Monday, December 7, 2015

Matt Miller: Special businesses do indeed show the Spirit of Solano

Matt Miller: Special businesses do indeed show the Spirit of Solano

By Matt Miller, The Reporter, Vacaville

Posted: 12/05/15, 5:18 PM PST | Updated: 1 day ago

The Spirit of Solano was indeed alive and well on Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fairfield as the county’s business community gathered for its annual luncheon honoring companies that thrive among us.

The stories were warm and genuine from this year’s recipients in regards to their love of the region and the humbleness to which they credit their success. Local chambers honored 10 businesses in this the 20th anniversary gala sponsored by Westamerica Bank and the Solano Economic Development Corporation.

Vacaville’s Chamber of Commerce honored Ernest and Ken Sousa this year from Stars Recreation Center. It was more than appropriate to honor this family that has brought family entertainment to the county for more than 50 years. The Sousa family opened Stars in 1998 and who among us hasn’t spent time on their lanes and in their arcade sharing time with our own families.

“It’s a true honor,” said Bill Bollman, the bowling center manager who accepted the award along with banquet manager Kelly Thaanum. “This is really great fun. It’s what we do. We sell fun.”

The Sousa’s opened Fairfield Bowl in 1957 before moving to Vacaville and opening Vaca Bowl in 1986. Stars is greatly involved in the community through events like Grad Night, Girls Scout lock-ins and the Gotcha program that honors some of the top middle school and high school students in the district.

Bollman talked about the Special Olympics athletes that bowl every Saturday in preparation for an upcoming tournament. The joy they exude is contagious and he said it is what make his job so much fun.

Dixon’s honoree this year was the famed Dixon Florist & Gift Shop. Kevin Johnson from the Dixon Chamber was amazed and a bit apologetic that this community icon hadn’t been honored before with its 50 years of exceptional service. Courtney Kett runs the business with her sisters Melissa Taylor and Dana Martin as a proud family venture. Step into the store at times of the year like Christmas and it is a winter wonderland.

The Dixon Florist and & Gift Shop also gives to multiple causes in the community. As one customer said in their biographical information in the program, “You come in as a customer, but you go out as a friend.”

The Spirit of Solano stories were endless. Elease Minor was honored by the Solano County Black Chamber of Commerce for her construction company Important Details Inc. Minor retired as an executive at the University of California, San Francisco to fulfill her dream of owning her own construction company.

Minor not only has a passion for her business, but she also has a passion for helping mothers and children and giving back to the community. She assists with Heather House to improve their operational structure and assist clients with work and stability.

Miriam Sammartino lived with her family in the United States for many years without legal status. After a career in microbiology and quality control, she now practice law with a focus on Children, Family and the Law, as well as Public Interest-Elder Law. Sammartino has a law office in Fairfield and was honored by the Solano Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Randy Blakenchip was at a crossroads in his life. He asked for financial assistance from family and opened a Texas Roadhouse franchise in Fairfield. He now serves an amazing 32,000 guests a month at the popular restaurant and out of the 450 Texas Roadhouse franchises his is ranked No. 6.

Blakenchip hasn’t forgotten his community, either. Among the many service projects he has taken on is serving more than 1,000 veterans this past Veteran’s Day and hosting a dine-in event for firemen and families that were involved in the California wildfires.

The Vallejo Chamber of Commerce honored Touro University and its amazing growth at historic Mare Island. Rio Vista’s Chamber recognized Lira’s Supermarket, owned with love by Jim and Shirley Lira. It is indeed a family business with the Lira children now involved.

Other winners included Tony and Sherry LoForte of Zio Fraedo’s of Vallejo by the Filipino-American Chamber; Travis Armstrong and Republic Services-Solano Garbage Company by the Fairfield-Suisun Chamber; and, Todd Bigelow from Round Table Pizza of Benicia by the Benicia Chamber.

Congratulations to all the recipients.

The author is managing editor of The Reporter. E-mail him at