Californian rolls out the red carpet for the Best of East County 2016 winners
You voted. And as readers of The East County Californian chose for recognition as the Best of East County 2016 received their awards on the evening of Feb. 9. Voting proceeded over a three month period.
Albert Fulcher, editor of The East County Californian said, “I was really elated to see the turnout at our first Best of East County reception. It was amazing to see the diversity of our community, whether it be businesses, non-profits, community leaders and the people recognized through our readers’ voting. With the wide range of communities that The East County Californian represents, this was truly a one of a kind event. It is my hope that we are able to continue this celebration well into the future as the nature of the event provided a casual atmosphere for our community to come together from all walks of life, and share each other’s stories.”
San Diego Neighborhood Newspapers, the publishing group for The East County Californian, hosted the first red carpet reception honoring the award recipients, staging a festive party at the Olaf Wieghorst Museum in El Cajon.
Earlene Hollmichel, executive director of the Wieghorst Museum said, “This is exciting. This is a good opportunity for exposure for the museum.” The Olaf Wieghorst Museum and Western Heritage Center won the Gold Star Award for Best Art Gallery 2016, and has won this award multiple times previously in earlier Best of East County competitions, although some other award recipients attending the reception were first-time visitors to the museum.
Fulcher expressed appreciation for the museum. “The Olaf Wieghorst Museum was the perfect venue for this event, allowing guests to network both inside and outside in its beautiful garden. So many were impressed with this hidden treasure in the heart of downtown El Cajon,” he said. “Earlene Hollmichel was incredible to work with and a gracious host. And the art that the museum well represents the East County history and the people that choose to live there.”
John Moreno, SDNN group publisher, described the inspiration behind the event.
“We realize the importance of small businesses to the local communities our newspapers serve. We wanted to do something special to honor that sense of community, to make the award winners feel special. We decided a red carpet reception party would bring together every winner in a beautiful sense of community, with local high ranking elected officials honored right alongside East County’s best postal carriers and best waitresses,” he said
The two women recognized as East County’s Best Waitresses for 2016 both said that they were humbled and honored by their awards. Penny Romensas, who has waitressed for 23 years, works at her family’s Omelette Factory in Santee. She received the Silver Star Award in the Best East County Waitress voting.
“I am dedicated to what I do,” she said. She began working at an early age in her father’s coffee shop diner in Chicago. “I love being around people,” she continued. “Serving other people is good to do, not a chore at all. It is an honor to be appreciated with this award. This is really special, and I was shocked at receiving this award. It is the people who make the community. Family businesses like ours are the foundation of the community.”
Similarly, Pam Nutt, Gold Star Award winner as Best of East County Waitress, spoke about her 35 years of waitressing as something much more than a simple job.
“It’s an honor being recognized,” she said. She currently works at El Cajon’s Downtown Café, which she described as a family restaurant, where she can treat patrons as almost-family members. Nutt has deep East County roots. She used to bartend and waitress at the Hungry Hunter, where she often served Olaf Wieghorst, and he sketched simple artwork. Nutt plans to retire from waitressing soon, to accompany her husband on travel in a motor home touring the country.
San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob again this year was chosen by readers for the Gold Award as East County’s Best Elected Official. Jacob has the longest standing record of winning Gold Star status throughout Best of East County voting history. She said, “I appreciate this honor and being recognized by the people I represent.”
And celebrate in proper East County style these honorees from all different walks of life, the party did. Photographers snapped pictures of award recipients on the red carpet. Catering staffers from Casa De Pico, voted the Best Mexican Restaurant for 2016, served up delicious carnitas street tacos partnered with guacamole and pico de gallo salsa on the outdoor cactus garden patio at the Wieghorst Museum grounds.
Granite Lions Cellars filled partygoers’ glasses with a choice among two red and two white wines. The Jamul-based winery, in operation since 2014, has a tasting room and vineyard open on weekends and by appointment. Beer drinkers were not neglected, as Grantville-based Groundswell Brewing Company celebrated its recently acquired additional East County location in Santee, pouring a choice between the mild, easy-to-quaff First Date Blonde Ale (4.8 percent ABV) and the heftier, flavorful white IPA called Undulation (6.4 percent ABV). Both beers are tasty, flavorful brews that paired very well with the carnitas tacos. Katherine Brozowski, owner of Wild Orchid Florist in El Cajon, donated flowers. Although unable to attend, all winners received Certificates of Recognitions from the offices of Assemblyman Randy Voepel and State Sen. Joel Anderson. Jazz guitar gave a great atmosphere to the event with Grossmont College Music Department’s Professor of Music Jeff Hofmockel with great chops and a nice set of changes to blow over.
Fulcher summed up the personal cheerful gathering.
“Personally, I got to meet with old friends and meet some new ones,” he said. “I believe it is important that these winners are recognized, as they are chosen by their peers. It also allows our neighboring communities the chance to branch out and experience new places that were chosen. It is not only good for the winners, but the Reader’s Poll also is an excellent review of places that many might never have heard of before or been to. I know that I have frequently visited winners in the past, just because they were winners and I wanted to find out more about them, visit their business and see why they were voted in as Gold and Silver Star winners. We had some long-standing winners as well as a lot of new places that made their mark on East County quickly. Seeing success in action is a wonderful thing to witness. And that is what this is all about, those that are succeeding in making East County a better place to live.”
Swag bags that were provided to all the awardees, courtesy of AT&T, included cards from St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center artists, restaurant coupons, personal hygiene items and a wine bottle opener and stopper set sponsored by Viejas Casino. Winners of the night’s opportunity drawing were Keller-Williams Realty, who won the flowers. Winners of free one-year subscriptions went the Lemon Grove Historical Society and Millicent & Co.