The Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRōNA) is thrilled to announce Gary Wollerman from GW Fins as the 2023 inductee into our prestigious Hall of Fame. Gary has devoted himself to the hospitality industry for numerous decades, and his unparalleled dedication to improving the lives of young individuals in New Orleans is truly remarkable. At DiRōNA, we are privileged to include his name alongside a distinguished roster of renowned restaurateurs and industry experts.
On Monday, September 18th, 2023, a special induction ceremony will be held at GW Fins to honor Gary. The event will be attended by Gary’s friends, family, and members of the DiRōNA community.
GARY WOLLERMAN REINFORCES HIS PHILOSOPHY OF “CREATING RAVING FANS” ON A DAILY BASIS AT GW FINS
GW Fins’ Owner Gary Wollerman’s perfectionist attitude and his unyielding work ethic is built on the mentorship that he received while working for some of the industry’s most prolific restaurateurs; Joe Gilbert, Paul Robinson and Ruth Fertel.
In fact, it was Joe Gilbert and Paul Robinson who launched Wollerman’s career in restaurant management. They hired him in 1972 to be the opening bartender at the very first Houlihan’s Restaurant, located in his hometown of Kansas City. Immediately seeing Wollerman’s potential, the restaurant founders asked him to enroll in their year-long Management Training Course. During his 18 years tenure with Houlihan’s, Wollerman spent the first 7 years opening and managing numerous restaurants across the country, and then for 11 years he held the position of Executive Vice President. Wollerman rose through the ranks while soaking up the knowledge, incomparable attention to detail and genuine caring for their employees that Gilbert and Robinson embodied.
Wollerman was then hired as Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, where he worked side by side with founder Ruth Fertel. At Ruth’s Chris, Wollerman developed and implemented systems to ensure a consistently high-quality experience for every guest, whether they were dining in New Orleans, New York or Beverly Hills, and Ruth’s passion for providing the ultimate customer service was reinforced.
Wollerman has modeled his five-decade career on the invaluable guidance that these hospitality giants instilled upon him, which has earned him the reputation as one of the hardest working restaurant owners in New Orleans. Simultaneously, it’s also earned GW Fins the distinction as being New Orleans’ premier fine dining seafood restaurant in a city known for its exceptional seafood.
During the past 22 years, Wollerman has established GW Fins as one of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants, being included in the Top 10 Fine Dining Restaurants in the US on TripAdvisor for five consecutive years. His attention to every detail begins with serving guests only the absolute finest quality seafood that is available from all corners of the globe. Wollerman personally extols his passionate attitude on both staff and guests to ensure that each guest has the ultimate dining experience every evening.
When asked what his philosophy about operating GW Fins is, Wollerman simply replies, “Create raving fans. I look at every situation as an opportunity to transform that person, whether they are a staff member, dining guest, or one of our vendors, into a fan who will emphatically tell others to dine at GW Fins, and of course, return to dine with us again.”
In addition to being the Owner of GW Fins, Wollerman created the restaurants’ extensive wine program and is a constant mentor to staff, guiding them in a way that helped them confidently expand GW Fins’ wine selection. The wine program at GW Fins offers more than 100 International varieties, 60 of which are available by the glass, which has earned the restaurant the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for 22 consecutive years.
A long-time proponent of giving back to the New Orleans community, Wollerman has a strong focus on educating and assisting local youth to achieve their potential. He has worked tirelessly to create several far-reaching programs with the specific goal of increasing literacy, self-esteem, and the overall education of New Orleans’ young people.
After seeing the success in increasing education and decreasing crime in cities like St. Louis and Los Angeles, Gary Wollerman initiated a similar Literacy and Youth Bonding Program with the New Orleans Police Department. This program was designed to make an impact on the community by forging a positive relationship between New Orleans’ youth and local police officers, creating an enthusiasm for reading in local young people.
Wollerman had several whimsically designed Little Free Libraries produced and painted. He worked with the NOPD to put these libraries in various Police Precincts throughout the city. Working with STAIR, a local literacy non-profit, he helped stock the libraries with books for all ages, in addition to doing a book drive at GW Fins. He then launched an awareness campaign, letting the community know that these free books were waiting for kids to borrow. In addition, Wollerman worked with the NOPD to go into schools and read to elementary aged children, furthering the bond, and removing the stigma that had been created within many local communities, that the police were adversarial.
Most recently, Wollerman established the “Fins Wings For Fins’ Kids” Foundation, benefitting local youth educational organizations, where 100% of the proceeds from every order of one of GW Fins’ signature appetizers, Fins Wings, would benefit these charitable efforts.
The initial beneficiary of this program was First Tee of Greater New Orleans, an impressive local organization that not only helps local school-aged children learn the game of golf, but their coaches help participants develop valuable social and life skills as well. In fact, many of the kids that go through this program receive full scholarships to college. GW Fins reached its goal of raising $25,000 for The First Tee from their “Fins Wings For Fins Kids” Foundation and presented a check for these funds to The First Tee.
Both at GW Fins and within the New Orleans community, Gary Wollerman defines what leading by example looks like, bringing out the best in his staff and his community while ensuring that his guests excitedly await their next dining experience at his namesake restaurant.
Source: Debbie Rosen, THE ROSEN GROUP, INC.