May 17, 2014 10:57 am  • 


What struck me about this year’s Best of the Region contest compared to previous years was the obvious pervasiveness of digital marketing that the winners used to reach out to their customers and fans. I was not the only member of the Times Media Co. audience receiving reminder messages to get online and vote from our most socially-connected clients. As Jeff Strack reiterates in this issue of Best of the Region, his contact information is on every shopping bag that leaves the store, so I guess it’s not surprising that out of the top 20 vote-getters Strack and Van Til is number one in total votes and came in second for number of votes in a single category for Best Grocery Store. (Centier was the leader in single category votes with just slightly more votes cast for Best Bank.) Congratulations go out to all the winners and the more than 8,000 readers who registered and voted. Our Best of contest tallied 93,309 ballot votes and 11,379 write-ins---an unprecedented number likely due to a new software program with more flexibility to accommodate our readers demand to shine a light on businesses not on the ballot---for a total of 104,688 votes.

After Strack’s the other 19 who received the most votes this year: 2. Fransciscan Alliance; 3. Center Bank; 4. Drive & Shine; 5. The City of Crown Point; 6. Lighthouse Restaurant; 7. Three Floyds; 8. Cooper’s Hawk; 9. Four Winds Casino; 10. Ciao Bella; 11. Lucrezia; 12. Community Hospital; 13. Grindhouse Café; 14. Purdue University Calumet; 15. Butterfingers; 16. Meijer; 17. Horseshoe Casino; 18. Round the Clock; 19. Buffalo Wild Wings and 20. City of Chicago. In single category totals there were some surprises and more than a few experiences I have to add to my to-do list this summer. Drive & Shine for Best Car Wash came in right behind Strack’s and then Crown Point came in twice winning the Best Downtown (NWI) as well as Best Place to Live (NWI). Best Hamburger was the next top vote category won by Schoops followed by Best Coffee won by Dunkin Donuts. Next the Warsaw Inn appeared for Best Polish Food; Three Floyds for Best Microbrewery (In a side note Three Floyds won Best Chef this year, congratulations!) ; and Asparagus was the winner for Best Asian Food. Buffalo Wild Wings, according to my sources, always wins Best Place for Chicken Wings and next we had Drive & Shine winning again for Best Oil Change and Chase scoring a lot of votes in the Best Bank category. The 49er in Valparaiso was unsurprisingly a top vote-getter for Best Drive-In and next on the list was House of Kobe for Asian Food. Community Hospital for Best Hospital; Starbucks for Best Coffee and AMC for Best Movie Theater placed in the top 20 vote categories. The last three? Butterfingers for Best Bakery, Chicago for Best Downtown (IL) and The Lighthouse for Best Fine Dining Restaurant.

As I said earlier, we had so many write-in votes this year. So many write-in winners proves that small businesses can prevail if they give it a try. We added more than 462 businesses to the ballot because they had more than five votes in their category. Those that went on to win/show/place are posted in the online version of this letter, so please access that list at

o Dr. Galante, in Best Cosmetic Surgery Center (2nd)

o Anytime Fitness, in Best Health & Fitness Club (3rd)

o Produce Depot, in Best Health Food Store (3rd)

o Bridges Scoreboard, in Best Bar/Lounge (2nd)

o Three Floyds, in Best Bar/Lounge (3rd)

o The Super Bowl, in Best Bowling Alley (3rd)

o Covered Bridge Festival, in Best Festival (Non-local) (2nd)

o Crown Brewing, in Best Microbrewery (2nd)

o Bellaboo's, Best Place for a Child's Birthday Party (2nd)

o House of Kobe, in Best Asian Food (2nd)

o BC Osaka, in Best Asian Food (3rd)

o Designer Desserts, in Best Bakery (2nd)

o Calumet Bakery, in Best Bakery (3rd)

o Grindhouse Café, in Best Coffee (3rd)

o Lighthouse Restaurant, in Best Fine Dining (1st)

o Five Guys, in Best Hamburgers (2nd)

o Portillo's, in Best Hotdog (1st)

o Arnie's Dog House, in Best Hotdog (2nd)

o La Carreta, in Best Mexican Food (2nd)

o Panera Bread, in Best Sandwich (2nd)

o Grindhouse Café, in Best Sandwich (3rd)

o Bridges Scoreboard, in Best Place for Chicken Wings (3rd)

o Grindhouse Café, in Best Place for Lunch (1st)

o Panera Bread, in Best Place for Lunch (3rd)

o Lighthouse Restaurant, in Best Seafood (1st)

o Red Lobster, in Best Seafood (3rd)

o Bridges Scoreboard, in Best Sports Bar & Grill (2nd)

o Grimmer's Service, in Best Car Repair Shop (2nd)

o Four Seasons, in Best Heating and Cooling (2nd)

o Rizo Insurance Agency, in Best Insurance Agent (2nd)

o Kristen Garza Photography, in Best Photography Studio (1st)

o Stephen Martin Photography, in Best Photography Studio (2nd)

o Matt Bigelow Photography, in Best Photography Studio (3rd)

o St. John Animal Clinic, in Best Veterinarian (1st)

o McAfee Animal Hospital, in Best Veterinarian (2nd)

o Old Green Shutters Antiques, in Best Antique Shop (2nd)

o John Cicco's Menswear, in Best Men's Clothing Store (3rd)

o Walgreens, in Best Pharmacy (1st)

o CVS, in Best Pharmacy (2nd)

o Beef Mart, in Best Place to Buy Meat & Poultry (3rd)

o Produce Depot, in Best Place to Buy Produce (2nd)

Among the write-ins and new businesses that stood out in the voting this year were Grindhouse Café and Bridges Scoreboard. Grindhouse posted on their Facebook page that it would be a shame if a national brand would win best of the region, and voters heeded the call and flooded the ballot. In the end, there were too many Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks drinkers, but for a while they were in the lead of one of our most popular categories. The biggest change in voting was how write-ins were handled. In previous years, write-in votes had to be tallied separately. This year write-ins were on the ballot’s drop down menu in each category and that change accounted for a 1300% increase.

You have to hand it to the businesses who continue to rise to the top each year including Purdue Calumet, It's Just Serendipity, Maruszczak Appliance, Butterfinger's Bakery, Centier, Avalon Manor, Strack & Van Til, Albert's and Stardust Bowl. So congratulations and keep up the good (net)work(ing). This year we added two new categories: lighting and credit union. We noticed that we had numerous businesses that belonged in those worlds more than any other.

Next year, the nomination process will drop businesses on the current ballot who didn't receive a certain percentage of the vote in each category. So my advice is to act like a winner and get into the game early and often by working with your clients and friends in 2015.

Congratulations to all the winners and our terrific readers and voters!

Chris White


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