By Bera Dunau Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — The Otsego County Chamber of Commerce has announced the winners of its 2013 Small Business of the Year and Breakthrough awards.
The winner of this year’s Otsego County Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award is Five Star Subaru of Oneonta. Otsego County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Barbara Ann Heegan said that Five Star Subaru was given the award based on its community outreach, customer service and involvement with the arts.
Said Heegan, “People have just felt very compelled to their outreach ... in the community.”
Brooks’ Bottling Co., a sister company of Brooks’ House of Bar-B-Q, was given the Breakthrough Award for the expansion of its sauce bottling business.
“People traveling from all over recognize the name of Brooks’,” said Heegan, who said that by expanding into different marketplaces, Brooks’ was attracting attention not only to its business but to Oneonta as a whole.
The Small Business of the Year Award is given annually to a business of 50 employees or fewer based in Otsego County, while the Breakthrough Award is given annually to a business of any size in Otsego County that demonstrates innovation and growth.
Candidates for both awards are nominated through the chamber’s nominating process, which is held over the summer. Any person, regardless of chamber membership, can fill out a nomination form. A committee then reviews the nominations and the chamber’s executive committee has the final say on reviewing the nominations and selecting the winners.
This is the 14th year the Otsego Chamber has given out its Small Business of the Year Award and the eighth year it has given out its Breakthrough Award.
Ben Guenther and Blaine Jennings, co-owners of Five Star Subaru, along with Brooks’ owner Ryan Brooks and Heegan, met with the media at Brooks’ House of Bar-B-Q to discuss the awards.
Asked about their community outreach, Guenther said, “We do it because we do feel strongly about our community.”
Guenther said that the people who come to the cultural events that Five Star helps sponsor won’t necessarily buy cars, but they will support other businesses in town.
“We feel that those people are our customers,” said Guenther. “By helping them they help us.”
Brooks’ Bottling Co. was created as a separate company this year, although Brooks’ Bar-B-Q has been bottling its sauces since 1988.
Ryan Brooks, who bought the business from his parents in 2005, said that Brooks’ created their first bottling facility in order to meet demand.
Said Brooks, “We started to see that we needed to build a different facility.”
Brooks said that Brooks’ currently bottles ten of its own products. In addition to this, it has also become a significant co-packer.
“We have over 150 labels right now that we are producing for our clients,” said Brooks, saying that some of the clients they bottle for are as far away as Vermont and Ohio. “I actually got a call from Phoenix, Ariz. today.”
Brooks’ clients include Albany institution Bombers Burrito Bar and Buffalo Boss, the maker of the official wings of the Brooklyn Nets.
An expansion of the bottling facility is set to break ground this November, and Brooks estimates that it will be ready by April of next year. Brooks says that the company’s current production line produces 1,400-1,600 bottles an hour. The new line they plan to put in will be able to produce 90 bottles a minute.
“We’ll be able to make 500 gallons of product in 45 minutes,” said Brooks.
Additionally, the old line will be retained, allowing Brooks’ to bottle two sauces at a time.
Brooks says that the completion of this new facility will result in the hiring of an additional six workers immediately, and that the bottling company will eventually employ around 20 workers. Right now, it employs six workers.
As for why Brooks’ is expanding its sauce business, Brooks said it was partly to provide security for the business in the long term.
“My goal is to sustain, stay in Oneonta,” said Brooks.
He also said that he had no intention of opening a second Brooks’ House of Bar-B-Q restaurant.
Both Brooks and Guenther and Jennings were pleased with the awards their businesses have won.
“We were very surprised and excited,” said Guenther.
“It’s a huge honor for us,” said Brooks.
They also praised each others businesses.
Said Brooks, “When you hear their name and you hear Five Star, they stand behind what they do.
Said Guenther, “We send a lot of people when they’re waiting to pick up their car to Brooks’.”
Brooks’ Bottling Co. and Five Star Subaru will be given their awards at a formal dinner at The Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown on October 17.
“We’re just very excited for these businesses and congratulate them,” said Heegan. “We’re proud of them.”