There’s one thing for certain: the southwest metro is not lacking for excellent food and service providers. The finalists in each category are all doing excellent work.
As diverse as some of these businesses may seem, they do have several things in common. When talking about what makes their company successful, a recurring theme came up: The customer is the priority. That’s what these companies do: They treat their customers with respect and friendliness, and work hard to help them live their best lives, whether it’s by providing them with a great meal, gift-shopping tips, a new hairstyle, dental care, or financial advice.
The other recurring theme? These companies have built extensive clientele through word of mouth. The Best of the Southwest Metro contest, in which readers voted for their favorites, is just an extension of that word of mouth. When you look at the list of finalists and winners, know that your neighbors and community have spoken.
FOOD & RESTAURANTS
Destination: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whether you’re looking for a place to soak up the sun over a long lunch or gather with friends at a new watering hole, check out these reader picks.
Editor's Pick: Best Food Truck
Chef Craig Sharp jokes that his new restaurant venture is literally chef-driven cuisine—not only does he source the ingredients and develop the menus, he’s also the guy behind the wheel of the new food truck, which made its debut last summer.
The former brick-and-mortar restaurant Terra Waconia attracted foodies throughout the metro, and the new truck meets foodies throughout the southwest metro—at private, catered events and in public spaces.
Sharp builds the menu for the truck based on locally-sourced ingredients, as well as the truck’s destination for the day. Diners might find anything from lamb burgers to duck confit tacos. Although the setting is different, Sharp still puts the same effort and thought into his food as he did at Terra Waconia, which translates to everything from butchering and processing his own meat to making his own stock.
Sharp and his business partner, Tracy LeTourneau, have big plans for the truck, a former mobile command vehicle for the City of Chanhassen’s fire department. Watch for it at local wineries, breweries and distilleries, as well as more formal pop-up dinner events. Terra Truck is also available to cater everything from weddings to graduation parties. —Liz Potasek
(Terra Truck owners Craig Sharp and Tracy LeTourneau aren't afraid to put mussels on the menu; Photo by Marissa Martinson)
Best Patio Dining
Redstone American Grill
The patio at Redstone is a hugely popular attraction, and it’s not surprising; overlooking a pond with a fountain, lush landscaping, umbrellas on sunny days and patio heaters on cooler days, the patio is a visual treat and allows Minnesotans to enjoy our all-too-short outdoor season. “We’re the first to open [the patio] and the last to close,” says manager Kathy Rusnacko. “We light up the fountain at night. We have a full bar out there, which makes it convenient.” Demand has been so strong that the restaurant recently added 37 tables. “It’s a beautiful place to relax,” she says. (The food isn’t bad, either—turn to page 42 to read about Redstone Grill chef Ahmed Whittaker.)
Runners up: Lola’s Lakehouse, Floyd’s
Best New Restaurant
Iron Tap is the new guy on the block in Waconia, in a 100-year-old building. It’s not the only restaurant in town, but co-owner Greg James says it’s different. “It’s something Waconia hasn’t seen before,” he says. “We added a patio, we put in rooftop dining. It’s creative and unique.” The restaurant focuses on sumptuous smoked meats and offers a changing menu of 30 craft beers, many of which are local. In March, the restaurant held a Craft Beer March Madness that included beer from 30 Minnesota breweries. But the rest of the year, “We absolutely support local and always have local here, in a good balance with national,” James says.
Runners up: Yum! Kitchen and Bakery, Sake Sushi
(Greg and Bria James, owners of the Best New Restaurant: Iron Tap in Waconia; Photo by Emily J. Davis)
Nothing Bundt Cakes
The beauty of Nothing Bundt Cakes, says owner Jill Tullemans, is that it “combines nostalgia with a wink.” Everyone remembers Bundt cakes, so the shop feels nostalgic, even when it’s serving updated flavors that didn’t exist years ago. But it’s also a fun place to visit, with staff that enjoy their work. “Customers feel special when they get into the shop,” Tullemans says. “We know many of our customers by name. We want everyone to feel special.”
Runners up: Lunds & Byerlys, Yum! Kitchen and Bakery
Tavern 4&5 is well on its way to achieving its primary goal: “We just wanted to be a great part of the community,” says general manager Dave Guistolise. “We wanted to be the place people came after a hockey game, after work, after church.” A big part of that is food. “We’re owned by chefs, but they’re not concerned with ego,” he says. “They want to make food our guests want to eat.” Case in point: the homemade tater tots, which are one of the tavern’s most popular items. But service is also a factor. “Our staff is friendly and approachable,” he says. “We make good food and we hire good people.” Sounds like a winning combination.
Runners up: Floyd’s, Houlihan’s
(Photo courtesy of Tavern 4&5)
Original Pancake House
It seems like Original Pancake House has a line waiting for a table from the minute it opens its doors in the morning until it closes them again in the afternoon. Manager Jake Smalkoski knows why: “We have great food and great service,” he says. “We’ve provided those since the beginning. Our pancakes, bacon, coffee—everyone knows how great they are.” The restaurant is also supportive of its community, helping out local schools and churches. “We’re not about gimmicks, just good food and service and our neighbors,” Smalkoski says.
Runners up: Pangea Café, Tavern 4&5
Every journey starts and ends at home, so make sure your abode reflects you with help from these local companies.
mackmiller design + build
Mackmiller’s success comes from its client-centered approach. “We do the right things for the right reasons,” Mary Mackmiller says. “We provide ‘white glove,’ concierge-type service. We make each client feel special by treating them as if their project is the only one we’re working on. We never overbook.” She notes that one source of pride for the firm is that none of their projects look the same. “When our certified kitchen and bath designer and space planner design the new spaces, they spend time listening to clients about what works and what doesn’t,” she says. “The result reflects the desired outcome. The design is modified until it meets the client’s vision.”
Runners up: John Kraemer & Sons, Iron River Construction
Yetzer’s Home Furnishings & Floor Coverings
Yetzer’s prides itself on its personalized customer service, unique lines of furnishings, and commitment to the Waconia community. “We offer small-town service,” says employee Thomas Wiest. “And our staff sticks around. We’ve got people who’ve been here anywhere from 15 to 30 years. That kind of tenure and experience earns people’s trust.” That, and the quality furniture Yetzer’s stocks. “We carry a lot of brands you won’t see in the rest of the Twin Cities,” Wiest says. The store is also a big booster of local churches, schools and Boy and Girl Scouts.
Runners up: Shop 501, Gabberts Design Studio & Fine Furniture
Jessica Cook, JLC Interior Design
If you think that interior designers are only for large projects with equally large budgets, you should talk to Jessica Cook. “I want my design to be accessible to everyone,” she says. “No one should have to say, ‘My project is too small.’ People spend too much time in their home to not be happy with it.” Cook works with a wide range of projects, from including new-home design to freshening up a single room in an older home. Collaboration is key: “I have knowledge and experience, but you are the expert in your home,” she says. “We need to work together for the best result for you.”
Runners up: Jane-Marie Bloomberg, Embellishments Interior Design; Martha O’Hara, Martha O’Hara Interiors
(Best Interior Designer: Jessica Cook, JLC Interior Design; Photos Courtesy of Donna Mae Photography)
The Mustard Seed
Kay Soupier, manager, would like people considering hiring a landscape designer or architect to visit their store in Chaska. The property is extensive and can give potential customers a feel for the options and alternatives available. “Our landscape designers work with a really good variety, a wide variety of plants, whether trees, shrubs, annuals or perennials,” she says. There’s no need for a one-size-fits-all design, and the Mustard Seed’s staff uses its expansive plant selections to customize to their clients’ needs.
Runners up: Southview Design, Superior Lawn and Landscape
(Best Landscape Designer/Architect: The Mustard Seed; Photo courtesy of The Mustard Seed Landscaping & Garden Center)
Beniek Property Service
Owner and president Brian Beniek has been caring for people’s property since he was 13 years old and started a lawn mowing business. That has grown into a company that handles lawn maintenance, snow removal, and landscaping, both residential and commercial. “I’m in the business of helping people,” he says. “I’m genuinely interested in people. I like to get to know my customers.” It’s an approach he teaches his employees as well. “I tell my employees to treat the customers as if it was their own yard,” he says.
Runners up: Pronto Heating & Air Conditioning, Lake Air Heating & Cooling
Senior Living Residence
Summit Place Senior Campus
With a plethora of senior living options out there, what sets Summit Place apart? “Our staff sets us apart,” says Libby Jensen, director of marketing. “They do so much for the residents because they want them to have a happy life.” Summit Place focuses on contributing to that happy life as much as possible: There’s a bistro, theater, chapel, walking paths and regularly scheduled events including happy hours, live entertainment and continuing education. “Just because you age doesn’t mean you can’t still have a good life,” Jensen says.
Runners up: SummerWood of Chanhassen, The Colony
Editor's Pick: Best Hostess Gift
Whether I’m traveling near or far, I try to give my hosts gifts that represent home, that I’d use myself and that are useful. SunLeaf Naturals products are my go-to for pretty much everyone. The Waconia-based company sells a line of simply packaged essential oils, personal care products and home fragrances created by founder and owner Teresa Andrys.
Andrys develops SunLeaf products using plant-based ingredients without testing on animals. She says it takes her about a year to develop a new fragrance. “It’s a lot of research and trial and error,” Andrys says, noting that she usually starts with one of her favorite plant essences, using it to build a more complex scent with the addition of other ingredients.
SunLeaf’s Soothing Body Oil (I like the Yakima Mint Black Currant Vanilla scent) has kept my hands moisturized this winter, and a few drops of SunLeaf’s Amyris Bergamot essential oil go into all of our homemade cleaning products, ensuring our house smells great. I’ve also fallen in love with SunLeaf’s new honey soaps made using honey that Teresa’s husband Doug Andrys harvests from the hives he keeps near Seminary Fen. Another plus: SunLeaf donates five percent of its profits to the Freshwater Society. —Liz Potasek
(Photo by Joel Schnell)
HEALTH & WELLNESS
Healthy Trek: Map out your plan for fitness and wellbeing with these professionals who can work with you at every life stage.
Best Reason to Try a New Sport
Chaska Curling Center
You don’t need me to tell you to try curling. You really don’t, because chances are you’ve already tried it, or you’re waiting for an opening in a Learn to Curl class.
Since the center, which is owned by the City of Chaska, opened in December, more than 1,000 people have already learned to curl through corporate events and classes, which fill up almost immediately after registration opens. “We put something out there, it’s filled,” says curling center manager Jeff Isaacson.
It’s no surprise that the sport is popular: You can start curling at any age, and it’s a sport about balance and touch, not speed or power, Isaacson says. But it does take some training before stepping on the ice since it’s possible to damage the equipment or the ice. “It’s a game steeped in tradition with a lot of etiquette involved,” Isaacson says, noting that curlers are known for good sportsmanship.
If you feel like you’re always five minutes late for class or league registration, fear not. “Be patient,” says Scott Belvitch, head ice maker. “We’re a year-round facility. We’ll definitely have ample opportunity.” —Liz Potasek
(From left: Scott Belvitch, head icemaker; Jeff Isaacson, curling center manager; Kathy Skinner, assistant director of Chaska parks and recreation, and Tom Redman, director of Chaska parks and recreation; Photos by Emily J. Davis)
Life Time Fitness
The flagship Life Time Fitness facility in Chanhassen has something for everyone in its gleaming, immaculate space: indoor and outdoor pools, full-service spa, healthy café, chiropractic clinic, and state-of-the-art fitness equipment and instructors fully trained in every aspect of fitness and working out. Whatever fitness level you’re at—from elite athlete to couch potato looking to shape up—you’ll find support and guidance, as well as help finding the fitness regimen that works for you.
Runners up: Higher Power Training, Bring It! Studios/CrossFit Chanhassen
(Photo courtesy of Life Time Fitness)
Chaska Dental Center
Dr. Tom Meschke has been practicing at Chaska Dental Center for 28 years, and he loves his work. “I enjoy it even more now than I did when I started,” he says. He points to having relationships with his patients as one of the reasons why. “I’ve treated patients who now bring their kids in,” he says. The practice, which he bought into in 1988, dates back to 1956. “We have charts that are 60 years old,” he says, “and we’re seeing descendants of some of those patients.” The clinic is full-service, offering everything from routine maintenance to implants, pediatric dentistry, and same-day crowns. “We’ve been in the community forever, and we want to stay in the community forever,” Meschke says.
Runners up: Prairie Dental Group, Tweet Pediatric Dentistry
Ovation! Orthodontics’ recent name change (it was formerly Hultgren, Hoxie & Waki Orthodontics) also led to a new tagline: “Smiles worthy of applause.” According to Dr. Tiffany Waki, providing their patients with those kinds of smiles means having a highly experienced staff that’s committed to ongoing research and education. “We’re committed to progressive, innovative technology and techniques,” she says. “We’re also Elite Providers for Invisalign and Invisalign Teen. We do it a lot, and we do it well.” The orthodontists maintain a rigorous schedule of continuing education to keep them on the forefront of orthodontia. Their expertise has been rewarded with continuous referrals from dentists and other patients who are pleased with their care. “We understand and value our patients,” Waki says.
Runners up: Veil Orthodontics, Chaska Orthodontic Specialists
Family Focus Chiropractic
Dr. Angela Graper and Dr. Robyn Brostrom center their chiropractic practice around women and children. Their gentle approach with the latter has caused them to be known as the “fun doctors.” Kids have reported having had so much fun that they can’t wait to go back—not the usual response from a child talking about health care. Parents are happy to return, too. “We’re a low-pressure clinic,” Graper says. “There’s no big sales pitch here. It’s all about educating people. We want to do what’s best for the patient.”
Runners up: Neubauer Chiropractic Health Center, Knewtson Health Group
Southdale Pediatric Associates
Parents want to know their child’s medical needs are taken seriously, and that their child is getting the best possible care. Southdale Pediatric Associates understands that and partners with families. They understand the doctor’s office can sometimes be intimidating to young ones, and they work hard to maintain both the child’s and the parent’s confidence. Today’s children are tomorrow’s adults; keeping them healthy is the passion of the staff at Southdale Pediatrics.
Runners up: South Lake Pediatrics, Wayzata Children’s Clinic
Southwest Eye Care
Dr. Amy Freed feels strongly that Southwest Eye Care’s work is not just about a quick eye exam. “I say it’s a relationship exam,” she says, laughing. “We tend to spend more time with patients, talking not just about the health of their eyes, but about their family life, how they use their eyes.” That approach allows Southwest Eye to have long-term relationships with its patients, as well as a strong word-of-mouth program. It’s a multi-generational practice too: “I can have a 2-year-old and a 103-year-old in on the same day,” she says.
Runners up: Edina Eye, Park Nicollet Clinic Chanhassen
Dermatology Specialists provides both cosmetic and medical patients with a high level of attention and care. “I think it’s really important to have a team that includes good receptionists, nurses, business personnel, doctors who listen and try to help the patients the best they can,” says Dr. Mimi Cho, one of Dermatology Specialists’ doctors. All dermatologists are board-certified, and they stay current with the latest medical and technological developments.
Runners up: Park Nicollet Clinic Chanhassen, Associated Skin Care Specialists
Envy Skin Clinic
Receiving treatments at Envy Skin Clinic could make you—well—the envy of your friends. The clinic offers a full array of services, including laser hair removal, fat removal, skin rejuvenation, Botox injections, facial peels and vein treatments, among others. The knowledgeable staff is highly experienced, and they care about your procedure as much as you do, taking time to explain and educate so you understand what’s happening and what the results can be.
Runners up: Refine Laser and Skin Care, Life Time Fitness LifeSpa
Shopping Guide: Pick up everything from ingredients for dinner, to a gift for a friend or a new wardrobe at these outstanding stores.
Owner Dawn Reinke knows that clothing and accessory shopping should be a fun experience, and part of that experience is in how a customer is treated by the staff. “I love our staff,” she says. “They’ve all been here since we opened. They love what they do, they love helping people look great, no matter what size they are.” The emphasis is not on pushing customers to buy things, but to help customers feel their best. With a diverse clothing and accessory selection that is affordably priced, Reinke’s customers can leave the store feeling cared for—and beautiful.
Runners up: Evereve, The Stash of Waconia
(Photo by Emily J. Davis)
Lunds & Byerlys
What makes people want to shop at Lunds & Byerlys? According to store manager Gary Baldus, it’s a combination of factors. “They just love coming for everything from products to the people to the atmosphere,” he says. “It starts with the store. We’re all passionate about food and service, from the top all the way down to the carryouts.” The staff is committed to keeping on top of the latest trends and new foods, which led to Lunds & Byerlys being first to market with the popular Sumo mandarin oranges. That leadership keeps people coming back.
Runners up: Kowalski’s Market, Cub Foods
The gardening and floral center has been a southwest metro flagship for years, and it continues to be a favorite for many. Manager Jeff Kelly sees the store having multiple important roles. “We’re true to our roots with the floral business,” he says. “But we’re also expanding our home décor, framed art, fine garden products. Also, people are looking to do more with summer rooms, like adding outdoor rugs.” Adapting to changing tastes is aided by Bachman’s initiative focused on deepening its customer service. “We’re anxious to get to know our customers,” he says. “We like to say, ‘If we haven’t met you, we sure want to!’”
Runners up: Victoria Rose Floral, Chanhassen Floral
Owner Dick Weinzierl is the current family member running this Waconia jewelry store, but there are many who have done so before him: The store celebrates its 122nd year in the family in 2016. “People like that longevity,” he says. “There’s a feeling of security in it.” There’s also the trust built up over the years with the Weinzierl family helping customers with even the smallest needs. “I do repairs, little things that some stores won’t do,” he says. “I’m not just here punching a clock. I want people to be happy. And if it’s a $40 repair, I charge $40, not $175, like some stores do.”
Runners up: Wedding Day Diamonds, Wixon Jewelers
Specialty Foods Store
Kowalski’s offers its customers an intriguing mix of food and food-related products that is strongly rooted in local providers while rounded out with unusual national and international foods. Whether you want imported Italian tuna, apples from a local orchard, or cheeses from near and far, you’ll find it here—and if you can’t find it, ask. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful. And whatever you do, make sure you spend some time perusing the thoughtfully curated gift department.
Runners up: Lakewinds Food Co-op, The Smiling Olive
Manager John Mills feels that the Haskell’s customer comes back again and again for two reasons: selection and service. “Customers come first,” he says. “They always have and they always will.” But he notes that service without selection isn’t going to work. With a vast selection comes the need to educate, and the store offers a variety of educational events, including a popular weekly wine class. “We’ve got a very good rapport with our customers,” Mills says.
Runners up: The Vintage–Wine, Spirits & Beer, Eden Prairie Liquor
Jim Gilbert’s Wild Bird Store
Jim Gilbert’s Wild Bird Store has everything you need for the birdwatcher in your life, but it’s much more than that. The store stocks home decor, lamps, baby items, furniture and gifts in a wide range of prices. “It’s so unlike big box stores,” says owner Pat Anderson. “It’s a peaceful place, relaxing. And we provide personalized attention.” The ultimate goal is for the customer to be happy, and sometimes that means taking an unorthodox retail approach: “I will send people to other shops in town if they’re looking for something we don’t have,” she says. “We just want people to be happy.”
Runners up: Unearthed Arts, Patina
(Photo courtesy of Maren Delaney Photography)
Editor's Pick: Best Customer Service
I enjoyed drinking tea, and then I walked into TeaSource, and I fell in love with drinking tea. While TeaSource’s delicious, unique tea blends deserve much of the credit, I would never have discovered my favorites (roasted chestnut, chocolate mint) without help from TeaSource’s enthusiastic, friendly staff.
“We use our intuition a lot when helping customers,” says Georgia Cook, the retail manager at TeaSource Eden Prairie. Cook says TeaSource employees don’t have any sort of script or formula, as far as customer service is concerned; instead, they do their best to help each customer individually.
They patiently offer suggestions to customers bewildered by the 250-some blends of teas available at the Eden Prairie shop. To do this, Cook explains, TeaSource employees taste every tea—usually a two- to three-month process for new hires—and everyone keeps a tea journal to make notes to themselves about flavor profiles and their personal favorites.
The shop sells iced and hot tea by the cup or pot, as well as tea leaves by the ounce. They also carry a variety of tea accessories. Thanks to TeaSource my year is divided into two seasons: iced tea and hot tea. —Liz Potasek
(Eden Prairie TeaSource retail manager Georgia Cook; Photo by Emily J. Davis)
KIDS, FAMILY & PETS
Family Domain: Keep your bearings with these services designed to support children, pets and parents.
Best Family-Friendly Volunteer Opportunity
Feed My Starving Children
At Feed My Starving Children in Chanhassen, children (ages 5 and up) can volunteer with adults to put together meals for starving children all over the world. “I think kids have a unique connection to other kids,” says Chanhassen site supervisor Lisa Pederson. “When they see something that’s unfair, they want to do whatever they can do to fix it.”
As a part of its volunteer orientation, Feed My Starving Children does an excellent job of introducing a problem: Children around the world aren’t getting enough food to eat. They empower volunteers to be a part of the solution by donating money and packing food to send to starving children. “There aren’t that many things for children to do that have a life-and-death impact,” Pederson says.
As a result, children who volunteer with their school or another organization often bring their parents with them the next time they volunteer.
Every volunteer at Feed My Starving Children goes through an orientation to learn how to safely pack the food and where the food they pack will go. Volunteers of all ages and abilities help pack meals, work in the warehouse and put labels on meal packages (a job that can be done sitting down). Children ages 5 and older can volunteer, as long as they have an adult with them.
Feed My Starving Children invites all of its volunteers to donate money, as well as time, noting that the typical volunteer packs about $50 worth of food during a shift. Pederson says 92 percent of donations to the non-profit organization are used for feeding children.
Families can sign up to volunteer online. The site in Chanhassen, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in March, usually has the greatest need for volunteers during the summer months, Pederson says. —Liz Potasek
(Feed My Starving Children volunteers in Chanhassen help people around the world; Photo Courtesy of Feed My Starving Children)
Executive director Baird Johnson knows firsthand how well the LearningRx programs work: his own daughter is a success story. “We’re a unique learning center,” he says. “This is not childcare or tutoring.” The LearningRx approach involves cognitive skills gained through intensive mental exercise. While 90 percent of Johnson’s clientele falls in the elementary, high school, and college pop-ulation, he’s worked with people of all ages, including some in their 80s who are
frustrated with declining memory. “It works,” he says. “And then you’ve got those skills for the rest of your life.”
Runners up: Tutor Doctor, Sylvan Learning Center
Top Dog Country Club
Jean Beuning, owner of Top Dog, is not a hands-off business owner. “Dogs are my children, my work, my passion,” she says. “I’m here nearly every day. Our clients know that the person most vested is here all the time. The dogs are always the No. 1 priority in decisions, before money or anything else.” The lucky dogs who vacation here have access to a 24,000-square-foot outdoor play area and swimming pool, among other amenities. “They get fresh air, mental stimulation and lots of time outdoors,” Beuning says.
Runners up: Adogo Pet Hotel, The Canine Club and Spa
(Photo courtesy of Jean Beuning)
Children of Tomorrow Learning Centers
Owner Aleta Mechtel takes a customized approach to childcare. “We create curriculum each year based on the children enrolled,” she says. “We include everything from STEM subjects to Spanish, sign language, reading and yoga.” The center takes pride in working with families. “These families become our families,” she says. “We build a partnership.” It’s an approach that leads to a high retention rate. “These families stay with us from infancy to the completion of the program,” she says. “They know we’re passionate about their kids.”
Runners up: Primrose Schools in Eden Prairie and Chanhassen, Eastern Carver County Schools Early Childhood Family Education
Place for Kids’ Activities
The Dance Warehouse
The Dance Warehouse offers recreational and competitive dance opportunities for ages 18 months to 18 years, from beginning to advanced. But beyond that, it’s a community. “There’s plenty of space for families to hang out while their kids are having lessons,” says owner Tracy Standal. “Parents can stay and watch, and they become friends with other parents as their kids are becoming friends with other kids. We all know each other and have personal connections. Our studio is like a home, and like being at home.”
Runners up: Dance Arts Centre, Chaska Community Center
(Photo courtesy of Alyssa Kristine)
VCA Chanhassen Animal Hospital
Over the years, pets have taken on increased importance in family life. That means people want quality care for those non-human family members as well. “We’ve transitioned from being a veterinary to being the ‘other family doctor,’” says VCA Chanhassen Animal Hospital manager Tammy Knutson. The clinic (formerly known as Chanhassen Veterinary Clinic), which works with cats, dogs, “pocket pets” (rabbits, rats, hamsters, etc.), and exotic animals like bearded dragons, has been serving the Chanhassen community for more than 30 years.
Runners up: Waconia Veterinary Clinic, ValueCare Veterinary Clinic
Place to Spoil Your Pet
The Canine Club and Spa
The Canine Club and Spa is not, despite its name, just for dogs. “We handle dogs, cats, and exotic pet boarding,” says owner Karen Jackson. She notes that the facility was built from the ground up for the purpose of boarding and veterinary care, with every amenity a pet could want—four acres of outdoor play area, a large indoor play area, swimming pools, even cameras owners can log onto to watch their pets while away. But it’s not just the facility that counts. “Our staff members are long-term advocates who love their jobs and love the pets,” she says. “It’s a really loving and caring staff.”
Runners up: Top Dog Country Club, Adogo Pet Hotel
Charting a New Course: These are the people you turn to for advice on everything from a fresh haircut to a different insurance plan.
Patty Fitzsimmons at Salon Concepts
Patty Fitzsimmons doesn’t just see styling hair as a vocation, but as a calling. “I really use my chair as a platform and a ministry,” she says. “I have deep conversations with my clients, we talk about spiritual and emotional things. It’s like hanging out with friends in my kitchen rather than clients at a salon.” Her bubbly personality, combined with a background in improv and comedy, make her a natural for the role. “I have so much fun. I can’t believe I get to make a living doing this,” she says.
Runners up: Laura Howe, The Parlour; Joel Gabrielson, Joel’s Original Barbers
(Photo by Tate Carlson)
Stephen Soderstrom, Ameriprise Financial
Stephen Soderstrom’s success as a financial advisor is rooted in his previous career: He has a teaching background. “We teach and educate,” he says. “Our goal is to blend math and life. It’s not just about charts and graphs, but real life. What’s happening to you now? What can you control? You can’t control the stock market, but you can control your plans and reactions to the market.” Helping people manage those plans and reactions means getting to know them, their goals, and challenges they’re facing. That level of caring and customer service means that Soderstrom has clients from all over the Twin Cities, and they’re coming to him by word of mouth.
Runners up: Jamie Pederson, Edward Jones; Mark Sanda, The Principal Financial Group
Spalon Montage employee Angela Hassebroek notes that what a client experiences at the salon/spa starts long before they arrive. “We do a lot of training,” she says. “We have amazing education for our techs. We have national and international artists who come in and do one-on-one training.” Customer service is a big part of that. “We take care of our customers before they arrive,” she says. “It starts with phone etiquette and how customers are greeted. How would you treat friends coming to your home?” Quality products and close attention to what’s new and trendy are the finishing touches.
Runners up: Sanctuary Salonspa, Salon Spatoria
(Photo courtesy of Spalon Montage)
Lisa Hurst, The Parlour Salon & Spa
Lisa Hurst is living her passion. She’s been in the beauty field for 15 years, but recently began focusing specifically on skincare and makeup. “So much of what I can do is helping people transform themselves,” she says. “They open their eyes and see what I’ve done, and they’re so happy.” Part of that happiness is due to the pampering she provides. “I like to make a cocoon with heated table warmers, layers of blankets,” she says. “I create an entire environment where people are cozy and snuggled in. It makes their skin feel better, and they’re more relaxed.”
Runners up: Rose Sheats, Salon Spatoria; Jessie Crow, Givan’s Salon and Spa
Sharlene Downs, State Farm
“The thing we truly do well is make our clients know that we care,” Sharlene Downs says. “They know we will help them. We educate, we give lots of advice, lots of options. They know they can trust us.” Part of Downs’ commitment to her customers is in her approach. “I’m very engaged,” she says. “I answer the phone, I take meetings, just like I did when I started 26 years ago.” Taking the mystery and stress out of insurance issues has brought her a loyal customer base.
Runners up: Lorie Treff, State Farm; Laura O’Neill, Cornerstone Insurance Agency
Melchert Hubert Sjodin
When asked about Melchert Hubert Sjodin’s loyal customer base, employee Kristen Rickaby points to the depth and breadth of the firm’s offerings. “We have vast years of experience,” she says. “Several of our attorneys have 30 or more years of experience.” That experience also covers a broad range of practice areas. The firm is also deeply committed to its community. “We make donations and have employees who volunteer at the food shelf or for highway cleanup, and we have several members of the Lions and Rotary Clubs,” she says. “We’re very active in helping our community.”
Runners up: Hellmuth & Johnson, Mark “Chapin” Hall
Editor's Pick: Best Hairstylist for Men
Joel’s Original Barbers
There are plenty of salons and hairstylists that cater to women and children, but the places that exclusively focus on men’s hair are few and far between. “In this day and age, there are not many places where guys can go and just be guys and get a haircut,” says Joel Gabrielson, owner of Joel’s Original Barbers in Victoria.
After 20 years in the business, Gabrielson opened his own shop in Victoria. “It’s a guy’s guys’ place,” Gabrielson says of his three chair shop, noting that ESPN is always on the television, and customers might get some friendly razzing. “It’s pretty low-key.”
It’s also a place for bonding. Gabrielson notes that his clients often bring their sons in for haircuts. —Liz Potasek
(Joel Gabrielson at Joel’s Original Barbers in Victoria; Photo by Amanda Gahler)