ALBUQUERQUE, NM, UNITED STATES
Story by Airman 1st Class Austin Prisbrey
Kirtland’s dining facility, the Thunderbird Inn, was selected to compete for the Hennessy Trophy and was inspected Jan. 18-19, 2019.
“This base was selected by leadership in the Air Force,” said Jim Wulforst, Hennessy Traveler team member. “You really have to be a top performer to be selected for a visit. From our perspective, they are already winners here.”
The four-member Hennessy Traveler team is made up of two experienced enlisted members from the Air Force Services Activity and two civilians from the National Restaurant Association. This team spent two days at the Thunderbird Inn evaluating excellence in management; force readiness support; food quality and production; employee and customer relations; and training and safety awareness.
“This is really like the Heisman Trophy or the Stanley Cup of food service,” said Wulforst. “That is how good you have to be when you compete for this award.”
The Hennessy Award Program was established in 1956 and named after hotel and restaurant executive John L. Hennessy. The program recognizes exceptional food service support within the Air Force.
“When you get recognition as the top performing base, and you get that Stanley Cup of food service called the John L. Hennessy Trophy–that is an extraordinary achievement,” said Wulforst.
The staff at the Thunderbird knows is familiar with the competition and success in the Hennessey evaluation process. The Thunderbird Inn most recently brought home the trophy in 2011.
“We have won the Hennessy Award four times for Kirtland so we know how much it means to win,” said Robert Vick, executive chef and manager of Thunderbird Inn. “The team always does very well. They are nervous at first because the Hennessy Award is a big thing. They want to win this for our Airmen.”
The excellent food service support has not only been recognized by Air Force leadership, but by the Airman that are served quality food every day.
“There is a very positive vibe here,” said Airman 1st Class Garrett Marshall, 71st Aircraft Maintenance Unit CV-22 Integrated Avionics Systems apprentice. “The food here is good. You see people doing quality checks and asking how you like the food. My personal favorite has been the shepherd’s pie. They even came out and asked me how it was and if I would like to see it on the menu more often.”
The Thunderbird Inn is the first of the three dining facilities to be inspected and evaluated by the Hennessy Traveler team. Once the examinations are complete, the traveling team will decide on a winner.
“To win the Hennessy Award is something that every Air Force dining facility aspires to,” said Tech. Sgt. Christine Wallace, Hennessy Traveler team member.
In addition to bringing home the trophy, the winner of the Hennessy Award will get opportunities that only come with winning this award.
“The winner gets to go to Chicago, partner up with the National Restaurant Association and attend advanced culinary training, meet executive chefs across some major companies like Tyson Foods and Sysco,” said Wallace. “The training that the winner will receive there is just unlike anything the Air Force is doing right now, so it is a huge benefit for them.”
The winner of the Hennessy Award can take up to a month to be announced due to inspecting and evaluating three different dining facilities across the western region. The Hennessy Traveler team expects the results to be announced in late March or early April.
“They try to let us know around March so we can make our reservations to go to Chicago, get the trophy and bring it back home to Kirtland where it belongs,” said Vick. “We know for a fact that the trophy likes it here and we think it should stay here all the time.”