JWU Community Recognizes Three Outstanding Alums

Many Johnson & Wales University alumni stay connected with JWU, supporting Wildcats with their time and their passion. On April 20, three such leaders — Maggie Mulvena Pearson ’13, Adi Dhandhania '10 and Sanjiv Dhar ’90 M.S. — received 2024 Distinguished Alumni Awards for their commitment to JWU.

Welcoming everyone to the event, Director of Alumni Relations Marie-Ines Valdepenas noted that all three alumni honorees have achieved noteworthy careers and demonstrated extraordinary support to JWU’s community.

photo of Director of Alumni Relations Marie-Ines Valdepenas speaking at a podium

Director of Alumni Relations Marie-Ines Valdepenas hosted the 2024 alumni awards ceremony

“We’re so proud of all three of you for all you’ve done and what you continue to do in your career, your community and for JWU,” stated Valdepenas.

Graduate of the Last Decade (G.O.L.D.) Award Winner Margaret R. Mulvena Pearson ‘13

Founder of Feast & Fettle Maggie Mulvena Pearson '13 received JWU’s prestigious G.O.L.D. Award, which recognizes an outstanding alum with a rising career who has made notable contributions to their field and is actively engaged in the JWU community.

“Tonight, I have the honor of recognizing someone whose hard work, vision, trust, tenacity and determination are lightening in a bottle,” said presenter T.J. Delle Donne ’04, ’07 M.A.T., assistant dean of culinary relations & special projects at JWU’s College of Food Innovation & Technology.

He quoted David Meyer of Union Square Hospitality: “Hospitality is present when something happens for you, absent when something happens to you.” Said Delle Donne, “Maggie and her team differentiated themselves by embracing that simple rule, making sure the customer experience is exceptional and unmatched.”

photo of Maggie Mulvena Pearson '13 and T.J. Delle Donne ’04, ’07 M.A.T. posing with Maggie’s award
“Maggie, I want everyone in the room to know how proud of you I am, how special you are and how honored I am to present this award,” GOLD award presenter T.J. Delle Donne ’04, ’07 M.A.T. told Margaret R. Mulvena Pearson '13

Delle Donne shared how when Pearson was a student, word got out about her meal prep service, and she was personalizing meals for seven families by the time she graduated from JWU. She legitimized the business as Feast & Fettle in 2016, and her brand has gained a loyal following, serving thousands of New Englanders. In 2022, Pearson’s teambuilding efforts got Feast & Fettle recognized as one of the top businesses to work for in the U.S. As an entrepreneur, she has demonstrated her partnership with the JWU Community by returning to campus to speak to and support current students.

“Maggie, I want everyone in the room to know how proud of you I am, how special you are and how honored I am to present this award,” Delle Donne stated.

Pearson shared how JWU’s Culinary Nutrition program informed her early efforts as a personal chef. “I got into a community of female doctors that opened my eyes to how much of a need there was for this type of service,” she explained. She chose pursuing Feast & Fettle over a tempting opportunity Delle Donne alerted her to as a private chef on a yacht. “I’m glad I chose this path,” she told the crowd. “I got my start cooking for multiple families in the area, and I replicated that into what Feast & Fettle is today — but it’s bigger than I thought it would be.”

photo of Maggie Mulvena Pearson '13 speaking at a podium
“JWU lay the foundation upon which I built my career, instilling in me the skills, knowledge and confidence to make my mark — especially as a woman,” said Graduate of the Last Decade (GOLD) Award winner Maggie Mulvena Pearson ’13

She expressed her gratitude to her best friend and co-founder Nicole Nix and her business partner, Carlos Ventura, for their dedication and collaboration; and Pearson’s husband, mom and sister for all their support from the very beginning. Pearson will always appreciate Johnson & Wales for providing her with an exceptional culinary education.

“JWU lay the foundation upon which I built my career, instilling in me the skills, knowledge and confidence to make my mark — especially as a woman,” Pearson stated. “This award is a testament to the power of education, hard work and perseverance, and I’m truly honored to be recognized tonight.”

Outstanding Achievement Award Winner Aditya V. Dhandhania '10

Adi Dhandhania '10, CEO of Neon Marketplace and senior managing director for TPG Strategic Ventures, received JWU’s Outstanding Achievement Award, which recognizes an alum who has made significant impacts in their industry and is an outstanding role model for fellow alumni, students and the JWU community.

Dean of the College of Engineering & Design Frank X. Tweedie '95, Ed.D., referenced his 16-year relationship with Dhandhania, which he expects to continue. “Today Adi is a valued member of our College of Engineering & Design Advisory Council, supporting students and providing mentorship opportunities and jobs,” he stated.

He shared an anecdote of when Dhandhania was interning at GTECH and met with the CEO. When the CEO asked where the JWU student saw himself in five years, Tweedie recalled, Adi responded, “Your job.” That response quickly created a friendship and mentorship between the two.

photo of Dean Frank Tweedie ’95, Ed.D., and Adi Dhandhania ’10, who is holding a baby girl

“Adi is a valued member of our College of Engineering & Design Advisory Council, supporting students and providing mentorship opportunities and jobs,” stated Dean Frank Tweedie ’95, Ed.D., while presenting the Outstanding Achievement Award to Adi Dhandhania ‘10

Dhandhania started as an engineer at GTECH (now IGT), later holding senior management roles there in business operations and retail before moving on to strategy and operations leadership roles at Brightstar Corporation. He then served as COO for North America at Bally’s Interactive, featuring in Business Insider’s “2021 Sports Betting Power Players Executive List” and on “Gaming Intelligence’s 2021 Hot 50 List”. After JWU, he received master’s degrees in business and in technology leadership from Bryant University and Brown University.

“JWU has always held a special place in my heart,” Dhandhania stated while holding his daughter, Savia, whose adorable face gazed out at the JWU community. “It was the first place I walked into as a teenager almost two decades ago at Gaebe Commons. The first job I held was in the dean’s office, and it’s been a joy to see how JWU’s School of Technology has evolved into the College of Engineering & Design, including moving to a new building and opening a new center.”

He continued, “JWU brought me to America and to Rhode Island, a state I’d never heard of. Most of my family and career now have roots here, and I’m proud to be a resident of Rhode Island and Massachusetts where I share my time. It’s the university where I got my first internship, and JWU’s efforts first got me to GTECH and were super helpful in getting me my career.”

photo of Adi Dhandhania ’10 speaking at a podium while holding his daughter

"I love coming back to the university; it’s an honor to be engaged, an honor to speak to students who always have so much enthusiasm and it’s the first place I think of when I have job opportunities,” stated Outstanding Achievement Award winner Adi Dhandhania ‘10

“I love coming back to the university; it’s an honor to be engaged, an honor to speak to students who always have so much enthusiasm and it’s the first place I think of when I have job opportunities,” he stated. “Thank you all for this honor and privilege.”

Alumni Service Award Winner Sanjiv Dhar ’90 M.S.

Sanjiv Dhar ’90 M.S., owner of India House Inc./Swades Inc./Spice Kraft Inc., received this award recognizing an active and engaged alum who has made significant contributions to enhancing the JWU alumni community.

“It’s a privilege to recognize Sanjiv,” declared JWU Providence Campus President Marie Bernardo-Sousa, LP.D., ’92. “He embodies the JWU spirit, serving as an inspiration to others, and has embraced being an entrepreneur across the state.”

photo of JWU Providence Campus President Marie Bernardo-Sousa, LP.D., ’92, posing with Sanjiv Dhar ’90 M.S.

“It’s a privilege to recognize Sanjiv. He embodies the JWU spirit, serving as an inspiration to others, and has embraced being an entrepreneur across the state,” said award presenter Marie Bernardo-Sousa, LP.D., ’92.

Bernardo-Sousa shared that Dhar, a native of Calcutta, India, came to the United States to attend JWU’s graduate program in hospitality. After completing his degree, he joined Marriott Marquis in New York, N.Y. as a restaurant manager. Today, with his wife as his business partner, he owns four Rhode Island Indian restaurants (Kabob & Curry in Providence, Chaska in Cranston, Rasa in East Greenwich and Rasoi in Pawtucket), as well as being providers of Indian Accent Catering, servicing Indian weddings and events at some of the finest venues in southern New England.

“Sanjiv is a familiar face at JWU, sharing stories and insights with students; he enriches their educational experience and supports faculty,” Berndaro-Sousa continued. “He gives his time and his talents, inspiring entrepreneurs across campus and positively impacting the lives of others.”

“You have always been a strong supporter of Taste of JWU, and you’ve made Reunion an incredible event through your commitment and your constant care for your own team,” she told Dhar. “Earlier today as we chatted about the importance of team in the restaurant, you talked about having ‘bench strength’ — which only happens when you have a good coach and mentor. Thank you for all you do for JWU!”

Dhar shared how his hospitality journey started in Strasbourg, Austria at age 17, running a hotel after high school and navigating language, race, color and culture shock challenges. After earning his undergraduate degree, he returned to India and worked at luxury properties — until everything changed with his acceptance to JWU.

“On my first day, I was nervous and worried, but standing in cafeteria waiting to be served lunch, I saw Dr. [then-Director of Graduate Admissions Allan] Freedman,” Dhar said. “We made eye contact, and he asked how I was doing and if he could be of any assistance. We ate lunch together, and he was complimentary of my communication skills and positive about my culture, religion and achievements. That day, he gave me more than I ever expected from my graduate studies; he taught me that making people feel accepted, welcome, appreciated, seen and known is hospitality.”

photo of Sanjiv Dhar ’90 M.S. speaking at a podium

Caption: “Good leaders understand that hospitality is as thrilling and inspiring to give as it is to receive, both in work and life,” noted Alumni Service Award Winner Sanjiv Dhar ’90 M.S.

“Good leaders understand that hospitality is as thrilling and inspiring to give as it is to receive, both in work and life,” continued Dhar. “It’s also good to have compassion in your heart and love for your team and co-workers. It’s never about you or your accomplishments but the growth of your team.” He thanked his wife Vandana, a fellow hospitality school graduate, for partnering on this journey for 34 years. “Together, we kept the mission statement in all of our restaurants simple: prepare delicious food and be gracious first toward our team members and then our guests,” Dhar concluded — a worthy goal for all hospitality professionals.

The JWU community congratulates Maggie, Adi and Sanjiv on their well-earned recognition!

a group photo of the 2024 Distinguished Alumni Awards recipients and presenters

Graduate of the Last Decade (G.O.L.D.) Award Winner Margaret R. Mulvena Pearson ’13 (second from right), Outstanding Achievement Award Winner Aditya V. Dhandhania '10 (center) and Alumni Service Award Winner Sanjiv Dhar ’90 M.S. (far left) hold up their awards while posing with their proud presenters.

 

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