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Celebrating the best in Bemidji business

Lueken’s Village Foods took home the Business of the Year Award at the Bemidji Chamber of Commerce’s 15th annual Awards of Excellence event on Thursday at the Hampton Inn and Suites. Pictured from left are award presenter Kelly La Venture, and representatives from Lueken’s, Eric Adams, Shaylee Stately, Leon Merck, Christine Mills, Mike McNiel and award presenter Andy Bartlett. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
Travis Guida, owner of the Character Challenge Course in Park Rapids, gives the keynote address at the 15th annual Awards of Excellence event hosted by the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday at the Hampton Inn and Suites. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 2 / 2

BEMIDJI—The best of the business community was celebrated Thursday at the annual Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce Awards of Excellence.

Lueken's Village Foods earned the title Business of the Year, its second time winning the honor. Lueken's was one of five businesses receiving awards as part of the Chamber's 15th annual ceremony. A grocery store company in Bemidji for decades, Lueken's last shared the Business of the Year title in 2013 with Bar 209.

"We're very excited to have won the award and would like to thank everyone who gave their vote," Lueken's CEO Leon Merck said. "We want to continue to work with the community and be part of Bemidji, and serve our customers here the best we can."

Recent past Business of the Year winners include Concordia Language Village and United Way of Bemidji Area, which tied for the title in 2018, Ottertail Power Co. in 2017 and Bemidji Brewing in 2016.

Other winners named Thursday were:

• Stittsworth Meats new mobile slaughter unit and smokehouse for New Business of the Year.

• Both the Sanford Health Foundation and the Boys and Girls Club of the Bemidji Area for were recognized with the Community Impact Award.

• The Leach Brothers Group (Bar 209, Red Stu Breakfast Bar) was named Entrepreneur of the Year.

• Knife River Materials for Healthy Workplace of the Year.

Along with those awards, the Chamber also took time Thursday to recognize the participants in the Bemidji Business Gives program. There are now 20 businesses in the program, where companies are recognized for giving contributions of 2 percent or more of their pretax earnings to charitable organizations.

"The goal for this program is to motivate, educate and recognize businesses in local communities throughout Minnesota for their community involvement activities," Chamber President Deb Pfaff said. "Regardless of the economy, businesses are committed to giving back to their communities... They support food shelves, senior centers, community events and many other projects and programs."

While the Charlie Naylor Lifetime Achievement Award is usually given during the annual awards banquet, scheduling conflicts pushed this year's presentation to the Chamber's annual gala in September.

Thursday's Keynote Speaker was Travis Guida of the Character Challenge Course Co. near Park Rapids.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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