On Thursday, November 15 at Garvan’s, the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce will once again confer its annual Business Recognition Awards to three local businesses and entrepreneurs who have been nominated by their peers as making notable contributions to the vibrancy of the town’s economy while being good corporate citizens. Tickets for individual attendees, tables and sponsorships for the awards dinner are available now at http://web.newpaltzchamber.org/events/2018-Business-Recognition-Awards-1303/details.
The gala event kicks off with an open bar from 6 to 7 p.m., followed by the awards ceremony, congratulatory speeches and merrymaking until 9 p.m. “Heavy hors d’oeuvres throughout the evening” are promised — presumably meaning that you won’t really need dinner before or afterwards — topped off by Garvan’s signature Guinness Chocolate Cake. Door prizes and plenty of opportunity for networking with local professionals are also on the menu.
The honors fall into three categories most years, with a Lifetime Achievement Award also bestowed on rare occasions. There’s always the Entrepreneur of the Year, recognizing an entrepreneur or businessperson who has “achieved extraordinary accomplishments in business or shown dedication and commitment to furthering business in Hudson Valley.” The 2018 winner in that category will be Jeremy Phillips, proprietor of Schatzi’s. The Excellence in Business Award recognizes a “leader in its field” that “has demonstrated a commitment to its employees, customers and clients and to furthering business in the Hudson Valley.” This year’s winner is the Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation. And finally, there’s the Commitment to the Community Award, meant to recognize “an outstanding individual or organization that has improved the quality of life in the Hudson Valley.” The 2018 Commitment to the Community Award goes to Ed Kowalski, proprietor of Lola’s Café.
Thematically, this year’s Entrepreneur of the Year and Commitment to the Community Award-winner are linked, perhaps not coincidentally. Both Phillips and Kowalski are restaurateurs who established reputations for running fun eateries with great food in the City of Poughkeepsie. Both parlayed their success on the east bank of the Hudson into satellite operations on its west side that took off and established themselves with comparable popularity, tweaked in tone to accommodate New Paltz’s Boho social vibe.
The original Schatzi’s Pub & Bier Garden opened in August 2013 at 202 Main Street in Poughkeepsie. “Schatzi’s quickly became a local favorite, catering to a growing craft beer culture but steeping its roots in German food and beer. This instant success allowed Jeremy the opportunity to expand his brand,” Chamber marketing director Kati Haynes relates in her bios for the awardees. “Being a New Paltz native, it was always a dream of his to own a business in the town he grew up in. As fate would have it, the perfect space became available and Jeremy was able to open his second location” at 36 Main Street in New Paltz in February of 2015.
Ed Kowalski can claim a similar success story, enrolling in the Culinary Institute of America in 1996 and launching Lola’s Café & Catering in Poughkeepsie in 2005. He had already won a slew of awards, including 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year from the Dutchess County Economic Development Corporation and several “Best Lunch” nods from Hudson Valley Magazine, even before opening his New Paltz Lola’s Café location at 49 Main Street — the former home of Neko Sushi — in 2017. Kowalski also used to run Crave in Poughkeepsie, but recently repurposed that space on Washington Street, right near the entrance to Walkway over the Hudson, into a new business called Lolita’s Pizza.
As for the Excellence in Business Award, everyone knows what Central Hudson does, and most of us as consumers of electricity and gas have a long-running love/hate relationship with the company. It seems likely that part of the reason the utility is being honored is its tradition of corporate philanthropy. “As part of the company’s commitment to the region, more than $730,000 was provided to local not-for-profit agencies and small business organizations by Central Hudson and its 1,100 employees during 2017, with more than $7 million in such contributions provided during the last 10 years. In addition, employees volunteer thousands of hours in support of agencies by raising funds, serving in leadership roles and fulfilling organizational missions,” reads the awardee bio.
Possibly, the Chamber saw fit to give the utility company, which serves about 89,000 Ulster County customers, a pat on the back for its willingness to compromise this past year on a requested rate increase. When first submitted in mid-2017, Central Hudson’s proposal was for an 11.6 percent increase in electric rates over three years. Following a vigorous consumer opposition campaign, the company agreed nearly a year later to a plan that will increase electric bills for the average residential customer by 1.33 percent in the first year, 2.99 percent in the second year and 4.41 percent in the third year. In addition, the fixed monthly rate for electricity will be reduced from the current $24 by $3 the first year, another $1 the second year and another 50 cents in the third year. Citizens for Local Power director Jen Metzger called the reduction in the fixed rate “an important victory for fairness in our electricity rates, because bills will be more closely tied to how much power customers actually use.”
Want to bear witness to Central Hudson collecting its brownie points for toning down the bad news to power consumers? Want to congratulate Ed Kowalski and Jeremy Phillips, and maybe even cadge a favorite Lola’s or Schatzi’s recipe? Or just want to schmooze with the movers and shakers in New Paltz’s entrepreneurial circles? Call the Chamber at (845) 255-0243 or visit www.newpaltzchamber.org for more info about the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce 2018 Business Recognition Awards. Garvan’s Gastropub is located at 215 Huguenot Street.