Big WYO Award


John Johnson Receives 2017 “BIG WYO” Award
Casper Restauranteur Honored at
Wyoming Governor’s Conference on Hospitality and Tourism


February 1, 2017—Cheyenne, Wyoming—The Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT) and the Wyoming Lodging & Restaurant Association (WLRA), on behalf of the entire hospitality and tourism industry, are thrilled to announce this year’s recipient of the annual “Big WYO” award, John Johnson of Casper, Wyoming. More than 225 industry partners celebrated Johnson’s award at last night’s Salute to the Industry Gala where Governor Matt Mead presented the award to Johnson.

“I couldn’t be more proud of John for receiving this year’s Big WYO award,” said Governor Matt Mead. “John has been serving great food to the people of Casper with a smile, a handshake and a personal greeting for a long time. His expanding restaurant business is a tribute to him and personal traits like honesty, integrity and giving back to the community. I wish John all the best now and in the future.”

Each year, the “Big WYO” award is sponsored by the WLRA and given to an individual who has done an outstanding job promoting and improving the tourism industry in Wyoming.

“There’s no one more deserving of this year’s award than John Johnson,” said Chris Brown, executive director for the WLRA. “John is a tireless advocate for the travel and tourism industry in Wyoming and on behalf of all of us at WLRA, we thank him for his years of service and dedication.”

Johnson is the founder and president of Johnson Restaurant Group, Inc.—which currently includes several restaurants and two retail liquor stores—a company he started in May 1978 at the age of 21. A longtime member and past president of the WLRA, he advocates for tourism locally, statewide and nationally and understands the power of tourism as an economic driver in Wyoming. His passion is the restaurant industry and he’s known as one of the hardest-working men in Wyoming.

“John is the spirit of hospitality,” said Diane Shober, executive director for WOT. “He believes in Wyoming and the people who make their home here, and we could not be more proud of him and the work he has done to move our industry forward.”

As an active participant in Wyoming’s tourism industry for nearly 40 years, Johnson is well respected by his fellow peers and is known for always being willing to step up and do the work, no matter what it is. With restaurants in Wyoming, Montana and Nevada, Johnson is known for his strong support of communities. He serves on the Downtown Development Authority in Casper and is active with the National Restaurant Association.

“On behalf of the WLRA Board, John is a true inspiration for all us as he shows us that we can all always do a little more,” said Christine Hill, president of WLRA.

2017 marks the 40th year that the “Big WYO” award has been given.

The Big Wyo Award is usually presented to a “private sector” person who has done an outstanding job promoting and improving the tourism industry for the State of Wyoming. The award is presented at the Governor’s Tourism Conference. Criteria are:

  1. The individual has made major contributions to generating visitors, servicing and developing the travel industry in the state of Wyoming. These efforts can take place through their business or as a volunteer in travel-related organizations if their fulltime work is not in the travel industry.
  2. The person has been a member and served actively on civic, community or travel industry association groups.
  3. There have been exceptions, but usually the individual is not an elected official or travel industry public employee at the time of consideration. It is preferable that they not be currently serving on state boards and commissions. They could be nominated later.

Past Big WYO Award Winners

•1977 Harry Smith, Hitching Post Inn
•1978 Marv Harshman, Rawlins Travelodge
•1979 Bob Dohse, Irma Hotel, Cody

•1980 Duane Von Krosigk, Travel Commissioner, Cheyenne
•1981 Peter Hassrick, Buffalo Bill Historical Center
•1982 Ralph McMullen, Jackson Hold Chamber of Commerce
•1983 Norm Parker, Rainbow Park Motel
•1984 Dorris Stalker, Grand Teton Lodge Company
•1985 Bill Bragg, Casper College
•1986 Governor Ed Hershler
•1987 Clarene and Creed Law, Antler and 49er, Jackson
•1988 John Olson, Yellowstone
•1989 Quin Blair, Blair Hotels, Cody and Riverton

•1990 Pat Self, Old Corral, Centennial
•1991 Paul Smith, Hitching Post
•1992 Pat Sweeney, Gillette Holiday Inn
•1993 Jim Hearne
•1994 Carol Waller
•1995 Clay James
•1996 Don and Doris Bunn
•1997 Wayne Worthen
•1998 Gene Bryan
•1999 Bill Sniffin

•2000 Trudy McCraken
•2001 Gene & Carol Kupke
•2002 Ted Blair
•2003 Jeff Heilbrun
•2004 Edna Kennell
•2005 Manuel Lopez
•2006 Claudia Wade
•2007 Dave Rader
•2008 Chuck Box
•2009 Jim McCaleb

•2010 Governor Dave Freudenthal
•2011 Steve Meadows
•2012 Rex Brown
•2013 Chuck Coon
•2014 Kari Cooper
•2015 Clay Miller
•2016 Jerry Blann
•2017 John Johnson