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Minnesota’s Best of 2020 Winners

By Morgan Halaska

Here’s who has been crowned the winners and runners-up of the Minnesota Meetings + Events Best of 2020 readers’ choice awards. Congratulations!  

Best Brewery/Cidery/Distillery/Winery with Event Space 
Surly Brewing Company 

“A brand-new offering is the private tent space within our beer garden,” says Katie Kilian, events manager. “The beer garden tent sets the mood for an intimate and energized gathering for anywhere from 40 to 120 guests. We’ll keep things fun and casual so you and your friends feel like you’re right at home, but with less cleanup and more beer. The Surly Food Truck is available for all beer garden tent events and includes the option for a themed menu, including barbecue, tacos or sausages menus.

“The event planning team will handle all the details of the event planning and making sure that everything goes according to plan, from beginning to end,” says Kilian.

Runners-up: Royal Foundry Craft Spirits; WineHaven Winery 


Best Casino
Mystic Lake Casino Hotel

Mystic Lake Center features 116,000 square feet of dedicated indoor/outdoor meeting space and 30 flexible meeting and event spaces. The Minnetonka Ballroom boasts 22-foot-tall ceilings and can accommodate conventions, conferences, high-profile galas, holiday parties and wedding receptions. The ballroom features a semitrailer overhead door, providing convenient loading and unloading.

“As a destination venue, Mystic Lake Center is designed to ensure an extraordinary guest experience not found anywhere else in Minnesota,” says Kimberly Osterhout, director of sales. “Attentive design of the meeting and convention space, along with today’s trendiest food and beverage selections, creates an indulgent experience.

The opportunity to provide attendees with on-site entertainment from dining, concerts, spa, golf and 24/7 gaming will ensure attendees enjoy their experience from arrival to departure.”

Runners-up: Treasure Island Resort & Casino; Canterbury Park 


Best Convention & Visitors Bureau (in Town/Area More than 80,000 in Population) 
Meet Minneapolis 

Minneapolis hosted the 2019 NCAA Men’s Final Four in April 2019. According to Rockport Analytics, the event generated $143 million in economic impact and brought 91,000 visitors to the region over the championship weekend. The semifinal and championship games, along with events for the Reese’s Final Four Friday, took place at U.S. Bank Stadium. Enhanced fan events were held at the Minneapolis Convention Center, on Nicollet and at The Armory, and they offered free and low-cost opportunities for everyone to be part of the fun in downtown Minneapolis and beyond.

“Our Meet Minneapolis and Sports Minneapolis teams have enjoyed great success attracting and executing events over the course of the past year,” says Melvin Tennant, president and CEO. “However, we don’t do it alone. Our partners, throughout Minneapolis and the region, help us fulfill the promises that are made to groups and meetings planners. Together, we demonstrate what Minneapolis has to offer our clients and their convention attendees.”

Runners-up: Visit Duluth; Visit Saint Paul 


Best Entertainment (Performer or Talent Agency) 
Brave New Workshop

Brave New Workshop writes, performs and produces original sketch comedy and has been doing so for over 60 years. The same actors also serve as improvisers, emcees and writers for the entertainment services portion of the company. BNW knows that live comedic entertainment can be risky, but the team is well-versed in working with clients to avoid HR moments and taboo topics.

Runners-up: Acme Comedy Co.; Enticing Entertainment 


Best Resort/Lodge
Grand View Lodge

Grand View Lodge offers a multitude of meeting and event services and offerings. North, a 60-room boutique hotel, is the latest addition to the resort.

“[We recently] hosted a team from the West Coast, of which many of the visitors had not experienced a Minnesota winter,” says Cindy Baysinger, director of sales. “During their stay we facilitated ice fishing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, as well as a horse-drawn wagon ride, everyone’s favorite. They experienced a true Minnesota winter wonderland at Grand View Lodge.”

Runners-up: Larsmont Cottages; Breezy Point Resort 


Best Catering Company
D’Amico Catering

In the last year, D’Amico Catering has added two new exclusive venues to its portfolio: Ashery Lane Farm in Mayer and Edinburgh USA golf course in Brooklyn Park. The company’s legacy venue, the Metropolitan Ballroom and Clubroom in Golden Valley, was also entirely transformed and now boasts enameled woodwork, sparkling light fixtures and luxury finishes.

“We are here for the sole purpose of creating incredible memories for our clients,” says Christie Altendorf, senior event planner and marketing manager. “Whether it be creating an unrepeatable branding opportunity for corporate clients, helping our nonprofit partners meet and exceed their goals or crafting the perfect setting for wedding couples, our ultimate goal is ensuring that everyone, both clients and guest, leave the event wanting to do it all over again.”

Runners-up: Elite Catering, a division of Entourage Events Group; Chowgirls Killer Catering 



Best Boats/Cruises/Charters
Al and Alma’s Supper Club and Charter Cruises

“We are Lake Minnetonka’s longest operating restaurant, since 1956,” says Jay Soule, president. “Our reputation for providing the best food served aboard the finest yachts has prevailed over many generations of guests. While we are proud of this reputation, we know that our success will always be championed by our legacy staff who are dedicated to training and providing the best service in our industry.”

Runners-up: Stillwater River Boats; Padelford Riverboats (tie); Afton Hudson Cruise Lines (tie) 


Best Convention/Conference Center
Minneapolis Convention Center

U.S. Bank Stadium hosted the 2019 NCAA Final Four in April, while the Minneapolis Convention Center was the home of several related events, including the NCAA Fan Fest with 76,000-plus attendees, the NCAA Client Party, Read to the Final Four, the True North Party and the National Association of Basketball Coaches Annual Meeting.

“Our entire staff puts an incredible amount of effort into providing a world-class hospitality venue for our clients and the community. Their hard work has produced great outcomes that focus on operating responsibly through industry-leading sustainability efforts and an employee-centered culture,” says Executive Director Jeff Johnson.

Runners-up: Saint Paul RiverCentre; Earle Brown Heritage Center


Best Speaker/Presenter (Individual or Agency) 
Élan Speakers Agency 

“My business was designed 10 years ago by focus groups of meeting planners,” says Devie Hagen, president of Élan Speakers Agency. “I personally vet any speaker I present to ensure it’s the right fit and negotiate the fees. I presently have hundreds of speakers nationwide and in Canada that I have approved.” 

Runners-up: MinnesotaSpeakers; National Speakers Association-Minnesota 


Best A/V Provider 
AV For You

“We moved to a new location, which is double the size of our previous. This new facility makes us much more efficient and increases our capacity to serve our customers,” says Josh Reitan, owner. “In honor of the new space, we hosted an open house. The theme was a 1980s roller skating party. It allowed us to do all the things we want to do on a show just for the sake of seeing what is possible. The event turned out great. Guests were able to roller skate in our warehouse beneath a 60-foot wide projection screen, with full show lighting and indoor pyrotechnics.”

Runners-up: AVEX; Allied Production & Sales 


Best Hotel with Meeting/Event Space (Fewer than 300 Guest Rooms) 
Hewing Hotel

The Hewing Hotel offers a truly “trans-local” experience. “From the cozy feel as you walk in the building to our local partners for coffee, bar/beverage programming, curated in-room mini bar with snacks, and all of the small details in each of our spaces and guest rooms, we try to set ourselves apart from the rest,” says Heidi Sohn, director of sales. “On the food scene at the Hewing, whether in Tullibee, our on- site restaurant, or meals prepared for any meeting/event, we provide a very regional and seasonal menu and curated bar/beverage program with sourcing of many local beers, wine, and spirits. Not to forget, the Hewing has its own butchery program and focuses on hyper-local sourcing of many fresh products to create the best food experience for our guests.”

Runners-up: The Saint Paul Hotel; North at Grand View


Best Convention & Visitors Bureau (in Town/Area Less than 25,000 in Population) 
Discover Stillwater

“The lodging scene has changed drastically! We now have two new modern boutique hotels perfect for executive stays right on Main Street, as well as an expansion of an additional 20 rooms at our riverfront hotel, with two new conference rooms right next to the river with stunning views, as well as a rooftop restaurant,” says Christie Rosckes, marketing director. “We are always here to help with ideas since Stillwater is a place that works best when you think outside the box.”

Runners-up: Red Wing Visitors & Convention Bureau; Lake of the Woods Tourism 


Best New Venue (September 2018-19)
Bavaria Downs 

Bavaria Downs sits on 270 lush acres in Chaska. “We offer all-inclusive meeting and conference packages as well as à la carte offerings based on event size and needs,” says Melissa Coon, director of venue operations. “Our 26,000-square-foot Edward Anne Estate includes several spaces for unique meeting experiences and our 8,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art ballroom has all the tech amenities for all event and conference needs.”

Runners-up: Harriet Place; West End Conference Center


Best Florist

Bachman’s, a full-service floral and special event company, offers a bountiful selection of products to enhance the space and atmosphere of any meeting or special event. Customers can choose from centerpieces, back-drops, arches, vases and exciting plants, all designed and styled to suit any event’s theme, from timeless and elegant to contemporary and chic. Bachman’s offers a mix of fresh, locally grown flowers along with exotic and unique imported flowers. The team of buyers knows what’s trendy and where to find it.

Runners-up: Sadie’s Couture Floral; Richfield Flowers and Events 


Best Photography 
Lauren B. Photography

“I worked with some amazing clients last year, both new and repeat clients. It’s the ultimate compliment to be asked back for an annual event, and I love being a part of a tradition in the making,” says Laurie McVean, owner. “Early in the year, LBP underwent a revamp: new branding, new website, same me.”

Runners-up: Graddy Photography; Jeannine Marie Photography 


Best Golf Venue
Grand View Lodge

Grand View Lodge strives to go above and beyond guests’ expectations:

+ Each meeting has a dedicated meeting planner

+ Grand View Lodge has a full-time, in-house event service and A/V Tech team

+ There are activities for every season, including golf

+ The award-winning culinary team on staff customizes event menus

Runners-up: Edinburgh USA; Breezy Point Resort 


Best Event Rental Provider
Après Event Décor and Tent Rental 

“We are a family business dedicated to providing rental product that is superior in both quality and design,” says Sheree Bochenek, creative director. “We strive to deliver prompt answers to event challenges, doing so with a friendly spirit that is grounded in personal integrity, accountability and follow-through. We recently completed tenting for the North American Pond Hockey Championship. We worked through challenging temperatures and weather conditions to install numerous frame and structure tents throughout the Twin Cities, including glass-walled tents and an install on 20-foot scaffolding.”

Runners-up: BeThings; Ultimate Events 


Best Event Décor Provider
Event Lab

Event Lab celebrated its 25th anniversary last May at the Hewing Hotel. “We work within all venues, spaces, facilities for our client events,” says Becky Harris, vice president. “Every client is unique and so is their event. We specialize in designing experiences that focus on the client goals. There is always something special, unique, out-of-the-box being designed and produced in the production department. We now have two on-site warehouses stocked with trend-forward furnishings, linens, theme and décor items. Our creative event specialists add to the offerings every time they design something special for a client program.”

Runners-up: edgPRODUCTIONS, a division of Entourage Events Group; Girl Friday 


Best Hotel with Meeting/Event Space (300 or More Guest Rooms) 
Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel, The Depot 

“Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel, The Depot is proud to be an eclectic part of the local hotel scene and also Minneapolis’s premier venue for meetings and events,” says Michael Clark, managing director. “I’m so excited about the completion of our new event space, which is the final piece of our five-year renovation and expansion project. Its design includes all that the Renaissance brand has to offer while still reflecting our historic past. I consider it to be the centerpiece of our community, past, present and future.”

Runners-up: JW Marriott Minneapolis Mall of America; Radisson Blu Mall of America 


Best Livestreaming/Webcasting Service
Heroic Productions

Heroic Productions, a full-service A/V event staging and production company, specializes in lighting, video and audio to create dynamic and inspiring events that help clients deliver their messages. Its new ContentCanvas LED display solution brings content to life not only with a typical LED wall, but also using banner, podium and arch configurations, which debuted during the 15th annual ILEA Star Awards.

“One of the greatest compliments we’ve received is this fun one from a senior event planner and long-term client: ‘I sleep better when Heroic is supporting our event,’” says Jon Young, president.

Runners-up: Mediapolis LLC; EideCom


Best Convention & Visitors Bureau (in Town/Area 25,000-85,000 in Population)
Explore Brainerd Lakes

At the center of Minnesota is Brainerd Lakes. While lakes are a big draw, the area contains myriad activities like biking, fishing and hunting, spas, food and drink, golfing and endless options for lodging and camping.

Runners-up: Discover St. Louis Park; Explore Edina 


Best Meeting/Event Venue (No Hotel)
Minneapolis Event Centers

Entourage Events Group’s portfolio includes venues in Minneapolis and St. Paul, all of which are served by Elite Catering and edgPRODUCTIONS.

Minneapolis Event Centers features three spaces that can be booked individually or as one full venue (capacity: 2,200, with an attached parking ramp for 1,100).

The Grand 1858 boasts an open floor plan and an all-glass atrium that leads guests to a lush garden patio (350 seated, 550 theater-style).

The Riverside overlooks the riverfront with views of down- town. The space features plenty of natural light, elevated ceil- ings and a custom-made fiber optic chandelier as the focal point (450 seated, 600 theater-style).

The View is the latest addition to the Minneapolis Event Centers’ portfolio and has a spacious, customizable floor plan (800 seated, 950 theater-style, plus an outdoor patio).

Runners-up: The Armory; Machine Shop 


Best Sports Venue
U.S. Bank Stadium 

The stadium received two recognitions in the last year:

In August 2019, U.S. Bank Stadium became the first professional sports stadium to earn LEED Platinum certification on the Operations and Maintenance (O + M) rating system for existing buildings through the arc performance platform. The recognition signifies achievements in sustainability for the ongoing, daily operations and maintenance of U.S. Bank Stadium.

U.S. Bank Stadium was also recognized with the Venue Excellence Award from the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) in June 2019. This prestigious award annually recognizes five venues that demonstrate excellence in management and operation. Award criteria include operational excellence, safety and security, team-building/ professional development and service to the community.

Runners-up: Target Field; Allianz Field 


Best Planning Company
Entourage Events Group

Entourage Events Group, while located in St. Anthony Main, has national reach. The group will be participating in the 2020 Democratic National Convention in July as the exclusive hospitality provider at two venues in Milwaukee.

“We have been fortunate to be part of some of the largest national events in the U.S.—the Super Bowl, NCAA tournament and X Games to name a few. The regional talent and resources available here in the Twin Cities allow us to com- pete for these premiere national events,” says Steve Hark, CEO/founder.

Runners-up: Do Good Events; Event Lab


Best Transportation Provider
Premier Transportation

Premier Transportation has been in business and under the same ownership since 1988. “Overall, we just feel truly blessed to continue to provide safe and reliable transportation to our clients for the past 32 years,” says Nicole French, VP of sales and marketing. “This last year we really felt the love as we were honored with more awards and nominations than any previous year in our history. In a world where customers have an abundance of platforms to voice their opinion, it feels great that we are being recognized by our customers.”

Runners-up: Renee’s Limousines; Eclipse Global Transportation 


Best Restaurant with Private Dining Space
Spoon and Stable

The wildly popular Spoon and Stable, headed by James Beard Award-winning chef/owner Gavin Kaysen, features two private dining rooms. The Hennepin Salon seats up to 24 guests and is ideal for cocktail receptions, closing dinners and celebrations of all sorts. St. Anthony Parlor can host intimate dinners for up to 12 guests, or pre-dinner receptions for up to 18. When dining in the Hennepin Salon, the Parlor can also complement the Salon for a welcome reception.

Runners-up: Murray’s; The Bachelor Farmer


Best Team-Building Activity/Organizer
Brave New Workshop

Testimonial: “John Sweeney and the BNW team deliver results, pushing teams to learn techniques to approach problems in new, innovative ways, long after the meeting is over. Their entertaining and engaging approach produces hoots and hollers but also delivers integrated messages on strategy and innovation. Their presence has produced some of the highest-rated meeting sessions ever at I highly recom- mend John and his team.” Dale Nitschke, former president, 

Runners-up: Topgolf; Bad Axe Throwing 


Best Historic or Cultural Venue
The Armory 

1930s-1970s: The building, designed by St. Paul architect P.C. Bettenburg, was a venue for civic events, including concerts, political conventions  and sporting events.

1947-1959: The building was used by the Minneapolis Lakers as a part-time home and as its primary home court for the 1959-1960 NBA season.

1982: Prince shot the music video there for “1999.”

1998: Aerosmith recorded its music video there for “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”

1989: Hennepin County bought the Armory with plans to place a new county jail on the site. The Minnesota Historical Society sued and in 1993 the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the structure was protected by state law and could not be torn down because of its historical status.

2017: The building opens as The Armory, hosting social functions, con- certs, sporting events, trade shows and other private celebrations.

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