Central Grill & Coffee – Albuquerque
Mark Kiffin, The Compound – Santa Fe
Dan Garcia, Garcia’s Kitchen – Albuquerque
Mike White, High Point Grill – Albuquerque
Carlos Rocha, Jimmy’s Café – Albuquerque
Steve Vatoseow, Lindy’s Diner – Albuquerque
Mike & Alice Romero, Michael’s Mini Mart – Alcalde
John Haas, M’tucci’s Restaurants – Albuquerque
Rudy Jaramillo, Rutilio’s Restaurant – Belen
Cristian Pontiggia, Sassella – Santa Fe
Gary Hines, Stripes – Albuquerque
Jean & Brian Vargas, Two Boys Donuts – Albuquerque

Walter Burke, Walter Burke Catering – Santa Fe



Chefs are the cornerstone of the restaurant business. The heart of the dining experience is the food itself, and New Mexico is very fortunate to have some outstanding chefs in our state. Their creations are artistic and delicious. Now, more than ever, food brings needed comfort and every bite is a bit of joy.

NMRA is proud to honor our 2020 Chef of the year, Tristin Rogers – Hollow Spirits Distillery.   Check him out on the NMRA Podcast New Mexico Restaurants NOW!

These New Mexico chefs were nominated by their peers and community and should all be recognized for their talents and gifts to their communities. NMRA asked for nominations from our members and the hospitality community, and all of the submitted nominees for Chef of the Year are listed below.

Aaron Spring, Hotel Encanto – Las Cruces
Andy Barnes, Dinner for Two – Santa Fe
Darren McHale. Indigo Crow – Corrales
John Apodaca, Canyon Country Club – Albuquerque
Jonathan Perno, Los Poblanos – Albuquerque
Lane Warner, La Fonda on the Plaza – Santa Fe
Michael Lagarde, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse – Albuquerque
Ryan Lorenta, High Noon Saloon & Café – Albuquerque
Shawn Cronin, M’tucci’s Twenty-Five – Albuquerque
Steve Garret, Red River Brewing Co – Red River
Tristin Rogers, Hollow Spirits & Distillery – Albuquerque


Managers are the glue that holds the whole restaurant together.  Managers are vital—and 2020 has been a challenge like never before. In addition to keeping daily tasks in check and watching out for the restaurant’s bottom line, managers are the team leaders. They have had to navigate through many changes in rules and regulations, menu, and safety precautions as we all try to find our new normal.   

So, cheers to you, managers! Thank you for all you do. Congratulations to all of this year’s nominees.

NMRA is proud to honor our 2020 Manager of the year, Miaa Hebert of Garcia’s Kitchen.   Check her out on the NMRA Podcast New Mexico Restaurants NOW!

Learn More about Miaa & Garcia’s Kitchen here.


NMRA asked for nominations from our members and the hospitality community, and all of the submitted nominees for Manager of the Year are listed below. 

NMRA’s Awards Nomination Committee, comprised of former Restaurateur of the Year Winners, has the opportunity to review all of the nominations, and makes the difficult decision on who will be the winners for the year. Stay tuned later in the week to see which of these very talented and dedicated managers is our Manager of the Year for 2020.


John Warble, 66 Diner – Albuquerque 
Curtis Williamson, C &G Elevated LLC dba Schlotzsky’s – Ruidoso 
Maggie Sorrell, Chello Grill – Albuquerque 
Karla Sandoval, Church Street Café – Albuquerque 
Sou Meunphalangchai, Crackin Crab – Albuquerque & Santa Fe 
Miia Hebert, Garcia’s Kitchen – Albuquerque 
Omar Rios, Garcia’s Kitchen – Albuquerque 
Joel Valdez, Hello Deli – Albuquerque 
Christopher “Kicker” Gonzales, Hollow Spirits & Distillery – Albuquerque 
John Cuviello, La Fonda on the Plaza – Santa Fe 
Micael Conforti, Library Bar & Grill – Albuquerque 
Amanda Romero, M’tucci’s Moderno – Rio Rancho 
Wayne Mack, Owl Café – Albuquerque 
Donna Akers, Ponderosa Brewing – Albuquerque 
Cristian Pontiggia, Sassella – Santa Fe 

Debbie Lopez, YDI Head Start – Albuquerque 


Carri Phillis
NMRA has always been about advocacy.  We take what we feel are the prevailing views of our members, and work together to give one voice to our efforts.  During 2020, with COVID-19 causing havoc and unprecedented change to New Mexico’s Business, we need to find a voice that had the ear of the State Government.  Carri Phillis was that voice.  A Bar and Restaurant Owner, Carri was appointed to the Governor’s Economic Advisory Council, and provided a voice for restaurant interests, taking our messages to the Governor and the Council.  She kept in touch with NMRA regularly on the status of changes and our requests.  Even if things did not always go the industry’s way, Carri stayed steadfast in her mission to advocate for all of us.  She is now working directly with NMRA on the Association’s “Kitchen Cabinet” to continue protecting restaurants on a grassroots level.  Thanks for being a strong voice for our industry, Carri!  

Jimmy Bates
Jimmy Bates from Premiere Distributing was one of our industry’s very first 
champions early on when the Covid-19 pandemic struck New Mexico workers.  Our foundation opened up the Serving New Mexico fund to accept applications for displaced workers in need of financial help.  Jimmy contacted the New Mexico Restaurant Association with a very generous offer to donate to the Serving NM Fund through a profit share of Premier Distributing products.  Jimmy and Premiere partnered with Budweiser/Michelob Ultra, Circle K, NM United, and other retailers to raise money for the fund. Over several months, these sales helped donate $42,000 to the fund helping hundreds of people in need.  So much can be done when one person takes that first step to get the ball rolling.  Thanks for paying it forward, Jimmy!

Lindsey and Aaron Cortese of Outlaw Meats
Even though their new restaurant was still less than a year old, Aaron and Lindsey Cortese of Outlaw Meats in Ft. Sumner became one of our 2020 Industry Champions. Stepping up with a few select other restaurateurs, they were willing to be the named plaintiff on the lawsuit against the Governor’s arbitrary and capricious orders to shutdown restaurants. These brave souls helped to represent the frustration of an entire industry in a very public way. Even though we did not win this particular battle, the fact that we fought means everything to every other restaurant in the state. Thank you for representing your region, small business, and the industry with courage and conviction!

Antonia Roybal-Mack
Antonia Roybal-Mack is NMRA’s general counsel. She and her team at Roybal-Mack and Cordova have been instrumental to the Association and its members during the pandemic. She worked with NMRA to provide expertise on our webinars, clarifying new regulations, and answering questions on everything from PPP loans to employment law. Antonia was on “speed dial” with NMRA’s CEO and staff and was ready to help at the drop of the hat. The firm spearheaded the two lawsuits for the members of NMRA, and represented our cause and mission with professionalism and tenacity. We cannot thank her enough for her service, especially this year. So, thank you, Antonia Roybal-Mack, for being our legal champion!

Allison Kuper Smith  
Allison Kuper Smith has been a champion of the industry for many years. As NMRA’s dedicated lobbyist and Governmental Affairs Director, Allison was the Association’s lifeline to State Government. During this pandemic, and especially at the very chaotic beginning, she was on call 24-7, answering member questions and connecting them to the right department. She sat in on every necessary webinar call, ready to provide expertise. When ever-changing regulations were confusing and vague, Allison would directly contact the right person for clarification, allowing the NMRA staff to be certain that they were giving the best answers. In one instance, one of our member McDonald’s franchisees was being threatened with complete closure from an inspector early-on in the shutdown. Allison was “boots on the ground” getting direct answers from Secretary Kenney. NMED was able to clarify the regulation to the inspector. Within a few hours, with many phone calls, the franchisee was able to stay open. It is that kind of dedication and personal commitment that makes Allison Kuper Smith an industry champion.

Tom Hutchinson
Like most restaurant operators, Tom Hutchinson wears many hats, and fills many roles. One of those is as an industry champion. He has been active on the NMRA Board for many years, including some as our representative to the National Restaurant Association. Tom has also always been willing to step in as a mentor for other restaurateurs, reaching out one-on-one when NMRA needed him to connect to an operator with urgent questions. As the operator of La Posta de Mesilla, Tom, together with others in the area, has always provided a voice for the needs of Southern New Mexico’s restaurants. His experience in the banking industry proved invaluable when we need help understanding the complexities of PPP loans and other financial aspects of the crisis. He even volunteered his bank and CPA to lend vital financial expertise to NMRA webinars. Tom was an expert when we needed one the most. As a fellow restaurateur, he was also an expert with empathy. That is one of the many reasons he is a 2020 Industry Champion.