HAVERHILL — A variety of businesses running the gamut from longtime established ones to up-and-coming new ones were highlighted during the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce's 29th annual Business Awards Breakfast on Friday at the Atkinson Country Club.
The event, which drew a crowd of more than 200 people, honored outstanding business achievements, noteworthy community contributions and exceptional industry performance across a variety of trades.
This year's Business of the Year award went to Cedar's Mediterranean Foods, which recently expanded and will add 125 jobs to the local economy in addition to its existing 750 employees, making Cedar's the largest private employer in Haverhill.
Cedar's is involved in the community in other ways, too.
The company donated $25,000 to the YMCA’s Backpack Food Program this past fall to ensure local students have access to healthy foods when school is not in session and they don't have access to free or reduced-price lunch.
Aimee Tsakirellis, director of marketing for Cedar's Foods, stepped up to the podium next to Tracy Fuller, regional executive director of the Haverhill and Plaistow YMCAs.
"This is a significant need in Haverhill, as students who miss meals are more likely to struggle academically and experience social and behavioral challenges," Fuller said. "Aimee was thrilled to support addressing the need for food insecurity."
Fuller said Cedar's donation is used to buy food for families. On Fridays, bags of nutritious groceries are sent home with children identified through Haverhill Public Schools.
The program was introduced at Golden Hill Elementary School, with the hopes of expanding it to other schools.
In the Women in Business category, the Chamber chose two recipients: HamdAllah Olona, founder and creator of a healthy snack called GoodieKrunch, and Jen Bevilacqua, creator of Empowered Body, a lifestyle, nutrition and fitness business.
The event's emcee, Chamber President and CEO Dougan Sherwood, presented Keith Boucher of MakeIT Haverhill with the President’s Citation for Innovation, which recognizes an individual who shares the Chamber’s vision for business growth through the lens of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Boucher launched MakeIT Haverhill in the Mount Washington neighborhood in 2019 as a way to provide employment, education and skills training necessary to match job seekers with employers.
State Reps. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, and Andy Vargas, D-Haverhill, presented the Chamber's John E. Ratka award to U.S. Army Lt. General (Retired) John D. Gardner, whose focus since retiring in 2012 has turned toward addressing nationwide issues that affect economic inequality.
Gardner, who lives in Virginia, is leading a pilot program called "HP3: The Haverhill Public Private Partnership," which is designed to help students who finish high school get on a path to earning a true living-wage job.
The award, which was introduced at last year's breakfast, was created in memory of Ratka, the longtime director of Veterans Northeast Outreach Center in Haverhill who served 26 years in the U.S. Navy. Ratka died Jan. 12, 2019, after a short illness.
The event also honored the 12 businesses that received the Business of the Month awards for 2019.
Other recipients of awards were:
* Art & Culture - Be Imagine Music
* Education - Whittier Regional Vo-Tech High School.
* Family-Owned Business - Fantini Baking Co.
* Healthcare - The Movement Strength and Conditioning
* Manufacturing - Kettle Pizza
* Pioneer - Caroline Pineau/Stem LLC
* Restaurant - La Pizza Di Forno
* Retail/Wholesale - Moderno Appliance & Furniture
* Rising Star - Michael Caras/Guaranteed Rate
* Rookie of the Year - FLHY Kicks
* Service for Nonprofit - COCO Brown
* Service for Profit - MTM Insurance of Greater Haverhill
* Technology - Uncommon Catalyst
* Volunteer - Taisha Madero