MARQUETTE - Marquette's Mitch Lazeren was in Nashville recently, attending a 50th anniversary celebration for Bonanza Steakhouse, when something unexpected happened.
Lazeren heard the speaker talking about the attributes of the corporation's newest Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award winner, when he all of a sudden realized, "Hey, that sounds like me."
Lazeren was given the award by Homestyle Dining LLC, the brand owner of Bonanza and Ponderosa steakhouses.
Mitch Lazeren, left, owner of the Bonanza Restaurant in Marquette, receives a lifetime achievement award recently from Tom Sacco, president and CEO of Homestyle Dining LLC. Lazeren opened his Marquette restaurant in March 1977. (Homestyle Dining photo)
"It was pretty fantastic," Lazeren said. "I was shocked."
Lazeren, who owns the Bonanza franchise in Marquette, started out as an employee with the corporation in Connecticut in 1967 and opened his local restaurant on March 14, 1977.
That gives Lazeren 46 years with the company.
"I'm somewhat committed," Lazeren joked.
Homestyle officials said Lazeren has been a committed member of the Upper Peninsula community, "supporting youth sports, activities and family events, winning the hearts and recognition of his neighbors along the way."
He also serves as a member of the Franchise Association Board and a member of the purchasing committee. The awards - including the Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award - recognize excellence in operations on both the franchise and supplier level.
"This year's winners represent what makes our brands so enduring and endearing with our loyal customers for the past five decades," said Tom Sacco, president and CEO of Homestyle Dining LLC. "Each of these brand leaders embrace and fully understand that quality and service are our calling cards, and that innovation added into that mix will propel our growth during the next 50 years. We applaud their success and are grateful for their support and leadership."
Lazeren said he was pleased to receive his lifetime achievement honor.
"A lot of people helped along the way, mostly customers," Lazeren said. "Without customers, I'm not here."
Homestyle Dining, based in Plano, Texas, owns, operates and franchises 223 family-focused restaurants throughout the U.S. and internationally under the Ponderosa Steakhouse and Bonanza Steakhouse brands.
Ponderosa Steakhouse will celebrate its golden anniversary in 2015.
Together, Bonanza and Ponderosa restaurants are located in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, and Taiwan.
Early next year, Ponderosa Steakhouse will expand into Egypt with a restaurant opening in suburban Cairo.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.