When Tom Bernardo purchased Giammarco's restaurant in 2003, he did so with a simple business philosophy: Get involved in the community, and the community will lend its support.
"That's kind of what our business model has been -- to be involved in the community," Bernardo said.
Bernardo did that by being lending support to the Westerville Area Resource Ministry, youth sports groups, local churches and fundraisers. He helped found the Genoa Township Business Association and volunteered as a coach with the Junior Football League of Westerville and the i9 Sports League.
"I've just seen it: The people that we help and we support, they come in and support my restaurant," Bernardo said. "They use Giammarco's as a neighborhood gathering place."
For his involvement in the community, Bernardo is being recognized by the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce as the 2012 Business Person of the Year.
Other finalists considered for the award included: Connie Emerson, executive director of Concord Counseling Services; Polly Clavijo, chief operating officer of the Revolution Group; and Jason Carpenter, owner of Environmental Pest Management and president of Work Flow Elite.
Bernardo is a graduate of Westerville North High School. He went to Cornell University on a football scholarship and spent the four years after college playing professional football in Italy.
He worked for more than 8 years with a national hotel chain. He started in sales and worked is way up to serve as the chain's executive vice president over North America and parts of Europe.
"It was a tough job. It was a stressful job. It was a public company," Bernardo said. "I was on an airplane probably 250 days a year."
When the company restructured and offered him an early retirement, Bernardo said he decided the time was ripe to move back to his hometown.
"It was just time for me to move on," Bernardo said. "Westerville is my home. I grew up here. My mother lived here, and my sister was here, and my brother was here, and I have a family with four children, and I wanted to raise my four children here."
He purchased Giammarco's from his cousins in 2003 and built a new location, which opened two years ago.
In addition to owning the restaurant, Bernardo has worked as senior vice president of franchise sales and development for Harris Research Inc.
Bernardo's support of the community and the success of his business led the chamber to select him as the 2012 Business Person of the Year.
"Tom employs over 50 people and offers many high school and college students an opportunity to gain real-life customer service, providing many young adults with their first paying job. Tom also gives back to the community, as Giammarco's sponsors and supports many sports programs and youth teams," said chamber selection committee member Rick Rano.
Bernardo said it was an honor to be recognized by his home town. He will be presented with the Business Person of the Year award at the chamber's annual dinner Tuesday, Jan. 22 at the Hilton Columbus-Polaris.
"It's an honor that made me very, very proud," Bernardo said. "It was very emotional for me. It was an honor. It was kind of a validation of what I believed -- that if I built a restaurant in this community, that this community would support me."
Bernardo lives in Westerville with his wife, Marianela, and their four children: Sabrina, Samantha, Lance and Thomas.