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Jim Sellers, of the National Restaurant Association, watches Staff Sgt. Juhmal Webb, and Staff Sgt. Stacy Rodriguez, center, of Misawa Air Base's 35th Services Squadron, on Wednesday. Sellers was one of four team members here to evaluate the base's food service program.
Jim Sellers, of the National Restaurant Association, watches Staff Sgt. Juhmal Webb, and Staff Sgt. Stacy Rodriguez, center, of Misawa Air Base's 35th Services Squadron, on Wednesday. Sellers was one of four team members here to evaluate the base's food service program. (Courtesy of USAF)

Air Force and civilian evaluators spent two days examining the services, standards and records at the Misawa Air Base, Japan, dining facility last week as part of the Air Force’s top dining service competition, the John L. Hennessy Award.

“It promotes excellence in food service operations,” said Master Sgt. John Pearson, food service superintendent for the 35th Services Squadron.

Misawa is up against seven other Air Force installations for the award, created in 1957 by the Air Force, the National Restaurant Association and several other restaurant or dining organizations.

The evaluation looks at management, readiness, food quality, leadership, resource conservation, and training and safety awareness.

Misawa is in the competition after earning the 2004 Pacific Air Forces Food Service Excellence Award, given to the best Pacific facility in its category.

The base has been a Hennessey competitor before, but this year the odds are more in its favor, Pearson said, most notably because the base has a new and improved dining facility interior, and a creative and motivated facility manager.

While more than half of his staff was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Master Sgt. Tony Flowers, the Grissom Dining Facility manager, took a bland, expansive room and created themed areas where airmen can surf the Internet, watch sports and gather with friends, while eating.

Flowers used suggestions from airmen and his pre-Air Force background working for the Disney World Prop Center to devise and create special dining areas.

One holds memorabilia and Tiffany lamps in an Applebees style, another has sports memorabilia and wide-screen monitors to broadcast sports and another has a hand-made waterfall.

Flowers and his staff completed the work — saving an estimated $65,000 in labor costs.

“This place is spectacular,” Pearson said. “It’s a social area now.”

The result is a fun, comfortable atmosphere and a content staff. Both work in Misawa’s favor in the eyes of award evaluators.

The Hennessey evaluators said the facility was one of the best they’ve seen, Flowers said.

The facility staff have prepared for the evaluation for a year.

Evaluators look at every detail in the food preparation process, the leadership and staff, the sanitary conditions and mountains of records showing training, safety and accountability.

“They dig into your paperwork,” Flowers said.

The Hennessey Award was named for the late restaurateur John Hennessy, who advised the military on improving food service. Winners are announced in late March and are invited to a ceremony in May in Chicago.

Attending that ceremony is an unmatched honor, Pearson said — he has attended three while stationed at another Air Force base — but the award is not the most important thing, he said.

“Shooting for that trophy is certainly the goal but the most important tangible benefit is customer satisfaction,” Pearson said.

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