ENGLEWOOD — If it weren’t for Mark Knauf, Cindi Wicks wouldn’t have gotten $10,000 to run her Hairshots Salon during the pandemic and slow summer months.
Knauf, a CPA, helped Wicks go from the stack of 30,003 Charlotte County CARES applications to the 13th person awarded a grant — mainly because all of her paperwork was filled out correctly.
Knauf and his staff spent hundreds of hours working with small business owners applying for grants and cutting through complicated paperwork, bank and government regulations. He didn’t charge any business for the help.
After infusing more than $26 million into the community, the Englewood Chamber of Commerce recognized Knauf’s firm for the support and dedication to keep businesses open during the pandemic.
Knauf’s CPA firm was named Business of the Year at the chamber’s annual banquet Thursday at the Hills Restaurant at Rotonda Golf & Country Club.
“This year has been brutal,” said the 26-year accountant in a short speech. “Thank God we made it. I can’t count how many hours we worked to make it happen, but as financial first responders, we needed to help those businesses get the money to stay open and operate during these really tough times.”
Immediate past president Jonathan Varner took turns with incoming 2021 chamber president Brian Faro naming additional the award winners.
Those included New Business of the Year Dana and Jerry Kuhn, owners of Rumours Wine Bar. The bar opened for the first time during the pandemic. While it was extremely challenging, Jerry said January was the best month so far.
Ruth Hill, administrator of the St. David’s Jubilee Center, was thrilled to accept the Non-Profit of the Year Award. The center also received a check from the 2020 Leadership Englewood class, which learned the needs greatly increased for food and financial assistance last year.
The winners of the Daytime Dining Award was Mango Bistro. Owners Marie Laforge and Ricardo Ruggiero partnered with SKY Academy in Englewood to feed families to-go meals during the school and restaurant shutdown.
The Evening Dining award went to Lighthouse Grill managing partner Joe Reichard, whose staff created a boat dock food delivery service to during the pandemic. The waterside restaurant, that closed for six weeks partnered with Realtors and others to feed first responders after COVID-19 hit.
“We are so happy to be back,” Reichard said to the crowd. “We are here to meet the needs of our community.”
The chamber gives multiple Excellence in Business awards based on the business’ number of employees. Quick Signs was named Excellence in Business for one to five employees. Owners Cyndi and John Fredricks supported the Toys for Tots and veteran causes.
Xpertech Auto Repair owner Kathleen Callahan won the Excellence in Business award for six to 25 employees. Callahan, the 2022 president elect, is also the co-chair of Leadership Englewood, along with Shane Whitmore who is a chamber board member.
Grande Aire Services won the Excellence in Business award for 26 or more employees. They sponsored Halloween and Christmas community events at their new headquarters, collected food, helped feed frontline workers, helped with Sunrise Rotary projects and were secret Santa donors in 2020.
Varner gave the President’s Award to Kim Parks, chamber membership coordinator, who stepped in when the chamber sought a new executive director last fall. Parks, who wore shinny red shoes, thanked the membership for all of its support.
Faro, welcomed the Englewood Chamber’s new executive director Doug Izzo, who started this month. Izzo, 30, is a Lemon Bay High School graduate and was an intern at the chamber as a young man.
Faro and Varner both explained how the chamber grew despite the pandemic and lockdowns. Membership also grew in 2020. The members pledged not to force change, but embrace and grow from it.