From left, Bill Jones, Bill and Linda Smittcamp, Jim Pardini and Judge Robert Oliver
Written by Gabriel Dillard
The Fresno Chamber of Commerce named Jim Pardini, a titan of Fresno’s culinary scene for decades, the 2017 recipient of its Leon S. Peters Award.
More than 40 friends, family members, past winners and well wishers gathered Tuesday morning at Pardini’s Catering and Banquets in Fresno to surprise Pardini with the award, named for the late Leon S. Peters, a Fresno manufacturer, civic leader and philanthropist.
Pardini was lured to the surprise reception on the pretext of meeting James Ashjian of James Ashjian Lighting & Home to talk about wall sconces.
Judge Robert Oliver, a past winner of the Peters award, praised the restaurateur and caterer for his ethical leadership and philanthropic efforts, as well as the ability to serve “5,000 New York steaks that are always perfectly medium rare.”
Pardini said he knew Peters well, and had fond memories of visiting his home to plan out events. He was pleased to be considered in the “same ballpark” as Peters.
“No doubt this is the highest honor I’ve ever received in my whole life,” Pardini said.
A native of Santa Cruz, Pardini was born to Albert and Mary Jane Pardini, relocating to Fresno in 1952. He’s a graduate of San Joaquin Memorial High School and Fresno State.
His culinary career began at age 13, washing dishes in his father’s restaurant. In 1969, Jim and his father opened Jim’s first restaurant in Sunnyside, where he acted as manager. A few years later, he opened Pardini’s Restaurant on Shaw and Van Ness Avenues. After a decade, he founded Pardini’s Catering, which soon became one of the largest and most established catering operations in the Valley.
Today, Pardini’s is the master concessionaire for the Big Fresno Fair, as well as the exclusive caterer at the Fresno Convention Center. His team also provides concession services for Fresno State athletic events including football, baseball and softball.
His sons Jimmy and Jeff make up the third generation of the family business. Jimmy is the chef at the Annex Kitchen, which has become one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the Central Valley.
He was recently awarded a lifetime achievement award at the 26th annual Best of the Valley Restaurant Awards, and recently was voted best caterer in The Business Journal’s Best of Central Valley Business Awards.
Some of Pardini’s favorite causes to support include the Saint Agnes Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Fresno State and Catholic Charities.
Past recipients of the Leon S. Peters award include Bill Smittcamp, Stan Oken, Ray Steele Jr., Richard “Dick” Caglia, John E. Horstmann, Dr. Peter Mehas, Dr. Peter P. Peters, Joe Williams, Lou Herwaldt, Bill Jones, Sid Cox, Bud Richter, O. James Woodward III, Samuel Reeves, Octavia Diener, Robert Oliver, Frederick Ruiz, Anne Speake, Larry A. Shehadey, Claude Laval III, Robert Carter, Richard Johanson, James Hallowell, Lou Gentile, Earl Smittcamp, Helen Smades, William Lyles, Martin Nelson, Joe Levy, Frank Caglia, B. Franklin Knapp, James B. Mayer, Robert Duncan and Lewis B. Eaton.
The award will be formally presented to Pardini at the Valley Business Awards Luncheon on Feb. 13, 2018 at the Fresno Convention Center.