EPIC finalists are community cornerstones


Johnny Brann Jr. opened Kitchen 67 early last fall.

An event that combines three celebrations must be truly epic.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce fourth annual EPIC Awards will be presented Wednesday night during a celebration from 5:30-8 p.m. at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. The EPIC Awards are the result of three former chamber functions: the Minority Business Celebration, Salute to West Michigan Business and Small Business Celebration.

Seventeen nominees in six categories are under consideration for awards. These companies and organizations “exhibit an entrepreneurial, progressive, innovative and collaborative culture that sets them apart from others,” according to the chamber. Individuals and companies that acted as mentors or collaborators were given special consideration.

Finalists went through a three-step process to reach this point. After a company or person was nominated, they were sent an award application to complete. A selection committee of prominent community leaders and past recipients reviewed all nomination forms and selected up to three finalists for each award. The selection committee then interviewed finalists the week of March 25 to determine the recipient for each award.

Cost to attend is $60 for members, $85 for nonmembers and $750 for corporate tables of 10.

Company owners were asked to provide a short explanation of their services. The following profiles are descriptions provided by the company owners.



ENCOMPASS was founded in 2000 by Alison Brown as a “spinoff” of the Blodgett and Butterworth hospitals’ Employee Assistance Programs, which allowed for the expansion of services to better serve the internal and external customer in the community. The formation of ENCOMPASS LLC as a woman-owned business has enabled Brown to give more in-depth focus to the realm and niche of EAP services. She concentrated her efforts and energy on developing a business plan that would transition EAP from being part of a large and well-established business to a small, viable and independent business. This required a significant investment of time and money, along with painstaking communication processes to solicit feedback and explore ideas with its internal and external customers. Over the past decade, ENCOMPASS has exhibited tremendous growth beginning with a staff of 5.5 people to now a staff of 20 people. ENCOMPASS attributes its success to a strong commitment to its mission, vision, values and innovation.

Micro Visions Inc. 

Micro Visions began in 1989 as a result of Julie Lough’s vision to assist businesses in utilizing information technology solutions to more effectively run their companies and manage the costs of their total IT investments. She desired to serve a niche market that had limited access to alternatives. Lough began installing, upgrading, repairing and supporting computers and computer networks on weeknights and weekends. After four years of steady growth, Micro Visions has developed and earned a reputation for offering objective advice and service excellence to businesses throughout West Michigan. With no competing interests, Micro Visions sees its clients as partners and advocates for them.

Symplicity Communications Inc. 

Symplicity Communications Inc. was founded in January 2007 by Catherine Lazarock with the goal of making telecommunications “symple” for clients. Symplicity focuses on helping business-to-business clients with telecommunications services and phone system services. Over the past six years, Symplicity has experienced triple-digit growth and has expanded its team with project managers and partners who allow clients to experience a complete technology solution.


Baker Holtz

In 1979, Baker Holtz began as a traditional firm providing business valuation work in West Michigan. For over three decades, clients have depended on Baker Holtz for comprehensive advice that’s always in the best interests of their business. Baker Holtz invests the time needed to fully understand the goals of each organization, their definition of success, and the unique challenges in every industry. It uses this information while working with the decision makers of the client company to develop a service plan that will enhance overall success for the client.

i3Business Solutions LLC

i3 Business Solutions is a consulting firm that provides information technology and computer networking services to small to mid-sized organizations in the West Michigan area. i3 Business Solutions built its reputation by providing technical and specialist IT services and support from a business perspective. It’s accountable for quantifying and measuring the cost savings, business productivity gains, sales or customer service improvements, and the overall return on IT project investments.

The Charter Group

Formed in 1989, The Charter Group is an advisory firm whose reach extends far beyond its founding roots in merger and acquisition services. Charter has offered support and guidance to hundreds of companies and community and professional organizations in efforts to create growth and opportunities. As a result, The Charter Group has a large impact on the Grand Rapids community by helping business owners identify ways to increase the value of their business, helping business owners achieve success in selling a business or acquiring a new company, and helping companies raise capital to enable them to meet their goals. The Charter Group has served West Michigan for nearly 25 years; and, while competitors have come and gone, The Charter Group has remained and reconstructed itself to provide new and valuable services to West Michigan business owners.


Jim Roberts Enterprises LLC

Jim Roberts Enterprises LLC offers individuals and businesses financial investment and business consulting. Having a background in engineering and integrative management, Jim Roberts uses these tools and incorporates technology and engineering into his consulting process to provide clients with financial strategies that have helped them save millions of dollars. Roberts’ consulting helps businesses increase their shareholder value by focusing on cross selling opportunities between businesses and utilizing the client’s strengths to achieve growth and create “win-win” situations. Roberts knows that good business is all about relationships, and he makes sure to put first his clients’ needs and goals. Roberts also knows that, like good business, it is important to give back to the community, including working with local minority-owned businesses.

Tolman’s Wholesale Meats

Louie and Trina Tolman founded Tolman’s Wholesale Meats in 1964 and later sold the company to VKV Inc. in 1995. Today, Tolman’s services the Greater Grand Rapids, Holland and Grand Haven areas with fresh meats for food services, restaurants, hospitals, schools, caterers and nursing facilities. It operates with the mission of providing the community with products and service of superior quality at a fair price with continued improvement in customer satisfaction and value.


Habitat for Humanity of Kent County

Habitat for Humanity of Kent County is a nonprofit, Christian organization committed to transforming lives through the power of home ownership. Habitat for Humanity was founded 35 years ago out of the conviction that all people deserve a decent, affordable and safe place to live. Habitat Kent was founded in 1983 as a local, grassroots organization with an international parent company. Habitat Kent has served more than 400 families and lifted more than 1,000 children out of substandard housing. Each year, Habitat Kent builds at least 20 homes, helping to lead strategic, targeted efforts to restore the neighborhoods of Grand Rapids.

Heart of West Michigan United Way

The Heart of West Michigan United Way has been an integral part of the community since its founding in Kent County nearly 95 years ago. With the vision to be the best for the community, its mission is to change lives in Kent County by mobilizing the caring power of volunteers, donors, agencies and community partners. United Way believes everyone deserves a good life: a quality education that leads to a stable job, enough income to support a family, and good health.

Kids’ Food Basket

After witnessing some of her students rummaging through the trash for food in 2001, and hearing similar stories from local school officials, Mary Ann Prisichenko, principal of Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Straight School, decided to take action to ensure that children could get the proper amount of food and nutrition they needed. After hearing this story, Mary K. Hoodhood, a long-time volunteer with the Meals on Wheels program, decided to create an organization that would focus on ending childhood hunger. After 11 years, Kids’ Food Basket today serves nearly 5,000 children at 38 sites, and has been receiving requests from out-of-state organizations to spread this initiative across the U.S.


Johnny Brann Jr. — Kitchen 67

Kitchen 67 is named in tribute to John Brann Sr., who in 1967 sold his first “sizzler steak,” becoming a household name in West Michigan. Today, Brann’s is the longest standing family-owned restaurant chain the state of Michigan, and the business has grown to 11 locations, with Kitchen 67 as the latest addition. Kitchen 67 is a new and innovative restaurant concept created to challenge the status quo of the restaurant industry. Kitchen 67 uses the freshest ingredients, including locally sourced products and classic family recipes to create an original experience for all of its customers. Kitchen 67 is proud of the service it offers its customers and its innovative atmosphere.

Kelly LeCoy — Uptown Kitchen

This past February, Uptown Kitchen celebrated its one year anniversary. The business started two-and-a-half years ago as an idea for a final honors project at Calvin College, later winning business plan competitions. Now located in Eastown, Uptown Kitchen fosters growth of the food culture in Grand Rapids by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, assistance and access to market opportunities for small food-based businesses. In a market that typically has incredibly high barriers for artisan food venders, Uptown Kitchen serves as the launch pad. It is not only a space for food entrepreneurs to grow their business, but a place for the community to learn and interact with their local food economy.

Kristian Grant — Sydney’s Boutique

Sydney’s Boutique began as a legacy-leaving vision for owner Kristian Grant. In October 2011, the boutique opened its doors to the Grand Rapids community, aspiring to provide customers with high-end style and service at an affordable cost. Now located in the heart of the Eastown business district, Sydney’s Boutique has demonstrated stability and growth in the fashion industry, expanding the quality and quantity of its inventory. Most importantly, the staff at Sydney’s Boutique is loyal and considerate, offering each customer a personalized experience.


Cascade Engineering

Founded in 1973 by CEO Fred Keller, Cascade Engineering is celebrating its 40thanniversary this year. Throughout these years, Cascade Engineering has been committed to providing leading-edge products and services while maintaining a strong commitment to social causes and environment stewardship. While Cascade’s strong business model has remained the same during this time, the company has achieved significant and consistent growth over the years. Today, Cascade Engineering has become a global company with 1,100 employees located in 15 facilities across North America and Europe. For Cascade Engineering, its purpose is to have a positive impact on society and the environment, encouraging innovation and continuous improvement.

Elzinga & Volkers Inc.

Since 1945, Elzinga & Volkers Inc. has been a leading provider of construction services. From its roots as a design/build general contractor in the late 1940s and 1950s to its current standing as a leading construction management firm serving clients around the world, Elzinga & Volkers is built on principles of employee-centered business operations, industry specialization and creation of positive, lasting client experiences. Since becoming more “employee centered” 11 years ago, positive results have been instant and exceptional. Elzinga & Volkers has become a place that people enjoy coming to each day and experiences a level of employee loyalty and commitment that is uncommon throughout the industry. Elzinga & Volkers also is committed to building a sustainable business; so whether that is using more environmentally friendly paper or making sure that the business is healthy despite an uncertain business environment, Elzinga & Volkers is positioned to stand the test of time.

Kent District Library

From its humble beginning in 1927, Kent District Library has been passionate about literacy. Eighty-six years ago, a group of dedicated women from the Kent County Federation of Women’s Clubs had a vision to expand rural libraries in the county and put books into the hands of children. As a result of those efforts, the Kent County District Library has dedicated itself to serving the Kent County community, and each day it continues to seek new and inventive community literacy efforts that will allow it to firmly remain the cornerstone of a literate society.

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