Now is the time to review the finalists in each Chamber’s Choice category. Each finalist was given the opportunity to submit a brief description to help you become more familiar with who they are. Review the submissions included on this page to familiarize yourself if needed. Then, make your Choice for winner in each of the categories below. Nominations close Friday, September 9 at 5pm.
Vote for your favorite nominees!
Entrepreneur of the Year
Nicole Triplett – Twine Urban Winery
I am the first African American Female Winemaker in Michigan. My tasting room Twine has been featured in Wine Magazines as far as California, podcasts, radio, and John McGivern’s Main Street show. Twine Urban Winery has become a local tourist attraction bringing in people from all over the Midwest, including Indiana, Ohio, Chicago, and Wisconsin, monthly. I have formed a non-profit to foster entrepreneurship, establish generational wealth, shift and boost our local economy and create more jobs in Kalamazoo. I look forward to continuing to close the gap and build a bridge between the African American entrepreneurs in our city.
Demargeo White – Huey D’s Goodies
Huey D’s Goodies specializes in gourmet cheesecakes and cheesecake cupcakes. What makes us stand out as a small business is our willingness to be consistent as possible, which has resulted in tremendous support from the community. Being a role model for the next generation of entrepreneurs is a fantastic feeling – showing them that you can achieve greatness with the right amount of effort and commitment.
Megan Zielke – Vintage in the Zoo
Founded in 2017, Vintage in the Zoo (VITZ) has grown its entrepreneurial community impact exponentially, evolving into a regularly occurring market event that draws over 2,500 millennial and gen-Z consumers, college students, vintage and fashion enthusiasts and other customers to Kalamazoo’s Central Shopping District each month. Not only does VITZ provide retail opportunities and incubator services for more than 80 vintage and handmade small businesses each month, it has become a true cultural touchstone for Kalamazoo. Its distinctive branding; creative marketing; strong social presence; innovative promotional partnerships with the city, KVCC, WMU and other institutions; and high-quality market experiences have propelled it to stand as a regional leader in the market and small business space. Recognized by respected lifestyle publication Domino magazine as the top vintage market in the state and drawing passionate and engaged vendors and shoppers traveling from MI, IN, OH, IL, WI and beyond, Vintage in the Zoo is proud to successfully uplift our city, state and region.
Alumnus/a of the Year
In 2020, Jamauri Bogan launched Bogan Developments. Bogan Developments is a real estate development company focused on tackling the needs of moderate to low-income communities through mixed-income developments. In 2022, Bogan Developments will be breaking ground on a 14-unit project. The development will include childcare in partnership with the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo.
Being the “only” takes a resilience that’s all too familiar for Daniel J. May, a Western Michigan University alumnus whose tumultuous road to graduation was aided by his courage to be the first and only Greenleaf Trust applicant to reapply after rejection, and to succeed. Now, May is the owner of the “only” Black-owned cocktail lounge in Downtown Kalamazoo, and he wants Dabney & Co. to be an exemplar of the inclusive institutions needed to reflect the city’s diversity. Dabney & Co. was created with transformational development at the forefront, prioritizing social well-being by returning us to the basics of bonding with a stranger over classic music hits and a cocktail, especially in a time of much divisiveness. Dabney & Co. is confident its futuristic business approach will boost the city’s economy and potential. Most importantly though, as he advances Daniel is committed to removing barriers that can be attributed to the dearth of Black-owned establishments in Kalamazoo’s core business district.
Minority Owned Business of the Year
La Familia Café
When we decided to open La Familia Cafe, we had a vision of bringing something that Kalamazoo was missing. Being a first generation American I was brought up on Mexican breakfast tacos and burritos that we made early in the morning with flour tortillas, eggs, potatoes and chorizo. We packed them in aluminum foil to take to work in the Farms as migrant workers. My family picked blueberries and apples here in West Michigan. We decided to make Michigan home in the 80s. I have grown up in Kalamazoo and love this community and always wanted to bring something different that we felt was missing. Downtown Kalamazoo had to be the location for our cafe and all the pieces fell together that’s where la Familia cafe became a reality. We have had amazing support from our community and we are so grateful.
The Xperience by Luxury Escapes
The Xperience by Luxury was initially established as an Airbnb business in 2019 with two successful homes in Houston, TX. When the opportunity arose for a brick-and-mortar location on the Kalamazoo Mall, we knew we had to jump at it. With no financial assistance or backing, we put everything we had into the venue, doing all the interior design and construction ourselves. There were many obstacles along the way, including adversity, racism, and red tape. Still, we overcame those obstacles through our resiliency, perseverance, and passion, providing Kalamazoo with a community-focused venue. We are the first Black Owned Entertainment Venue on the Kalamazoo Mall and the first Black Females in Michigan to own a Class C Commercial liquor license in Michigan. Our goal is not only to excite the Kalamazoo community about our downtown area but also to inspire and encourage other business owners like us.
Huey D’s Goodies
Huey D’s Goodies specializes in gourmet cheesecakes and cheesecake cupcakes. Since the start of Huey D’s Goodies in 2019, we have grown to 7 locations, selling out of our product nearly every week. It has not been an easy ride. However, the thought of letting down the people who believe in me is what keeps me going. Being on this journey has helped inspire others to chase their dreams and to live their lives utilizing their unique gifts while “curing one sweet tooth at a time.”
Woman Owned Business of the Year
Vintage in the Zoo
Since launching in 2017 with three vintage and handmade markets featuring 15 vendors held at the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market, Vintage in the Zoo. LLC (VITZ) – a 100% woman-owned business – grew exponentially until 2019, ending its season with an average of more than 90 monthly vendors and hundreds of customers. While its 2020 season was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, VITZ persevered, launching a popular series of live events on social media featuring local vendors and making plans to come back bigger and better when it was safe to do so. Relaunching in 2021, VITZ has grown its entrepreneurial community impact tremendously despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, evolving into a monthly market event that draws over 2,500 guests each month and offers retail opportunities and incubator services for more than 80 vintage and handmade small businesses. Recognized by respected lifestyle publication Domino magazine as the top vintage market in the state and drawing vendors and shoppers from MI, IN, OH, IL, WI and beyond to Kalamazoo’s Central Shopping District, Vintage in the Zoo is proud to uplift our city, state and region.
Guess Who’s Dancing Fitness
In 2019, I lost my 41-year-old husband to ALS. In the wake of the pain and financial distress that resulted after his loss, I needed something to focus on and a way to keep a roof over my 10-year-old son and I’s heads. This painful loss and a challenging financial situation spurred my desire to help women of all ethnicities achieve their weight loss goals through dance fitness by dealing with self-esteem issues first. I recently created a Hip Hop Dance Fitness Mentorship Program for teenage girls & abused women. I do my best to help others make and start their own business & to find their purpose.
Louise’s Beauty Salon
Louise’s Beauty Salon was established in 1965. We serve a diverse community in a family-friendly atmosphere. Our business was created to provide services for customers’ haircare needs.
Veteran Owned Business of the Year
Dr. Croom Mobile Vet Service
Dr. Croom Mobile Veterinary service is in great company among SW Michigan Veteran-owned businesses, and we stand out by consciously reducing stress among pet-owners by taking our Veterinary services right to their home. We pivoted early in 2021 to provide video consults, and our clients in Kalamazoo county love it—keeping everyone safe while still receiving excellent quality is key. Our team grew in 2022, adding a CFO and Marketing strategist, making 100% of our team diverse—crucial when mentoring diverse youth in our Future Veterinarian Project.
Lake Effect Alliance Kalamazoo
Michael is a Financial Consultant and has been with Thrivent since 2016. He is a Marine Veteran and served our country from 2001-2005. With a mission of guiding Christians to be wise with money, Thrivent aligns with his core values and gives him the opportunity to continue serving and protecting the members of his community. He deals in financial planning, fee based planning, retirement income strategies, portfolio development and management, charitable and legacy strategies, risk management, etc. He believes in building long term relationships with his members and churches. He is passionate about providing dependable and holistic financial advice to all of his members. Michael enjoys hanging out with friends and family, fishing trips to Minnesota, golfing, and volunteering. Michael is the Chairman of the church council at Trinity Lutheran Church in Paw Paw where he worships with his family.
LGBTQIA+ Owned Business of the Year
Dell Darnell (they/them) is the founder of The Dapper Hammer, the first 100% queer and trans-owned teaching wood shop in Michigan. Dell started The Dapper Hammer in 2019 to create an inclusive educational space for LGBTQIA+ & BIPOC folks, women, youth, and others not traditionally represented in the trades to increase access to basic carpentry and woodworking skills. In the past 3 years, The Dapper Hammer has taught more than 400 students, ranging in age from 3 to 76 years young. In addition, The Dapper Hammer has awarded more than $5,000 in self- and community-funded scholarships to queer, trans, and BIPOC families in the Kalamazoo community towards carpentry classes and The Dapper Hammer and Kim Shaw Art youth summer camps. Dell loves the energy & empowerment that comes from a space designed for inclusivity & diversity – especially when it’s a niche that has historically been exclusive to so many of us.
Chamber Business of the Year – Small
Lancaster-DeCamp Insurance Agency
It is our agency’s passion to go above and beyond to educate people before their time of need. Ryan not only is an educator in Insurance he also is President of his neighborhood association, a prayer partner at a local church and a devoted father. Over the past 15years I have served on several boards in our community, helping & inspiring our youth, training and educating agents. I am also a dedicated parent. With our knowledge, we are completely confident with our licensed staff, that our agency will be able to give the service & personal touch that is desired and needed.
Jeannie Cleaning has been a part of the Kalamazoo community for nearly seven years. Committed to being more than a cleaning company, our mission is to make lives better in all we do through our values of Caring, Excellence, and Community. We endeavor to improve our workplace by providing equal opportunities, a positive, empowering work environment, personal and professional development, and encouraging our team to build relationships and achieve their personal goals. Our mission overflows into the lives of the families we serve and the community as we partner with many groups, including our Cleaning for a Reason partnership, where we provide free home cleaning for cancer patients.
La Familia Café
As a first-generation American, I grew up on Mexican breakfast tacos and burritos that we made early in the morning with flour tortillas, eggs, potatoes, and chorizo. We packed them in aluminum foil to take to work on the Farms as migrant workers, where my family picked blueberries and apples here in West Michigan. We have always wanted to bring something different to Kalamazoo that we felt was missing. Once we realized the synergy of my Mexican heritage and love for Kalamazoo was precisely what was needed downtown, the vision of La Familia Café became a reality. Thanks to the support of so many from the community, we are proud to call downtown its home.
Chamber Business of the Year – Mid/Large
Kalsee Credit Union
We believe in building relationships and cultivating financial wellness, empowering people to focus on what matters. Through our Aspire Financial Counseling and Kalsee’s Employee Empowerment Program (on-site at local employers), we strive to holistically, empathetically improve people’s financial well-being through budgeting, building/repairing credit, and helping people achieve their goals. We’re committed to caring for our members and team like family, to world-class employee engagement, and to exceptionally affordable family benefits. We’re proud that despite COVID’s challenges, we retained 100% of our team members at full pay/benefits, were here for our members with enhanced remote services and as many in-person services as possible, and grew our branches to serve more communities.
Bell’s Brewery began in 1985 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with a quest for better beer, a 15-gallon soup kettle, and an entrepreneurial spirit. Since then, Bell’s has grown into one of the largest craft breweries in America and has paved the way for hundreds of craft breweries across Michigan. Bell’s Brewery believes that business and beer are potent tools to bridge our differences, inspire action from a place of shared values and responsibility, and strengthen our sense of community. We strive to be responsible stewards of the environment to preserve resources for generations.
The very first Gazelle Sports opened its doors in downtown Kalamazoo back in 1985 with a mission to be more than just a running store, but rather a community hub – a place where all could feel welcome, supported, and inspired to live healthy, active lives. Over the years, through all its changes and ups and downs, we have remained passionate about giving back to this community we love, and empowering everyone in it – of all backgrounds and abilities – to live their best lives. We are proud to have helped so many people with their fitness journeys; proud of our continued efforts to seek out, sell, and use sustainable products; but perhaps most of all, we are proud of being born and raised in Kalamazoo and a life-long member of this amazing community we call home.