Bobby Yarborough got the surprise of his life when he walked into the private dining room at Gino’s Restaurant in February. There, the Baton Rouge Epicurean Society’s executive board asked Yarborough if he would accept this year’s Grace “Mama” Marino Lifetime Achievement Award?
“I didn’t expect it all … how can you not accept this?” he recalls. “An award named for Mama is a tremendous honor. I don’t like the spotlight, but it’s so important to be an example to others, so I said yes and we toasted.”
Yarborough, CEO of Manda Fine Meats, will be given the award on Aug. 27 at a dinner that kicks off BRES’s two-day Fête Rouge, which culminates in the Food & Wine Fête the following evening.
“Bobby is a shining example of the type of dedication to self, family, our industry and community that inspired us to create the Mama Marino Lifetime Achievement Award,” said BRES President Kevin Kimball of Yarborough, who has received the Golden Deeds Award, Boys & Girls Club of America National Service to Youth Award, Volunteer Activist Award and the Arthritis Association’s Tribute to Excellence Award.
While Yarborough knew of BRES, he has since discovered that the group supports the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, one of several local nonprofits Yarborough supports. He chaired the Food Bank’s $12.1 million “From Hunger to Hope” capital campaign that resulted in its new headquarters — the 170,000-square-foot Fraenkel Center.
“Bobby is the epitome of servant leadership,” said CEO Mike Manning of the Food Bank’s 2008 Legion of Merit recipient. “After serving as chairperson of the board of the Food Bank, his term on the board expiring, and in addition to his responsibilities at Manda Fine Meats, he embraced the leadership role of our capital campaign that resulted in our beautiful new facility. When they speak of a true ‘gentleman,’ they are speaking of Bobby Yarborough.”
Health care is another of Yarborough’s passionate causes. He is chairman of the University Medical Center Management Corp. and a former board member of the Louisiana Children’s Medical Center in New Orleans. He also is a former board member of the Baton Rouge General Health Foundation.
“The foundation has been very fortunate to have Bobby as a supporter and former board member,” foundation CEO Beth Veazey said. “He brings an awesome energy to the causes he supports.”
Education also is one of Yarborough’s concerns. He serves on the LSU Board of Supervisors as past chairman, and previously served as board chairman of the Academic Distinction Fund, whose mission is to foster improved teaching and learning in East Baton Rouge Parish public schools.
Others to benefit from Yarborough’s leadership include the Boys & Girls Club of Baton Rouge, Family Road of Greater Baton Rouge and the YMCA of the Capital Area.
Yarborough’s day job has him heading up the company started by grandfather Vincent Manda, and Manda’s brothers, John and Bennie, in 1947. He is partners in the business with his brothers, Tommy and Steve. Together, they operate two state-of-the-art processing facilities and one modern distribution facility that serves more than 15 states.
“We’ve been working together since I got out of college in 1976,” said Yarborough, who graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. “It’s a neat thing for us; we respect each other’s duties.”
It’s a work ethic he hopes they are passing on to the next generation. Son Josh is in charge of quality control for Manda, while daughter Melissa handles special jobs, such as helping create the company’s new website. His brothers’ children work there, too. “It’s a family affair,” Yarborough said with a chuckle.
That’s one of the things he has in common with Mama Grace.
“Theirs (Gino’s) is a family business, and they’re great examples,” Yarborough said. “Their (family) story is similar to my father’s and grandfather’s.
“The Mandas came over from Italy and settled in Talbot. They ran a grocery store there. That’s where we first tasted the food business,” said Yarborough, whose paternal side of the family has Mississippi roots.
For Yarborough, that “taste” of the food business has morphed into a taste for the best of the culinary world.
“I love good food. I can’t cook it, I simply enjoy it,” he said, laughing.
One of his most memorable experiences was the three-hour meal at renowned French chef Paul Bocuse’s l’Auberge du Pont de Collonge just outside Lyon, France. He and wife, Marsha, were sent there by cousin Phyllis Manda, a nun whose order has a convent near the restaurant.
“It was the mid-’90s, and we got to meet him (Bocuse). It’s the highlight of my culinary experiences,” said Yarborough, who loves combining his and his wife’s love of good food and travel. “Marsha is the best international traveler. She knows as much as a tour guide.”
The Yarboroughs’ biggest hobby these days, though, is their four grandchildren.