SOUTHINGTON — A red carpet, flashing cameras and Miss Connecticut greeted local business owners nominated for the 16th Annual Readers’ Choice Awards in the competition’s first-ever awards ceremony.
“We worked so hard for this and it’s something we don’t even have words to say,” said Monica Villanueva, who accepted the award for Best Hispanic Restaurant for Tata’s Restaurant in Wallingford, which she owns with her husband, Efrain Nieves. “I feel so blessed.”
Running a restaurant is about more than serving food, she said.
“Our customers became family ... it’s not about the business, it’s about creating a family environment for whoever goes through that door,” Villanueva said. “We want to make them feel at home.”
More than 550 attended the event at the Aqua Turf Club on Wednesday night.
“You should be proud and you deserve to be celebrated in a big way,” said Record-Journal Executive Vice President and Assistant Publisher Liz White Notarangelo. “It’s your hard work, dedication and success that truly makes this community a great place to live and work, so we really thank all of you.”
Excitement was higher than ever for this year’s awards, with 210,000 votes cast, five times more than last year.
“This is truly our community’s way of recognizing each and every one of you as the best of the best,” said Record-Journal Media Consultant and Promotions Leader Jaime Lynn Gianini.
The award winners were cheered on by Bridget Oei, 2018 Miss Connecticut. The categories included best karaoke bar, Gaetano’s Tavern on the Main in Wallingford. Best music store went to Joe’s Guitars, also in Wallingford. There were 187 categories in total. The general categories were beauty and health, dining, kids and education, entertainment and leisure, people and places, home and home services, finance, services, shopping, spirits, sports, fitness and exercise, vehicle dealers and vehicle services.
“It’s great that the Record-Journal is putting this together,” said Rico Lopez, owner of RICO Entertainment Events in Meriden, which won Best DJ. “I think the area needs something like this and I think it’s going to get a big push for everybody else across all different industries to do their best for their customers.”
“We really like to take our events to the next level. We love what we do, so it shows when we go to an event,” he added.
“Obviously it’s a great honor to be recognized in front of all these people here and in the newspaper, but I think what it really does is validate the hard work that every person here puts in,” said Ty Bongiovanni, part-owner of Bongiovanni Insurance and Financial, which won Best Place to Work, Best Business Insurance and Best Life Insurance and Best Investment Firm. “Most of them are entrepreneurs or people that are working more than 40 hours a week, that put their lives on the line for their businesses and their work.”