What do a well-established downtown dental studio, wild hog trapping business, balloon shop, nutrition company, café and restaurant have in common?
All took home awards Tuesday at the Abilene Chamber of Commerce’s 2022 Small Business Tribute Awards Luncheon.
The event at 201 Mesquite saw two companies – Key City Dental Studio and Hitman Hog Trapping – honored with awards from the Small Business Administration.
Front Porch Coffee & Bakery Co., Jane of All Trades, Jason Hodges of Chike Nutrition and Cypress Street Station were also honoured, with the companies offering advice to future entrepreneurs while telling their own stories.
“Our small business community is truly the backbone of our economy,” said Doug Peters, president and CEO of the chamber. “We recognize the dedication and courage it takes to be an entrepreneur and small business owner.”
Pearly whites and wild pigs
Key City Dental offers general, cosmetic and emergency dental services. It won the SBA’s Small Business of the Year award for Abilene.
Dr Karen Key said the practice she and hygienist Jamie Harper started was a chance to open a business that worked well on their own schedules, while focusing on patients.
“We are a very small office – only four people work there,” she said. “We never overbook so people don’t wait for hours at the office. It’s very laid back, and we have a great view and it’s very friendly.”
Pete Leija is the owner of Hitman Hog Trapping, which won the SBA Veteran-Owned Small Business of the Year award for Abilene.
Leija’s business involves feral hogs, coyotes, and big cat eradication.
He said his award was an “incredible achievement”, but only possible “because of the affiliation we have with the chamber and the (Texas Tech Small Business Development Center in Abilene)”.
“Abilene is a small business,” he said.
Leija is retired after a 32-year career in the Air Force.
The other winners this year are:
► Front Porch Coffee & Bakery Co., New Business of the Year
Front Porch Coffee & Bakery Co. is a cafe and bakery that serves artisan coffee as well as homemade baked goods, breakfast/brunch options, lunch sandwiches and desserts.
Owners Zach and Kara Sheets said in a video presentation at the awards show that the joy of having a small business is an opportunity to serve people, providing an opportunity to share their Christian faith, hospitality and community with people of all ages, backgrounds and moods.
It was this desire, Kara Sheets said, that led her and her husband to open up.
“One of the cool things about being in Abilene and being here in West Texas is the heart of the welcome and support,” Zach Sheets said.
►Jane of All Trades, Small Business Community Investment Award
Jane of All Trades is a custom balloon design company that offers a variety of balloon arrangements, backdrops, accessories, and more.
“I started my business to have something that belongs to me, something that I’m proud of,” owner Vanessa De La Rosa said. “I stayed in this business because of the amount of support that showed me I could actually do this as a livelihood.”
Her greatest reward is “the sense of wonder it brings to people,” she said, upon seeing her creations.
De La Rosa said his advice to anyone looking to start a business would be to “just do it,” even though it can be difficult.
►Chike Nutrition’s Jason Hodges, Small Business Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award
Chike Nutrition and Next Level Nutraceuticals is a nationally and internationally distributed brand and nutritional and dietary supplement powder drink and copack manufacturing company in Abilene.
Originally producing products in a 15,000 square foot facility off Ridgemont Drive, Next Level expanded operations in 2020 to a state-of-the-art 51,000 square foot blending and processing facility off East Stamford Street. , with continued development for 183,000 square feet this year.
The company started in 2010, Hodges said, with the goal of making a difference in the lives of its customers and employees.
Her advice for starting a business is to do your due diligence, while also focusing on community building.
►Cypress Street Station, Family Business of the Year Award
When Cypress Street’s original owner Brian Green died in 2015, “the community rallied around the family until a ‘suitable suitor’ for the business presented itself,” the chamber said in A press release.
New owners Terry and Amanda O’Connor have spent over 40 collective years working in the restaurant industry.
“One of the things that really drove Terry and me into this business was the wonderful memories that are made around a family dinner table,” Amanda O’Connor said. “Whether you’re celebrating a birthday, a new marriage, a new job, the memories that are made around the dining room table are very special for families.”
Terry O’Connor said he was “really, really touched by how the Abilene community has embraced us and Cypress Street Station” throughout the transition.
Bringing passion to the table is key to success in small business, said Amanda O’Connor.
“You have to love what you do,” she said.
Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for Abilene Reporter-News. If you enjoy local news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.