The winners of the 2016 North San Antonio Chamber Small Business Leaders Awards. Photo courtesy of the North San Antonio Chamber.
The winners of the 2016 North San Antonio Chamber Small Business Leaders Awards. Photo courtesy of the North San Antonio Chamber.

The North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce recognized several individuals and businesses at its annual Small Business Leaders Awards ceremony at the Witte Museum’s Mays Family Center Wednesday night.

Magnolia Pancake Haus Chef and Co-owner Robert Fleming, known locally as “Mr. Pancake,” received two awards – one for Small Business Leader of the Year and one for Community Service.

Community Service - Robert Fleming.
Robert Fleming, Magnolia Pancake Haus chef and co-owner

With two Northside locations in town, the Magnolia Pancake Haus has grown in popularity since Fleming and his wife, Sheila, launched operations in 2000. Guy Fieri, host of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” even featured a segment about the restaurant on his show.

Fleming also advocates for educating the community on the benefits of locally sourcing food. He recently donated land next to the Magnolia location on Huebner Road to Culinaria, San Antonio’s local culinary arts nonprofit. The property will see the opening of Magnolia Halle, which will act as a dining hall, as well as a place for cooking classes and innovative urban farming.

(Read More: Culinaria’s Farm: ‘Technology to Table’ in San Antonio)

“It is an honor to present our Small Business Leader of the Year Award to Robert Fleming of Magnolia Pancake Haus,” said Ken Raymie, chairman of the Chamber’s Small Business Leader Award Committee. Raymie also is Chief Risk Officer for Generations Federal Credit Union, the presenting event sponsor.

“In addition to Robert’s admirable commitment to community service, for which he was recognized as this year’s winner in this category, he and his organization exemplify the qualities that were celebrated throughout our program, including business achievement, innovation, employee relations, and conquering adversity,” Raymie said.

Prior to announcing Small Business Leader of the Year, the Chamber recognized local innovators in the category of Community Service, New Business, Business Achievement, Nonprofit, Conquering Adversity, Employee Relations, Business Innovation, Mentorship, Veteran-Owned Business, Franchisee, and Small Business Advocate of the Year.

The Chamber hailed Renown Auto Restoration as best New Business. For more than 10 years, the Bracken-based company has helped customers with various kinds of vehicular restorations and customizations and its customer base comes from all over the Southern U.S. for its expertise. Renown owner Rudy Quiñones received the award on behalf of his organization.

New Business - Rudy Quinones
Rudy Quiñones and staff at Renown Auto Restoration. Photo courtesy of Renown Auto Restoration.

Kim Ford of accounting firm theKFORDgroup received the Business Achievement Award. Formed as Hill & Ford in 1976, theKFORDgroup handles individual and business taxation and accounting services.

Ford joined the firm as a staff accountant in 1983, just as founder Gerald Hill was growing his business. Ford became its sole owner in 2010, and 2015, Ford and Hill finished their five-year strategic succession plan, which included the change over to theKFORDgroup.

TheKFORDgroup has consistently encouraged its employees to find opportunities to give back to the community. Over the years, the firm has partnered with nonprofits and charity campaigns such as the San Antonio Food Bank, Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio, and Avance.

The Nonprofit Award went to Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA) and Elisabeth Reise, its vice president of development. It’s CASA’s mission to recruit, train, and supervise court-appointed volunteer advocates.

(Read More: Gallery of Hope to Highlight Child Advocates)

The advocates give consistency to neglected and abused children and teenagers while helping them get adequate services and placement in safe, permanent homes.

Conquering Adversity - Emilio & Christi Soliz
Emilio and Christi Soliz, owners of King’s Hwy Brew & Q, and family. Photo courtesy of the Soliz family.

Emilio and Christi Soliz, owners of King’s Hwy Brew & Q, took home the award for Conquering Adversity. Emilio, former pitmaster of Two Bros BBQ Market and Sweet Christi’s BBQ food truck, revised the menu of the Five Points restaurant from when it was Taps y Tapas. The restaurant occupies the famed Ochse house on North Flores Street.

The Employee Relations Award went to Wade Cleary with Cleary Zimmermann Engineers. As the firm’s managing partner, Cleary oversees the company’s growth, steers business strategy, and manages initiatives for sustainability.

Cleary has been active in the community, serving on the board of directors for the North San Antonio Chamber, Northside Education Foundation, and the Comal County Appraisal District. In 2012, the education foundation recognized him as a Pillar of Trustworthiness within the Northside Independent School District.

The Business Innovation Award was awarded to Alan Pyle, president and CEO of WaterFleet. The Southside company offers three mobile solutions to help address temporary potable water delivery and wastewater reclaim needs.

Pyle founded WaterFleet in early 2014, bringing to the then-new company more than 20 years of design and development expertise he built up as president and CEO of Steelhead Inc.

The Mentorship Award went to PAX Financial Group‘s CEO Darryl Lyons who co-founded the company in early 2007. Throughout his career, Lyons has received awards from Fortune 100 companies for recruiting and development. He has also chaired the Brooks Development Authority board. After his board service ended, the City named a park at Brooks City-Base after Lyons.

Lyons also is a published author. His book Small Business, Big Pressure is a faith-based approach to entrepreneurship.

The Veteran-Owned Award went to Jeffrey Jaime, CEO of Taurean, a Boerne-based cyber defense company. Jaime, who founded Taurean in 2008, gained cybersecurity experience during his 22-year Air Force career. Taurean provides services to the federal government and private entities.

Jaime is a member of several organizations, including Business Executives for National Security. In 2013, Taurean secured a spot in the Inc. 5000 list as one of the fastest growing information technology service companies. The San Antonio Business Journal has named Taurean one of the best local workplaces over a number of years.

The Franchisee Award was awarded to Cathy Amato, who along with Rick Riley and Martha Jordan formed River Sub LLC in 1993 and bought two struggling Subway restaurants. The trio has gone on to collectively own and operate more than 50 Subway franchises between San Antonio and Austin.

Amato’s first job was busser and dishwasher at a café in La Vernia. She landed a job at Jack in the Box, where she rose through the ranks and became a corporate training manager for South Central Texas. Jack in the Box was also where she first met Riley, who convinced her to join his Subway Development South Central Texas initiative. River Sub, the follow-up partnership with Jordan has employed more than 300 people through the Subway franchises.

LiftFund was named Small Business Advocate of the Year. Formerly Accion Texas, LiftFund is a community development financial institution. LiftFund supports small businesses, microenterprises, nonprofits, commercial real estate, and affordable housing.

Earlier this year, Bank SNB awarded LiftFund a $25,000 grant and a $500,000 investment. According to one impact study, LiftFund underwrote $104 million in small-business loans statewide over the last five years.

Chamber President and CEO Duane Wilson said these awards help bring formal recognition to local businesses that have made an impact on their employees, industry, and community.

“What better group of people to recognize than our small business leaders who keep San Antonio moving,” he said. “We are very grateful to each of our members for their unique voice and their contributions to our growing economy.”

Top image: The winners of the 2016 North San Antonio Chamber Small Business Leaders Awards.  Photo courtesy of the North San Antonio Chamber.

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Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.