Steamboat restaurateurs honored with statewide awards |

Steamboat restaurateurs honored with statewide awards

Mark Stanford was awarded Manager of the Year by the Colorado Restaurant Association. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs residents Mark Stanford and Tod “JJ” Johnson were recognized last week with statewide awards at the Colorado Restaurant Show, which took place Sept 17 and 18 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

“I think it was quite impressive that we had great representation from Steamboat,” said Scott Engelman, Truffle Pig owner. “Being there for the entire awards ceremony, we saw the representation from all over the state. But as far as mountain towns go Steamboat certainly had a big cache.”

Stanford was named Manager of the Year by the Colorado Restaurant Association for his work at the Truffle Pig, which is located at the base of Steamboat Resort. Stanford also serves as director of beverages for both the Truffle Pig and Carl’s Tavern downtown, and said the award encompasses all of his work in Steamboat.

Johnson is director of beverage services for Rex’s Family of Restaurants and also oversees the general managers at Creekside Café and the Laundry Kitchen & Cocktails. The Colorado Restaurant Association honored him with the  Legacy Award, which recognizes employee who have been in the restaurant business for 20 years and with the same establishment for at least 10 years.

Making his mark

Stanford started working in the restaurant business eight years ago and has been with Engelman for a little more than a year. In that time, he moved from assistant manager to manager.

“I find it a rare occurrence to see someone in the hospitality industry who shows up to work on a daily basis with an attitude and personality that exudes passion for the opportunities that exist in front of him,” Engelman said. “Mark has created an aura around him that compels team members to approach him at any given moment with questions and ideas. He also garners a magnetic personality that summons the interest of our guests.”

Stanford has made the most of his opportunities at the Truffle Pig and has played a pivotal role in the construction of a robust, yet relevant beverage programs at both the Truffle Pig and Carl’s Tavern restaurants.

The Truffle Pig boasts a craft cocktail list with more than three dozen selections, while Carl’s Tavern has 16 selections to choose from. Stanford has been recognized in local, national and international cocktail competitions.

“He is always looking for ways to instill fresh ideas and creativity into our framework,” Engelman said in the nomination. “He is constantly involved in perpetual training with the team members, and even our guests are enamored with the allure of his knowledge and charm.”

Tod “JJ” Johnson won the Legacy Award from the Colorado Restaurant Association. (Photo by John F. Russell)

A living legacy

Johnson got his first taste of the restaurant business as a pizza deliveryman for Mazzola’s Italian Restaurant.

“I started at Mazzola’s in 1989, so I’m coming up on 30 years,” Johnson said. “A small group of people have been in the business for that long, but even fewer of us have stayed with the same company. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to make it work.”

Johnson was hired by Cooper and Tracy Barnett and spent 15 years working for the couple at Mazzolas. Then he remained on staff when Rex Brice bought the business 15 years ago.

The business has continued to grow and thrive and is now one of six restaurants in Rex’s Family of Restaurants that includes Rex’s American Grll & Bar, Big House Burgers, Salt & Lime, Creekside Grill and Mazzola’s. The group also includes Lil House County Biscuits, the Burrito Bar and a catering business.

Rex’s Family of Restaurants has about 300 employees and has built a culture where employees are encouraged to climb the ladder.

“Being a large company affords us a chance to take care of our employees really well,” Johnson said. “Rex encourages people to stick around, and there is always opportunity for upward mobility.”

Johnson said he was humbled when he learned that he would be getting a Legacy Award from the Colorado Restaurant Association.

“I had no idea. Somebody in our main office must have nominated me and then the Colorado Restaurant Association selection committee must have narrowed it down and included me on the list,” Johnson said. “So it’s pretty cool to get a statewide award.”

Johnson said the awards would not be possible if not for the owners who took the time to nominate their employees.

“We live in a community where it is close knit, and where our owners and upper management are invested in their employees, and they took the time to submit the nomination,” Johnson said. “It’s nice that the people you work with respect you and honor you in that way.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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