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08-07-13: Sparks deli owner wins community leadership award
08-07-13: Sparks deli owner wins community leadership award
Posted on 08/07/2013

Chris Johnston, owner of Sparks Firehouse Deli in Puyallup, is this year's recipient of the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) Region III Community Leadership Award.


The award is given each year to community members or groups in recognition of their outstanding contributions to education.


Specific criteria include benefit to students, leadership, motivation, success, recognition by others, history of service, and cooperation and coordination with a local school district.Image


“Mr. Johnston has taken the lead on a number of community support efforts, as well as being there day in and day out when student groups and community organizations come to call,” said Puyallup School District Superintendent Tim Yeomans. “I cannot say enough good things about Mr. Chris Johnston and his commitment to the youth of the community and his ongoing actions to support them.”


The Puyallup School Board presented Johnston in June with a framed certificate in recognition of the honor.


Among his many contributions, Johnston hosts a variety of events at the Sparks Firehouse Deli, including school and athletic team fundraisers, as well as those that support specific causes, such as Special Olympics, cancer research, and local blood drives.


The restaurant donates a percentage of gross sales, for example, to youth organizations whose members help by doing dishes, busing tables, and waving signs outside the business to advertise the event. His employees assist by taking orders, as well as preparing and serving food and beverages.


“I couldn’t do all of these charitable efforts without all of the fantastic employees I have working for me at the deli,” he said.


Johnston, who also works as a branch manager at Community One Financial on South Hill, opened the deli four years ago across from Sparks Stadium. He also co-owns Joeseppi’s restaurant in Tacoma.


Photos of Puyallup School District students, including some involved in Special Olympics, are featured on some of the deli walls. Johnston’s restaurant staff includes some district students with special needs, who gain work experience and learn life skills.


“They are very hard working, reliable, and deserving of a job,” he said.


Johnston also supports the school district’s Special Olympics program by donating a small school bus he owns to teams that travel to state tournaments. He has printed oversized magnets with the name of each school, such as Puyallup Vikings, that adhere to the side of the bus.


“Those kids feel great when they are on the bus with their team name across the outside for everyone to see,” he said.


Johnston also lends his red deli truck to district staff members for various school events, including driving students to and from the annual ninth grade dance or transporting football gear to the Viking football camp in Wenatchee. This year, Johnston also volunteered to provide sandwiches for the team at camp.


The restaurant owner has also sponsored numerous spirit building activities at high school sporting events, which in turn have raised money for the school’s athletic programs.


Chicken wings, for example, are given to everyone in the gym when the Puyallup High boys basketball team scores at least 80 points in a game. Ice cream cones are given to the audience when the girls basketball team scores at least 60 points.


There is also a Puyallup High football game celebrity “wing” toss, a Rogers High “tot shot” opportunity to win tater tots during a half-time free throw contest, and an Emerald Ridge High field goal kick, in which people who donate to the football program can win free pizza slices at halftime if a preselected student kicker makes a 20-yard field goal.


He and his wife, Alicia, have also recognized players of the game, as well as made a 4-foot-tall trophy for any Puyallup School District high school football team that beats the other two high schools in the same season.


On game night at Sparks Stadium, he raises the flag of the home Puyallup School District team on a flagpole outside the restaurant. All of his staff members also wear jerseys of the home team during that day’s work shift.


The father of two says he supports the schools “because I can. My wife and I aren’t there (at the restaurant) to make money,” he said. “We’re happy if we can break even and be able to give back to the community.”


He and his wife Alicia have two children, who are both active in local youth athletic organizations. George is an eighth grader at Kalles Junior High, and Jack is a fifth grader at Woodland Elementary. They have lived on South Hill for the past 12 years.


Johnston is also active in various community youth organizations, including serving the past three years as head coach of the seventh and eighth graders in the Puyallup Roughriders junior football program.


He also is a supporter of the Viking Elite boys youth basketball organization and a former board of director with the Puyallup Cal Ripken youth baseball league. This past year, he helped educate the community about a school bond on the February, 2013 election ballot.


“It’s important for my kids to see how important it is for someone to be involved in their community,” he said. “Success in life isn’t about how much money is in the bank. It’s about the footprint you leave when you are gone.”