The winners of the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards for 2012 consisted of a diverse group of companies and entrepreneurs, including one recipient who saw her business grow from a 150-square-foot room with one employee to 1,500 square feet and five people.
The eight winners were announced Friday night. More than 400 people attended the event, the first ever to feature a consolidated presentation of awards by the two chambers, which merged last year.
Chamber President Mark Kilmer said the winners reflect the qualities of their respective award categories.
“It was a tough decision. We got several nominations for each category and everybody deserves those awards based on the hardships and challenges of running a business,” he said. “These are chamber awards and the awards exemplify that partnership with the chamber.
-- Agricultural Business of the Year Award: Hummingbird Hills Winery. Ken and Kimm Schick, formerly of New Jersey, started the winery in 2001 on a 200-acre former dairy farm in Fultonville. They planted 1,200 grape vines that year but did not make a drop of wine until 2008. The winery received a license in 2010, and it now sells a variety of wines made from grapes, elderberries, apples and dandelions, all of which are grown on the farm. They use as few preservatives as possible to bring out the natural flavor of the grapes or fruit in the fermenting process. The name of their business comes from their love affair with hummingbirds, many of which keep them company at the winery.
-- Barbara V. Spraker Tourism Partner Award: Amsterdam Mohawks. The Mohawks are a championship-winning collegiate league baseball team that has played at Shuttleworth Park in Amsterdam since 2003. Before that, the team was in Schenectady. It received the tourism award for attracting 42,000 people to the park in 2012, an attendance record. Brian Spagnola, Mohawks president, is in the midst of a $1.5 million fundraising campaign to restore Shuttleworth Park to its former glory.
-- Centennial Award: Sarah Jane Sanford Adult Home. The home is a not-for-profit organization established in 1896 for women age 65 and older who want to live independently. The Guy Park Avenue, Amsterdam, facility opened in 1904; before that, women were housed in individual homes. In 2007, the home launched a $2 million expansion project to increase the home’s capacity.
-- Chamber Family Award: Vahaviolos family of Sam’s Seafood Steakhouse and Romana’s Pizzeria, both of Johnstown. Sam Vahaviolos opened Romana’s Pizzeria with two partners in 1974. In 2009, he purchased the former Ponderosa Restaurant on Route 30. He had planned to move Romana’s there, but ended up opening Sam’s there instead. Both businesses employ 75 people. Sam’s sons, Dino and Tryfonos Vahaviolos, and Tryfonos’ his wife, Antonia, run the operations now. The family has supported the chamber and the local community for many years, helping it earn the family award.
-- Edward L. Wilkinson Industry of the Year Award: Euphrates Inc. Euphrates makes feta cheese at a facility in Johnstown that employs more than 100 people. The facility ships more than 1 million pounds of cheese each month. Euphrates is also the sister-company to Chobani Inc., the producer of Chobani Greek yogurt. Hamdi Ulukaya, president and CEO of both Chobani Inc. and Euphrates Inc., recently received the Entrepreneurial Success of the Year for 2012 from the federal Small Business Administration based on dramatic growth in sales, employees and business size as well as charitable contributions.
-- Small Business of the Year Award: Dolci LLC. Lisa Vertucci started her business on the south side of Amsterdam in 2010. She said she struggled and succeeded through long hours and construction detours and that she donates generously within the community. The award recognizes her dedicated investment in the community and participation in chamber programs.
-- Thomas B. Constantino Entrepreneurial Award: Sherry Wieszchowski of SW Skincare & Cosmetics. Wieszchowski opened her business in 2010 with a 150-square-foot treatment room in Johnstown. The business now occupies 1,500 square feet and employs five people, offering massages, nail treatments and other services. She is the New York/New Jersey-area trainer for a treatment device used to remove skin tags, fibromas and other skin irregularities and is the area distributor for several beauty care products. In addition, she has served as a guest instructor at the Aesthetics Science Institute and was a contributor to the Milady Standard Make-up Book. Wieszchowski attributes much of her success to her chamber membership.
-- Young Professional of the Year Award: Dr. David Kwiat of Kwiat Eye & Laser Surgery. Kwiat has grown his medical practice to the point that it is the largest ophthalmic practice in a six-county area. He also provides LASIK surgery. In September 2012, he broke ground on a $1 million eye surgery center in the town of Amsterdam. The project is privately funded. The chamber award recognizes the 38-year-old’s entrepreneurial spirit and contributions to the area.