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Hospitality industry executive, business school alum makes major gift to WVU

There are few people who were as excited about the addition of the  Hospitality Management Program at  West Virginia University as Mike Bodnar. He has been a major supporter of the program that is well on its way to becoming a major in the  College of Business and Economics, and now Bodnar is putting his money, well, where his heart is.

A highly successful restaurant executive and president of Bodnar Investment Group, Inc., J. Michael Bodnar, a Nashville, Tenn., area resident, has announced a gift of $1 million to B&E. The gift is the latest in a long line of giving back to the business school where he earned a  M.B.A. in 1969, and will be divided into two equal parts — $500,000 to establish the J. Michael Bodnar Entrepreneurship and Innovation Endowment and $500,000 for the J. Michael Bodnar Hospitality and Tourism Support Fund.

“I am happy and honored to announce this gift to the College of Business and Economics,” said Bodnar, who was named to the inaugural class of the WVU College of Business and Economics  Roll of Distinguished Alumni in 2011. “The College is making great strides in the areas of entrepreneurship, innovation and hospitality, and those are things I am very passionate about in my life. It’s important to me to provide this kind of support, which will only help the College advance in these areas.”

Bodnar, along with fellow alum and business partner Doug Van Scoy, donated a  Taziki’s Mediterranean Café to B&E, which opened in August 2010. The restaurant operates in WVU’s  Mountainlair and sees net profits directed to B&E’s Hospitality Management Program, operating also as a working lab for students in the program. In fact, he and Van Scoy were instrumental in the initiation and development of the program, and both serve on the program’s advisory board.

“We are very thankful for this gift,” said WVU President Jim Clements.“As a WVU graduate, Michael Bodnar is providing future students with the kind of opportunities he found at WVU. In all that he has done for our College of Business & Economics, he is enhancing the quality of our programs, and most importantly giving others the opportunity to follow their dreams. We are extremely grateful for his support.”

“Our business school has a true and dear friend and supporter in Mike Bodnar, and we are deeply appreciative of his generous gift,” said Dr. Jose Sartarelli, Milan Puskar Dean,WVU College of Business and Economics. “He has embraced business and hospitality in our College in a number of ways, and his gift will have a significant impact on entrepreneurship, innovation, and hospitality and tourism.”

Wayne King, president and CEO of the  WVU Foundation, said, “Mike’s passion and love for the College of Business and Economics and its academic programs are evident by his long history of giving back. We salute Mike for his continued generosity and sincere desire to help students.”

Bodnar has served as a coach and judge for the  West Virginia Statewide Business Plan Competition, hosted by B&E. He has also worked directly with students on team projects in Entrepreneurship, Management, Marketing, MIS and the M.B.A. programs.

After earning degrees at WVU in civil engineering and his M.B.A., Bodnar has had a highly successful career in the hospitality industry. At one time, he was the largest franchisee of Wendy’s, has served as CEO of Shoney’s, and operated a Dairy Queen territory in two states with 68 franchised stores

While there, he and Jim Clutter — another WVU graduate — developed the back-office system that became the Back Office standard for Wendy’s. Over a decade, he built the business into a public company, Restaurant Systems Inc., with more than $50 million in annual revenue and in 1986 merged with Wendy’s. He was a Wendy’s franchisee in New York City until 1997 with annual revenues of $60 million and served on the Franchise Advisory and National Advertising Council, winning numerous awards for his successful operations.

After turning his focus to restaurants and real estate, he founded Bodnar Investment Group in 1986, a company that develops real estate, provides start-up equity and provides consulting for restaurants. He has developed several restaurant chains, including Maxie’s in northern Florida, El Polo Loco in Las Vegas, Taziki’s Mediterranean Café, Baha Burgers, Tellini’s Italian Café and Martin’s BBQ. In 1994, he partnered with Nick Pihakis to develop Jim N’ Nicks BBQ, which has grown into a chain of 30 restaurants and annual revenue in excess of $100 million. In 1999, he was named CEO of Shoney’s, one of the largest restaurant chains in the United States. His other business ventures include his co-ownership of Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

In his current position with Bodnar Investment Group, he invests and develops restaurant chains using his experience and knowledge of branding, quality food products and operational expertise to help young restaurant entrepreneurs develop their local concepts into national brands.

“It’s very rewarding to support programs at my alma mater,” Bodnar said. “It’s a good thing when you can help your university mold minds, develop skill sets and tap into the passions of students. WVU’s business school is doing great things, and I certainly want to be a part of that.”

The contribution was made in conjunction with  A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University.  The $750 million comprehensive campaign being conducted by theWVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December 2015.

For further information on the comprehensive campaign, please visit www.astateofminds.com or  www.be.wvu.edu .