Friday, December 4, 2015

The Spirit of Solano evident in annual event

The Spirit of Solano evident in annual event

A crowd of more than 300 schmoozes Thursday just before the start of the 20th Annual Spirit of Solano Awards event in Fairfield. Rachel Raskin-Zrihen — times-herald

When Zio Fraedo owners Tony and Sherry LoForte, first decided to open a restaurant in Vallejo, people wondered why, Tony LoForte said during his remarks as a recipient of a Spirit of Solano Award on Thursday.
“It’s a tough town, they said,” LoForte said. “And, it is a tough town, but we’re tough people.”
But Vallejo and its people have welcomed the couple and their business, he said.
“People love us,” he said. “They see we work hard and when they get a chance, they come see us.”
The LoFortes were selected by the Filipino-American Chamber of Commerce of Solano County, Inc., as its Spirit of Solano Award winner at the 20th annual luncheon event, held at Fairfield’s Hilton Garden Inn. More than 300 people squeezed into a banquet room there for the event, and officials said some 30 people had to be turned away.

The room in which the event was held was dressed up for the holidays, with two decorated Christmas trees and tables festooned with poinsettia center-pieces.
The venue also overflowed with local, regional and state elected officials or their representatives, business leaders and other dignitaries from all Solano County cities and chambers of commerce.
Each chamber selects a business that exemplifies its ethos of great customer service and community service, to receive this honor each year. Images of this year’s winners, and winners from the past were projected onto a screen at the front of the room during the event, which was co-sponsored by WestAmerica Bank and the Solano EDC.

A common thread among the winners seemed to be a love of and a commitment to their communities.
Vallejo Chamber of Commerce board president Carol Larson introduced Marilyn Hopkins of Touro Universtity, the chamber’s selection for this years honor, which she described as a local “gem,” and 15-year chamber member.
In that time, Touro, which, she said, “was founded on the Jewish traditions of valuing social justice, the pursuit of knowledge and service to humanity,” has been “a great neighbor and community partner.”

Accepting the award on Touro’s behalf, provost Marilyn Hopkins said school officials are aware of Mare Island’s storied history and are working to create a new history on the site by conducting important research on subjects like obesity and preparing people for careers in Osteopathic Medicine, pharmacy, teaching and nursing as well as holding free health clinics, blood drives and more throughout the community.
The Vacaville Chamber of Commerce named Ernest and Ken Sousa of Stars Recreation Center as its winner this year, which began as a Fairfield bowling alley in 1957, and moved to Vacaville and expanded in 1986.

“It’s fun and easy to do what we do, because that’s what we do – we sell fun,” Sousa said.
The Law Office of Miriam Sammartino was the Solano Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s pick this year.
“Miriam was a microbiologist when she was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease,” and decided to go with her passion — helping Hispanic community members with their immigration issues, a chamber board spokeswoman Andrea Garcia said.
“The chamber has really encouraged me to provide the services that I do,” Sammartino said.

Elease Minor of Important Details, Inc. — the Solano County Black Chamber’s honoree — used the unique opportunity to plug her new woman-owned, environmentally conscious construction business during her remarks, after chamber spokeswoman Peggy Cohen Thompson enumerated a long list of community service work Minor’s done over the years, particularly in helping homeless families.
Travis Armstrong accepted the award for Republic Services-Solano Garbage Company — motto: We’ll handle it from here — the Fairfield-Suisun Chamber’s Suisun City honoree, while Randy Blankenchip, accepted for Texas Roadhouse — the Fairfield honoree.

Blankenchip described his opening the franchise restaurant six years ago as “a miracle.”
After 30 years in the restaurant business, Blankenchip changed careers, but about 8 ½ years ago, lost his job, his home and his father-in-law in rapid succession. At about that time, the Texas Roadhouse company asking if he’d consider opening a location.
“I prayed about it and promised if He helped this happen, I’d give back to the community,” he said. “God’s blessed us and I’ve kept my promise.”
The spokeswoman for the Dixon chamber’s selection, Dixon Florist & Gift Shop said hers is a family business since 1962, with a tradition of community service.

“Our parents taught us that you don’t just live in a community, you create the community you want to live in,” she said.
Benicia’s Todd Bigelow of Round Table Pizza said he and his father have been partners in the business for 24 years, and it’s “been a heck of a ride.”
Jim Lira of Rio Vista’s Lira’s Supermarket said he was born there to a dairy farming family and in 1965 went to work in a supermarket — an experience he “cherishes.”
In 1990 the store went bankrupt, and a friend, Bill Dutra, “wrote me a check for $750,000,” to resurrect it.

“He gave me a chance and he’s still my partner.”
The store now is run by Lira’s son and daughter and they all remain committed to their employees and the community, he said.
“Our community put us where we are today and anything we can do to help our community, that’s what we’ll do,” he said.
Contact Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at (707) 553-6824.