The Sarasota Chamber awards luncheon was held June 17.
Travis Ray wanted to win.
He told himself it was an honor to be nominated for the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce Small Business Awards for his Dapper Bowtique company — which provides custom and colorful bowties, pocket squares and other wearable fashions to locals and people across the country — and for a while, he believed it.
After all, the Sarasota figure had been thinking and planning his small business for five years but only had incorporated it two years ago, right at the onset of the pandemic. In many ways, he was just getting started. His business took off in pandemic time as he made face masks across the country but only recently had he been seeing people wearing his designs out and about in town.
But when he was at the awards luncheon, surrounded by his friends and peers at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota on June 17, all he could feel was excitement and hunger to take home to prize.
"I was praying," Ray said. "I was thinking, 'Oh, please let me win.'"
When the moment came, and Ray's name was called as the winner, all he could feel was disbelief as he took the stage.
Ray was far from alone to step up to accept an award from the Sarasota Chamber on Friday afternoon. He and eight other winners were the stars of the show during the awards ceremony.
Sarasota Chamber representatives, business figures, members of the Sarasota government and friends and supporters of the nominees met for a luncheon that recognized the hard work the city's local businesses do every day.
After a half hour of mingling, attendees entered the Hyatt's event space to take their seats and hear from chamber President and CEO Heather Kasten.
"Today, this entire room is here to do one thing — to thank and honor you," Kasten said.
Applicants went through a lengthy process to be considered that included written portions and interviews from chamber members and past awards winners. Twenty-seven businesses were highlighted at the luncheon, but only nine could claim the top prize for their respective categories. Each of those nominees were recognized during a lengthy video highlighting their services in the community. Nominees stood up to accept their prizes one after the other as the luncheon carried on.
Ray wants to say how he felt up on stage, but it was really more of a blur.
"I barely remember going up there and giving a speech," Ray said. "After I sat down and gathered my bearings, I realized I actually won. This was a major shift for my kind of business."
It was a good afternoon for the Children First nonprofit as well. The local organization that promotes school readiness and cognitive skills for children three to five has been nominated for the nonprofit award in the past but never clinched the top prize.
It was a delight and surprise for Children First Vice President of Philanthropy Jessica Rogers, then, that her nonprofit was picked for the award this year. She, along with President and CEO Phil Tavil as well as other staff, went up to the stage to accept the gift and thank the audience. It was the icing on the proverbial birthday cake that the group was celebrating Tavil's birthday that day anyway.
"Being back at the table felt good," Rogers said. "It was exhilarating to know this is an award that comes from our community."
List of Winners
- Large Business Award: PGT Innovations
- Medium Business Award: J2 Solutions Inc.
- Small Business Award: Trade Mark Interiors
- Community Impact Award: Lightspeed Voice
- Minority Business Award: Around the Way Transportation
- Non-Profit Award sponsored: Children First
- Rising Star Award: Dapper Bowtique
- Woman-Owned Business Award: Grapevine Communications
- Workforce Development and Innovation Award: Goodwill Industries Manasota Inc.
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