Meet the 2023 Stars of the Industry Award Winners
Restaurateur of the Year Award:
Matt & Stephanie Mell - Churchstreet Family Hospitality
Churchstreet Hospitality's dedication to culinary excellence and immersive dining experiences have elevated Huntsville's food and beverage landscape. In that short time, they have opened nine F&B in Huntsville, AL with more growth into the surrounding cities on the horizon!
Their relentless dedication to their patrons, staff, and community is evident in countless awards. Their most recent recognitions include Mazzaras, Best Italian Restaurant by Southern Living Magazine, Catacomb, Best Bartender by Alabama Magazine and Church Street Wine Shoppe is consistently names one of the top 8 wine bars in Alabama by Best Things Alabama. TripAdvisor named Purveyor the Travelers Choice Award, which places this restaurant in the top 10% worldwide. the Mell's culinary ingenuity, community engagement, and visionary leadership have established them as a driving force in Albama's evolving culinary narrative.
Hotelier of the Year Award:
Josh Head - The Laurel Hotel & Spa
"Anticipatory Service", best describes Josh Head. Josh, the opening General Manager of The Laurel Hotel & Spa located in the Tony & Libba Rane Culinary Science Center started his career with Ithaka Hospitality Partners just a few weeks prior to opening. His goal was very clear, to become the first AAA Five Diamond, Forbes Five Star hotel in the state of Alabama while creating a second to none teaching environment for the students in The Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management at Auburn University.
Part of his responsibility as General Manager is to facilitate the Hospitality management Labs for Lodging Operations and Facilities Management. He spends hours every Tuesday - Friday with the future leaders in our industry with hand on training in Rooms Operations, Sustainability, Hospitality Finance and Rooms Leadership. Josh has over 100 students per semester that rotate through these labs.
The Laurel Hotel & Spa was designed to be a luxury hotel, but we all know luxury is about the guest experience. In the first year of operations, the hotel has seen unprecedented guest engagement results. Year to date through August, the hotel is sitting at 92.2% in anticipation of guest needs, 96.6% room cleanliness, and 95.4% overall satisfaction.
Chef of the Year Award:
Pete Blohme - PP Hospitality Group
Pete Blohme, aka. “Chef Panini Pete” graduated from one of the top culinary schools in The U.S., The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park (CIA), New York. He serves as an active board member on multiple associations and university boards, including the Alabama Restaurant Hospitality Association, Culinary Institute of America Alumni Board, Coastal Alabama Community College Culinary Advisory Board and Bishop State Community College Advisory Board. Mentoring young culinary students is a passion of Pete’s. He is a panel judge for the ProStart high school culinary competitions. Pete is known throughout the region and state for his creative fresh food, restaurants, community outreach and other contributions.
Small Hotelier of the Year Award:
Sanjay Patel - Baron Hospitality
Sanjay Patel is the President of Baron Hospitality. He is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a degree in risk management. Sanjay operates hotels in Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana and South Carolina. Mr. Patel serves of the Board of Directors of the Alabama Restaurant & Hospitality Association, the American Hospitality Association, the Alabama Tourism Advisory Board, the Choice Hotels Owners Advisory Board and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association.
Sanjay always supports his team members. He provides them with training and growth opportunities within Baron Hospitality. He also allows time for his team members to be involved and support local charities and organizations in addition to be the lead sponsor of many local charity events. Baron Hospitality is also the recipient of the Hyatt renovation of the year.
Best New Culinarian of the Year Award:
Agustin Echazarreta - The Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa (PCH Hotels & Resorts)
Agustin’s journey with The Grand Hotel began just over a year ago, and from day one, he has proven himself as a culinary rock star. His passion and self-driven nature set him apart as one of the most remarkable chefs around. Upon joining The Grand, Agustin’s initial task was to lead the culinary team at our acclaimed 4-diamond restaurant, Southern Roots. His impact has been nothing short of transformative—under his guidance, Southern Roots has flourished, becoming a beacon of culinary excellence within the Grand Hotel.
David and Joe Maluff
David and Joe Maluff have used their success to uplift their community in countless ways over the years, and we cannot think of two better people to receive this remarkable recognition. One shining example of their dedication is their annual ‘Backpack Blessings’ initiative. This program aims to help underprivileged children have access to nutritious meals, school supplies, and a brighter future. Over the course of four years, they have been able to support children across Alabama and Mississippi start the school year off strong and confident. Additionally, Joe Maluff served on the board of directors for Make-A-Wish Alabama, and both brothers are big supporters of the Children’s Hospital of Alabama. Through contributing donations and granting wishes for young patients and their families, they have provided comfort, care, and hope when it’s needed most.
In recognition of the sacrifices made by our veterans, Joe and David Maluff have also played a pivotal role in providing meals and support to Veterans. Their dedication to honoring those who have served our nation is a testament to their respect and appreciation for our military heroes. Full Moon BBQ pledged $100,000 to UAB’s Football Facilities and continues to support them through sponsorships and in-kind donations. Beyond UAB, Full Moon BBQ contributes annually to Auburn’s Bruce Pearl Family Foundation’s AUTLIVE Cancer initiative. The Maluff Brothers, true advocates of higher education and sports, also extend their generosity to the University of Alabama Athletic program. The brothers generously donate substantial gifts to the official charity of the Nick Saban Family, the Nick’s Kids Foundation. Full Moon BBQ has also proudly supported the Birmingham Zoo for over 20 years and has contributed over $200,000 through direct financial and in-kind donations. This past summer, the Full Moon Bar-B-Que Adventure tower opened, which includes an internal climbing feature with a spiral slide and a rock-climbing wall for kids of all ages. In honoring David and Joe Maluff, we are reminded of the profound impact that individuals can make when they choose to lead with compassion, empathy, and generosity.
Supplier of the Year Award:
Croux was founded by Alabama hospitality workers - owners, operators, chefs, and gig workers. They founded Croux last year to support the industry they know and love -- and the people who fuel it every day. When their friends, colleagues, and neighbors started closing the doors of their hospitality businesses due to lack of staffing (after an already difficult chapter with a pandemic, supply chain issues, and inflation), they knew they had to act. Croux connects talent in search of flexible work with businesses that need staff -- all through a seamless app. In the last 12 months, they’ve filled more than 6,500 shifts in the state of Alabama across nearly 100 local brands, helping staple businesses in our communities stay open, stay staffed, save money, and thrive.
Tourism Promoter of the Year Award:
Melea Hames - Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association
As the social media manager, Melea is the voice of AMLA on its social platforms. She has been instrumental in developing programs that produce dynamic results for tourism in North Alabama - the North Alabama Ambassadors program and the Unexpected Adventures in North Alabama podcast. Launched in August 2021, the Unexpected Adventures in North Alabama podcast takes listeners through what there is to see and experience in the 16 northernmost counties of Alabama. The podcast was recently named #3 on the 25 Best Alabama Podcasts to listen to list and last year, it was recognized on the international level when it was named a Silver winner in the Audio category of the 2022 MUSE Creative Awards. The MUSE Creative Awards and the MUSE Design Awards received over 6,000 submissions from around the world.
Lifetime Achievement Award:
Judy Ryals - Huntsville/Madison County CVB
Judy Ryals, President/CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau, joined the Bureau in 1978 and was the longest serving director of a tourism agency in the State of Alabama. She was appointed by six governors to serve on the Advisory Board of the Alabama Bureau of Tourism & Travel and served as Chairman at the time of her retirement in September of this year. In 2018, she was awarded the State Lifetime Achievement Award by Governor Kay Ivey. She was one of the first females to serve as a board member of the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus, which is now Destinations International.
She has served on the Board of Directors of many statewide boards including the Alabama Council of Association Executives, Alabama Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus and Alabama Travel Council. She received the state’s top award and was inducted into the Alabama Tourism Hall of Fame, the first CVB representative to receive this award. The Huntsville CVB was chosen as organization of the year by the Alabama tourism industry as well as by Alabama Mountain Lakes Association, the north Alabama regional tourism marketing organization.
Under her leadership, the Huntsville-Madison County CVB grew from three full-time staff members and a budget of $260,000 to 16 full-time and 30 part-time staff members and a budget of $3.3 million.