Industry celebrates noncom pioneer Joe Fassler

Joe fassler

Four brothers of the late Joe Fassler paid tribute Saturday to the foodservice pioneer and zealous industry champion, the posthumous winner of the 2018 Legend Award. Only one was an actual blood relation, but the affection voiced by the other three left no doubt that shared DNA is sometimes merely a technical requirement for sibling status.

Fassler had been informed months ago, late in his battle with cancer, that he would be the 2018 recipient of the honor, which presented by the National Restaurant Association. He informed his associates at the groups that they didn’t have to leak the news to him ahead of time. “He said, ‘I’m going to be there—you didn’t have to do this,’” recounted Dawn Sweeney, CEO of the restaurant association.

Fassler died on Dec. 1 at age 75, still active close to the end in the industry that had been his cause for 50 years.

As his four siblings by heart noted, Fassler had worked for only one company during that whole time. It started off as Greyhound Foodservice, morphed into Dial Corp., and eventually became Restaura, a contract management concern, which he served as CEO.

He also served as chairman of the National Restaurant Association and its educational arm, the NRA Educational Foundation, and won a trophy’s case worth of industry awards, including one of the highest, IFMA’s Gold Plate.

His actual brother, Gus, a twin, recounted at Saturday’s awards gala that he’d questioned his brother’s wisdom for staying with one company for a lifetime. “I asked him, how’s that going to look on your resume if you look for another job?’” recounted Gus. “He said to me, ‘I don’t plan on looking for another job.’”

His unofficial siblings focused more on the off-the-clock Joe, recounting with relish the avid golfer’s peculiarity of using only a five wood for every shot he took short of the green. “All he had in his bag were four five woods,” said Ted Balestreri, proprietor of the famed Sardine Factory restaurant in Monterey, Calif.

He revealed that industry friends of Joe had framed one of those five woods for display.

Tom Haas, a longtime member of the industry and a close friend of Fassler’s, recounted how Joe’s lifelong passion for the New York Yankees had once led him astray. “When he was 16, he jumped the fence at Yankee Stadium and shook the hand of Mickey Mantle—and was arrested,” said Haas.

He also revealed that Fassler played the bass and was once coaxed to pluck out a song at an NRA event.

John Metz, master of ceremonies at the IFMA and NRA awards event, mentioned Fassler’s fierce competitive drive. Yet Metz, a direct competitor, came to be a close friend, and invited Fassler to be on his board of directors.

“Joe was a beautiful, beautiful person,” said Haas.

“If I had one thing to tell Joe, it would be, ‘please don’t leave me, Joe,’” said Balestreri.

“We’re going to miss you, Joe—we’re going to miss you a lot,” Tom Russo, a former head of Ground Round and Howard Johnson, said in a video tribute to Fassler.

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