The owner of one of Brandon’s most beloved pizza joints was the big winner at Thursday’s evening’s online awards show for the Brandon Chamber of Commerce.
Pizza Express head honcho Gus Vasilarakis was named this year’s Business Person of the Year award.
Emigrating from Greece in 1979, Vasilarakis first worked at his uncle’s pizza restaurant before opening Pizza Express in 1982. He later sold the restaurant and moved operations to Winnipeg, but the family ended up returning to the Wheat City in 1998 and reacquired Pizza Express.
For the first time, award winners were only notified of their victories during the award ceremony, making the victories a surprise for everyone except the organizers.
The other big winner was the late Bob Jenkins, who was honoured as Lifetime Builder of the Year.
After working at Christie’s Office Supplies for years, Jenkins founded Jenkins Business Supply in 1971. Eventually, he entered the flooring market with Paul Fouillard, with whom he travelled to carpet mills in the United States to get around the normal supply chains and get lower prices for himself and customers.
According to the program from Thursday’s event, the sign for Jenkins’ business was left crooked for years, which led to people coming inside the store to let him know about it and getting more eyes on his products.
Jenkins died last December at the age of 76. The flooring store that bears his name lives on at its First Street location.
It was the second year in a row the chamber has held a virtual award show due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this year’s show was much more elaborate than last years.
On March 12, 2020, the gala was scheduled to take place at the Keystone Centre, but was cancelled the day of the event after the World Health Organization declared the day before that COVID-19 was a pandemic.
With restrictions in place for months, the chamber ended up rescheduling its awards show for July 9 as a virtual event being held on networking platform Zoom.
This year’s event was held on another platform called Hopin. Organizers were able to set up multiple themed chat rooms where dignitaries, business people, chamber staff and executives and other guests were able to schmooze while enjoying the contents of swag boxes filled with local goodies that were included with the price of admission.
When it came time for the awards to get handed out, 94.7 Star FM hosts Trent Bartley and Leanne Doty opened with a sketch showing them getting ready to present at the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium.
The whole awards presentation ceremony was pre-taped and edited into a slick package
It ended with a gag when Trent was revealed to be wearing shorts, quipping "I thought it was a Zoom."
In pre-taped introductory remarks, chamber general manager Carolynn Cancade expressed gratitude to the local business community and acknowledged how businesses have struggled during the pandemic.
Chamber president Spencer Day, who will soon pass the torch to Barry Cooper, thanked his staff for keeping the organization running during the pandemic.
"Another reminder for everyone watching today: the thousands of lives saved over the pandemic have been shouldered in large part due to the sacrifices of small business owners who have diligently closed and changed their business operations to help the community remain safe," Day said. "They deserve to be supported, we owe them that much."
More than 100 people participated in the event.
The following businesses also took home prizes on Thursday:
• Community Impact Award: Rocked Community Fitness
• Outstanding New Business Award: Chez Angela Bakery & Cafe
• Business Excellence Award — Small Business: A&L Cycle
• Business Excellence Award — Large Business: Joe Beeverz Canadian Pub
• Westman’s Top 4 under 40: Danielle Adriaansen (Assiniboine Community College), Hailey Jeffries (Prairie Fava), Jordan Ludwig (Brandon Business Interiors) and Parker Easter (ReNu Hygienics)
• Younger Entrepreneur of the Year: Matt Berg (Livingstone Landscaping and Garden Centre)
» Twitter: @ColinSlark