Typically each autumn, Visit Cook County and the Cook County Chamber host an annual Fall Gala Celebration. This year due to covid-19, the annual celebration was cancelled. The celebration, which celebrates the end of a busy summer season, certainly was missed this year. Over 200 of our business and community friends typically join together for a night of celebration and recognition of achievements. However, Visit Cook County feels strongly about recognizing our hospitality employees and did not want to forego the Heart of Hospitality Awards. In 2019, Visit Cook County launched the new award. Nominations are accepted from each tourism community: : Gunflint Trail, Grand Marais, Grand Portage and Lutsen/Tofte/Schroeder.
There has never been a more important time to recognize the hospitality workers in northeastern Minnesota. You know the ones; the members of your team that deliver extraordinary service with a smile on their face and always seem to help out when needed. We all know great hospitality creates guest loyalty. These employees are often described as reliable, personable and caring. They have a passion for what they do.
The following individuals were nominated for this year’s award:
- Joyce Merillat - Grand Portage Lodge and Casino nominated by Todd Ford, Director of Marketing
- Chris Hartman - Hungry Jack Lodge nominated by Lea Leonard
- Ada Hall - Caribou Highlands nominated by Mary Barton Nees
- Bernard Banks - Cascade Lodge and Restaurant nominated by Thom and Jelena McAleer
- Brett Hartfield - Mountain Inn nominated by Teri Chilfone
- Hilton Young - Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts nominated by Ross Sherman and the Bluefin Team
- Jason Ernst - North Shore Winery nominated by Mary Hanson
- Jinsey Smith - Horizon House nominated by Katie Frantz
- Samantha Wallner - Grand Marais Recreation Area nominated by Dave Tersteeg
- Nate Raway - East Bay Suites nominated by Craig Ludtke
- Daryl Bathke - Cook County Whole Foods Coop nominated by Amanda St. John
- Bekah Watson - Cook County Whole Foods Coop nominated by Jennifer Stoltz
- Arielle Charlier - Voyageur Brewing nominated by Sue Prom
- All Business Owners and Employees nominated by Jim Joynes, Joynes Ben Franklin
- The Entire Holiday Station Store Staff nominated by Courtney Quaife
Kjersti Vick, PR and Marketing Director, and Linda Jurek Executive Director, of Visit Cook County arranged surprised visits to each tourism area to award the recipients.
The Heart of Hospitality Award Winners for 2020 are:
- Joyce Merillat - Grand Portage Lodge and Casino (Grand Portage)
- Chris Hartman - Hungry Jack Lodge (Gunflint Trail)
- Samantha Wallner - Grand Marais Recreation Area (Grand Marais)
- Bernard Banks - Cascade Lodge and Restaurant (Lutsen/Tofte/Schroeder)
Watch all four videos of the award presentation here:
We have strong hopes that the Fall Gala in 2021 will take place and the 2020 recipients will be asked to join for a face to face recognition of their achievements. The Cook County Chamber of Commerce typically also awards the Business Awards at this event. To celebrate this year, WTIP helped the Chamber to announce the awards this year. Tune into the broadcast of the awards event here. Please join us in wishing all of the award winners and nominees on a job well done!
Gunflint Trail Award Winner: Chris Hartman (pictured above: Chris Hartman, Linda Jurek, Forrest Parson)
Lutsen-Tofte-Schroeder Award Winner: Bernard Banks (pictured above: Thom McAleer, Bernard Banks, Linda Jurek, Jelena McAleer)
Grand Portage Award Winner: Joyce Merillat (Pictured above: Linda Jurek, Brian Sherburn, Joyce Merillat, Rachel Lien, Sally Deschampe, Todd Ford)
Grand Marais Award Winner: Samantha Wallner (pictured above: Dave Tersteg, Samantha Wallner, Linda Jurek)