Colorado Sports Promoter Rob Cohen, Restaurateurs Jen Jasinski and Beth Gruitch, and Denver Museum of Nature & Science Leader George Sparks, along with a Posthumous Award for Hal O’Leary, Founder of the National Sports Center for the Disabled

DENVER (January 11, 2023) – Denver’s multibillion dollar tourism industry will honor some of its top leaders and innovators at the 23rd Annual Denver & Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame dinner on March 8, 2023 at Mission Ballroom.

The 2023 inductees to the Denver & Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame are:  Rob Cohen, who was the founder of the Denver Sports Commission and has worked to bring major sporting events to the city; business partners Jen Jasinski and Beth Gruitch, who have transformed the image of Denver’s restaurant scene with their four highly successful, award-winning restaurants, all located in the city’s top tourism areas, Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Stoic & Genuine and Ultreia; and George Sparks, president & CEO of the city’s largest cultural facility, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.  A special posthumous award will also be presented to Hal O’Leary for his lifetime work founding the National Sports Center for the Disabled, and his work helping tens of thousands of disabled people enjoy skiing and other outdoor recreation in countries around the world.

The Tourism Hall of Fame serves as the highest award for Denver's travel industry which entertained some 31.7 million visitors and a total of $6.6 billion in spending in 2021. Although recently impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism industry in Denver traditionally supports more than 60,000 jobs in the metro area, making it one of the largest employers in the city. 

The Hall of Fame gala is a fundraising event for the VISIT DENVER Foundation, which has awarded more than $1.3 million in scholarships to 486 Colorado students pursuing higher education in the fields of tourism and hospitality, and $120,000 to the former Denver’s Road Home.

For ticket information, please contact Lauren Huffer at lhuffer@visitdenver.com, 303.571.9405.

2023 INDUCTEES

Rob Cohen - IMA Financial Group

As Chairman and CEO of the IMA Financial Group, Inc., an integrated financial services company, Robert Cohen is responsible for the company’s core strategic plan, including organic growth, M&A and building an industry-leading employee culture.  In 2001, he was the Founder of the Denver Sports Commission, whose purpose was to help bring high-profile sporting events to Denver. The group was also designed to serve as a welcoming host to athletes, families and fans from around the world.  Denver Sports proactively identifies, pursues and attracts new sporting opportunities and helps Denver to compete regionally, nationally and internationally to host amateur and professional athletic competitions and events.

Rob strongly believes in personally giving back to the community and has served on more than 20 non-profit boards throughout his career in a variety of leadership capacities. Currently Rob serves on Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation (Co-Founder & Past Chair), Colorado Succeeds, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce (Past Chair), Denver Sports (Founder & Past Chair), Downtown Denver Partnership (Past Chair), Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. (Past Chair), and the United States Olympic Museum.  

He is also a member of the Board of Directors for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Foundation that serves as the primary source of philanthropic support for Team USA.  Founded in 2013, the USOPF generates critical financial resources that help Team USA athletes reach their full potential, both on and off the field of play.  Additionally, Rob Cohen is the chair of the Games Hospitality Working Group and in this capacity he travels around the world attending Olympic and Paralympic Games and other related events in an effort to support the Olympic movement and advance its mission. Because of Rob’s commitment to the Olympics, he was recently named a member of the Congressional Commission on the State of the U.S. Olympics and Paralympics.

Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch – Crafted Concepts Restaurant Business Partners

Jen has perhaps brought more national attention to Denver fine dining than any other single chef. Jen is a James Beard Foundation award-winner for Best Chef Southwest in 2013, and appeared on Top Chef Masters on the Bravo network that same year. Jasinski and her business partner Beth Gruitch opened their first restaurant, Rioja, in Denver’s Historic Larimer Square to critical acclaim in 2004 with a huge media splash -- a 16-page special section in the Rocky Mountain News that chronicled all the work that goes into opening a restaurant. Rioja features a menu inspired by Mediterranean ingredients and influenced by local and seasonal products.

In 2005, Jasinski and business partner Beth Gruitch bought Bistro Vendôme, the Parisian-inspired spot directly across the street. Their seafood spot, Stoic & Genuine was the first restaurant to open in the beautifully remodeled Denver Union Station in 2014 joined in 2017 by Ultreia showcasing the food of Spain and Portugal. Jen added a consulting chef gig at The Ponti at the Denver Art Museum opening in 2021. The pair have announced the move of Bistro Vendôme to the Park Hill neighborhood in early 2023. Chef Jen was named 2004 Colorado Chef of the Year and 2005 Western Regional Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Federation. Jen has been named Best New Chef, Rising Star, Best Chef and more in Denver Magazine, Restaurant Hospitality, Nation’s Restaurant News, The Denver Post and 5280 Magazine. Jasinski’s impressive restaurant credits include stints at Wolfgang Puck restaurants including Postrio, San Francisco; Spago, Las Vegas, Malibu; Spago, Chicago; and corporate chef at Wolfgang Puck Food Company. 

It’s difficult to imagine anyone in Denver’s highly competitive restaurant market that does more for the industry and the city than Beth Gruitch. Beth served as board chair and board member of the Colorado Restaurant Association, treasurer and board member of EatDenver and was a recent board member of the Downtown Denver Partnership’s Denver Civic Ventures board. She is responsible for human resources, crafting beverage programs, overseeing banquet sales, banking and guest service and monitoring accounting for four busy and successful restaurants.

She and Jen were honored as a semifinalists for the national Outstanding Restaurateur award by the James Beard Foundation in 2020 and Beth was named to the Colorado Restaurant Association Hall of Fame in 2022. Perhaps her business partner, Jasinski says it best. “Beth assures that all the best happens for the guests in all our restaurants. She makes sure we hire the best service staff, gives them complete and thorough training and coaches them to perform. She’s the reason people rave about our service.” 

George Sparks – President & CEO, Denver Museum of Nature and Science

George Sparks is well known for his wonderful leadership at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, where he has turned it into the fourth largest museum in the United States and one of the most respected museums of its kind in the world. In addition to consistently being one of the top tourism attractions in Denver, the museum has gained much national press for the discovery of fossils in Steamboat – one of the largest fossil finds in history. 

George has transformed the museum, taking it to new international recognition, and has also been responsible for bringing blockbuster shows to the region. From the museum’s on-site work at paleontological sites such as Steamboat to their work in space, George Sparks has kept the museum relevant and still on the cutting edge in the 21st Century. Prior to the museum, he spent nine years in the Air Force as a pilot and as an assistant professor of aeronautics at the United States Air Force Academy.

He is a distinguished graduate of the USAF Academy with bachelor’s in aeronautical engineering, and holds a master’s in aeronautics and astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His passion is public policy, particularly around science and education. He is a member of the Colorado Forum, Colorado Concern, and is on the boards of Colorado Education Initiative, Colorado Music Hall of Fame, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Denver School of Science & Technology. He is the founder of the Institute for Science & Policy, a program of the Museum. 

Posthomous Award

Hal O’Leary – National Sports Center for the Disabled

In 1970, George Engel, the owner of the Winter Park Ski School, asked his 65 employees for a volunteer. Some 23 amputees from the Children’s Hospital would be visiting and they needed a one-time ski lesson. Hal O’Leary raised his hand. He didn’t have any prior experience dealing with children or people with disabilities. When the kids arrived on an especially cold and windy day, he struggled. And he learned. O’Leary transformed that ski lesson into what would become the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD), one of the largest therapeutic recreation and adaptive sports agencies in the world. His journey would revolutionize the skiing industry and bring a new world of movement and hope to people of all disabilities. 

Hal’s book on adaptive skiing, Bold Tracks, has been translated into numerous languages and is still used to guide instructors on how to teach skiing to those with a myriad of disabilities. He also began to invent his own equipment to adapt to the different needs of his students, creating a cord between skis to help with lateral control, adding skis to walkers and creating sleds for paraplegics. Hal took his teachings around the world, setting up adaptive ski programs in more than 30 countries in Asia, Europe and South America. He also coached the US Disabled Olympic Team. It is estimated that Hal worked personally with more than 20,000 disabled people before he passed away in June 2021 at the age of 94.

Today in Colorado, the NSCD at Winter Park Resort and in the Denver Metro area offers incredible adaptive outdoor experiences from skiing, hiking and horseback riding to rafting, archery, camping and more. And our Elite Athletes come from around the world to train here and ski competitively at the highest levels of their sport. Through a highly trained staff and hundreds of volunteers, NSCD served nearly 2,000 children and adults with disabilities in 8,000 adaptive outdoor experiences in 2022. For his contributions, Hal O’Leary has been inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame and the U.S. Disabled Ski Hall of Fame.

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About VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau

Celebrating 114 years of promoting The Mile High City, VISIT DENVER is a nonprofit trade association that contracts with the City of Denver to market Denver as a convention and leisure destination, increasing economic development in the city, creating jobs and generating taxes. Denver welcomed more than 31.7 million visitors in 2021, generating $6.6 billion in spending, while supporting tens of thousands of jobs and making Tourism one of the city’s largest industries. Learn more about Denver on the VISIT DENVER website or at Tourism Pays Denver. Denver International Airport (DEN) is the No. 3 busiest airport in the world connecting The Mile High City to more than 200 destinations globally. Follow Denver’s social media channels for up-to-the-minute updates on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.

With press inquiries, please contact:

Jesse Davis, VISIT DENVER, (720) 417-9621 or jdavis@visitdenver.com.

Abby Schirmacher, VISIT DENVER, (303) 358-0096 or aschirmacher@visitdenver.com.