By Dennis Boone
Thanks to America’s decades-long descent into the dark waters of political correctness, the concept of someone practicing what we call “discrimination” has come to evoke immediate—and often unpleasant—reactions from the masses.
But let us not forget that Mr. Webster’s collection of words on words offers an alternative description for that particular entry: Recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another.
In that sense, discrimination can be a good thing. It can, for example, help us distinguish the truly exceptional from the mundane. As with the finest restaurants or wine vendors. Or cultural events and organizations. Or business products and services.
That’s why Ingram’s turns to Kansas City’s most influential and affluent citizens—our readers—
to discriminate like crazy. We do it precisely one time each year: With the Best of Business Kansas City awards. For 28 years, our readers have voted with those highly discriminating tastes to determine the best of KC’s business scene here.
Some of what they’ve determined for 2016 will come as no surprise to you. Some, however, will get your attention for the first time. Either way, we encourage you to explore the businesses cited herein
for their achievements—and to do a little discriminating yourself before the voting starts next year. Until then, bon appétit!
No apologies: This is Kansas City, and we do barbecue right. That’s not an idle boast—each of our top three Sultans of Smoke have earned national acclaim in some form, especially FIORELLA’S JACK STACK BARBECUE, our reigning all-time Gold medal-winner in this category, picking up another this year. Comparatively new on the scene, but already with a deep and loyal fan base, is Q39, which comes through with Silver honors. And JOE’S KANSAS CITY BAR-B-QUE, which takes a back seat to no one if you judge by lunchtime popularity, snags the Bronze.
BRGR Kitchen + Bar, does it again, defending its Gold status with the help of fans who revel in the diversity of its burger interpretations by packing its twin venues, in the Power & Light District Downtown and Corinth Square in Prairie Village. If you can’t get excited about a burger foundation that begins with half a pound blend of chuck and short-rib meat, turn in your Carnivore Card immediately. In a repeat of last year’s 1-2 finish, FIVE GUYS BURGERS AND FRIES comes through with Silver, no doubt abetted by ease of access, with more than a dozen area locations. Bronze this year goes to TOWN TOPIC HAMBURGERS, with two iconic locations Downtown and a third in Mission.
BEST BUSINESS BREAKFAST
Well, now—this is news: For the first time since this category was introduced in 1990, a new face has emerged from the bacon-and-eggs scrum to snare the Gold. THE CLASSIC CUP, the long-time a.m. anchor of the Country Club Plaza, takes home those honors for the first time. Silver goes to the previously undefeated champion, FIRST WATCH, still a formidable force by virtue of its deep menu and 10 area locations. Bronze honors go to EGGTC., celebrating a decade of breakfast, brunch and lunch mastery near the Plaza and in Shawnee.
BEST BUSINESS LUNCH
There’s a reason the business lunch is a culinary species separate from the business dinner: It’s more focused on tasks at hand and fueling up for the Power Hours to come. The atmosphere at GRAM & DUN (not to mention a varied lunch menu that bends to follow seasonal influences) and its convenient Plaza location earn Gold accolades from our business readership. In the commercial hub that is Johnson County, J. ALEXANDER’S is the Silver winner for wood-fired excellence that radiates well beyond the lunch hour. Bronze goes to RYE KC, the Leawood-based restaurant lovingly crafted by Kansas City’s guru of gastronomy, Colby Garrelts.
BEST BUSINESS DINNER
A successful business dinner isn’t just about a superb meal; it’s a business rite that celebrates a successful transaction. So yes, it’s the food, but it’s also the service, the atmosphere—everything that says: Done deal. And our readers say nobody helps you celebrate that achievement and impress your clients like THE CAPITAL GRILLE, which supplements a mouth-watering array of steak offerings with poultry, seafood, soups, salads and desserts to complete the experience. In doing so, it locks up the Gold in this category for a startling 12th consecutive year—a formidable feat in the face of competitors like 801 CHOPHOUSE, which bags Silver honors thanks to its impressive range of entrees, and Bronze-winning BRISTOL SEAFOOD GRILL.
In the eyes of our readers, catering excellence in Kansas City—at least for the past 14 years—has been defined by LON LANE’S INSPIRED OCCASIONS, which snags yet another Gold. Readers respond to its offerings for weddings, anniversary and birthday parties, open houses, and other personal events, as well as a suite of corporate catering options for staff meetings, retirement parties, holiday galas and other business needs. You can even order that yummy specialty granola through the company’s Web site. Setting up for Silver is BRANCATO’S CATERING, which for nearly 50 years has been serving up everything from backyard picnic fare to office hors d’oeuvres and full-service feasts. And the Bronze is divided between FEASTS OF FANCY and SCRATCH OFFICE CATERING, both pulling in reader votes for the first time.
BEST COFFEE HOUSE
That first cup of coffee in the morning can be part of your routine—or it can be something special, which is what brings Gold honors to THE ROASTERIE. Not just a manufacturing plant, this West-side and Brookside icon allows coffee lovers to enjoy a leisurely cup from most any of its specialty blends and brews, all generated by beans personally chosen by Danny O’Neill and his staff during their annual tours of Costa Rican fields. A more nat-ional spin on coffee artisanship, and one good enough for Silver, comes from STARBUCKS, with palate-pleasing blends, specialty drinks and food to accompany your beverage of choice. Spanning Missouri from St. Louis to Kansas City, with an outlet in Columbia, KALDI’S Coffee, is the pick for Bronze.
Living in New York is a high price to pay for easy access to a good deli, but if corned beef on rye or salami and provolone on an onion roll is your kind of sandwich experience, d’BRONX AUTHENTIC DELI & PIZZERIA stands ready to deliver at any of its four area locations. And not just sandwiches, but soups, sides, Italian fare like lasagna and calzones, and of course, pizzas—if you want them in New York fashion, this place is the Gold standard for readers. And if your tastes in deli fare have a more Italian flavor, check out the Silver-winning BELLA NAPOLI, combining deli offerings with its restaurant side, coffee shop and grocery in the heart of Brookside.
BEST FAMILY RESTAURANT
People hear STROUD’S and think fried chicken, but there’s so much more to this regional stalwart, and that variety resonates with readers, who declare it the Gold medalist for family dining. And the “family” aspect is what the menu at its four locations is all about: heaping platters of golden fried chicken, served family style with all the sides you used to see with Sunday dinner at your grandmother’s. And if chicken isn’t lighting everyone’s fire, the 12-ounce strip steak, pan-fried pork chops and choices of salmon, catfish or shrimp ought to do the trick. There’s room in this category for barbecue, too, with GATES & SONS BAR-B-Q earning Silver honors and pleasing meat-lovers at six area locations. Bronze goes to GAROZZO’s RISTORANTE, bringing authentic Italian fare and atmosphere to you whether Downtown, in Overland Park or Lee’s Summit.
BEST GROCERY STORE/CHAIN
Whether you’re preparing to feed the family on a weeknight or mustering a formal dinner with a dozen guests, the right ingredients make all the difference between routine and remarkable. With nearly two dozen stores in the metro area, HY-VEE meets the appetites for home cooking, offering not just groceries, meats and produce, but meal solutions covering everything from basic recipes to special dietary formulations. Good for Gold, the readers declare. PRICE CHOPPER, a flag flown by both Cosentino Food Store, Balls Foods, McKeever’s and Queen’s, could have garnered Silver on ease of access alone, but the range of products and services more than meets your kitchen needs. And COSENTINO’S MARKET, with a more upscale spin on the grocery experience Downtown and in Brookside, picks up Bronze.
BEST HAPPY HOUR
No, they don’t yell “Norm!” when we stride into HOULIHAN’S, but it’s the kind of place where happy hour evokes that everybody-knows-your-name feeling at the six area locations. Maybe it’s the service, maybe it’s the décor, maybe it’s the reduced-price drinks and appetizer selections. Or just maybe, just maybe, it’s the double-dip that brings happy hour back after 9 p.m. until close during the week, and ALL DAY on Sunday. Readers raise a glass and declare it Gold-worthy. Silver goes to the RED DOOR GRILL in Leawood, making its first appearance on reader ballots, and the GASLIGHT GRILL (also in Leawood) picks up Bronze honors.
HEALTHIEST RESTAURANT MENU
The healthiest food is often the freshest food, but if you really want fresh, you have to think seasonal. Nobody, our readers say, does a better job of following the changing patterns of availability and freshness than SEASONS 52, which was designed around the very idea that a menu has to change to follow the patterns of harvest and production. Their verdict: Gold. BLUE BIRD BISTRO cooks up a healthy helping of Silver, while THE MIXX dishes up the Bronze.
BEST OUTDOOR DINING
Perhaps the local fondness for dining out when dining out is that weather can force us inside for up to half the year. So when spring, fall and mild summer nights beckon, GRAM & DUN is the readers’ choice for a Gold-level outdoor dining experience. The food, the wine and the ambience along Ward Parkway all spell the quintessential Plaza dining experience. No surprise, then, that another Plaza location brings home the Silver: THE CLASSIC CUP. And to show that the Northland has outdoor options to brag about, as well, the Bronze goes to TREZO MARE in Briarcliff Center.
New York has Lombardi’s, Chicago deep-dish lovers swear by The Art of Pizza, but here in Kansas City, MINSKY’S PIZZA has been No. 1 in since this category was introduced, earning its fourth straight Gold this year. There’s a reason for that: From one location launched in 1976, it has grown to 17 in the metro area by successfully wedding the words “gourmet” and “pizza.” You’d have to have grown up here pre-Minsky’s to appreciate how that concept changed the notion of going out for a slice. Silver honors go to fast-growing SPIN! NEAPOLITAN PIZZA, born in Kansas City but now franchising in Dallas, San Francisco, Orange County and Omaha. WALDO PIZZA, serving up gooey goodness on a pedestal, earns Bronze.
BEST PLACE TO TAKE OUT-OF-TOWN GUESTS
Face it: When they get here, out-of-towners are interested in sampling Kansas City steaks, or KC barbecue. Lucky for them there are plenty of choices for the latter, including perennial fan favorite FIORELLA’s JACK STACK BARBECUE, with a rich roster of smoked treats that only start with beef. There’s plenty of lighter fare on the menu at each of five locations, as well, but with half a dozen rib interpretations alone, including Kobe beef, Berkshire pork and lamb, is this really the time or place to be thinking salad? Fierce competition in this category keeps JOE’S KANSAS CITY BAR-B-QUE a close second with a delightful range of smoky beef, pork and chicken dinners, plus sandwiches and salads from three locations, earning Silver.
MOST ROMANTIC RESTAURANT
Dinner with your better half isn’t just another meal: It’s a celebration of love where the food isn’t the star, it’s the key supporting actor. Building on that theme, CHAZ ON THE PLAZA, in the Raphael Hotel, offers multiple ways to make dining with your special someone a special experience. Start with private dining options, the Sunday Culinary Getaway package, Dinner for Two Tuesdays or the delightful Rendezvous Package. No matter which way you go, the steaks, veal, seafood and other foundational elements of your meal will set just the right tone for a special time alone.
The nearest shrimp boat is more than 600 miles from Kansas City, so let’s all thank the Wright brothers for leading the way to fresh seafood offerings in the nation’s heartland. Capitalizing on the fresh catches of the day is BRISTOL SEAFOOD GRILL, locking down a ninth straight Gold for marrying a wide range of the ocean’s bounty with the kiss of a mesquite-fired grill. And if you haven’t tasted what lobster can do to a dish like macaroni and cheese, check this one out. Powerful competitors swim in this category, where a split of Silver honors goes to MCCORMICK & SCHMICK’S SEAFOOD & STEAKS, on the Plaza, and PIERPONT’S AT UNION STATION, in Union Station. Packing up Bronze is 801 CHOPHOUSE.
BEST SPORTS BAR/GRILL
Beer. Eats. The Game. Does life get any better than melding those three concepts? Not if you frequent COACH’S BAR & GRILL, where bar food is raised to an art form at the south Kansas City and Overland Park locations. (Think we’re exaggerating? Try the Chicken Pecan from the salad menu. Case closed). Just add a cold brew and a friend or two (or more) around the big-screen TVs, and you’ve got a fan experience that’s almost as good as being at the game—and maybe better once winter gets here. That all adds up to a Gold medal. Silver goes to 810 ZONE, which paired the sports bar concept with sports radio when it opened the first of its three locations in 2005.
We’ve dealt with the barbecue; now let’s get down to brass tacks with the meat that made Kansas City famous: Steaks. Happily, you can’t swing a Charolais’ tail in this town without hitting a great steak place, but the top spot on that crowded list—again—goes to THE CAPITAL GRILLE, the Plaza icon that extends a six-year run as the readers’ favorite for Gold. The 24-ounce Porterhouse and the 22-ounce bone-in Ribeye are gigantic bookends on a varied menu that will bring tears of joy to your salivary glands. Silver winner J. GILBERT’S, in Overland Park, is named for the man who helped make the Kansas City restaurant scene, and the menu would do the legendary Joe Gilbert proud. Bronze is split between another pair of Kansas City steak-serving legends, HEREFORD HOUSE (with four area locations) and THE MAJESTIC RESTAURANT.
BEST SUNDAY BRUNCH
Is it the prime rib or the Burger’s Smokehouse ham? The cold seafood or the sashimi and sushi? The made-to-order omelettes or the Belgian Waffles? The answer is, Yes. It’s all of that and more at the Gold-winning brunch buffet built every Sunday at BRISTOL SEAFOOD GRILL. Whatever you do, leave room for dessert—especially the Chocolate Truffle Cake. Inside Union Station, HARVEY’S AT UNION STATION serves up a Silver-winning range of brunch options, while URBAN TABLE, in Prairie Village, makes brunch an every-day option, and picks up Bronze in the process.
BEST ASIAN RESTAURANT
Yes, there are Oriental spins on beef and pork, shrimp and scallops, but at FORTUNE WOK, the combination of chicken and Asian themes yields a diverse range of tastes that seem to defy the fact that so many dishes could originate with a single bird. (For our money, the Cashew Chicken tops ‘em all.) With two locations in southern Johnson County, Fortune Wok dishes out the Gold-level goodness this year. A long-time Asian anchor on the Country Club Plaza, BO LING’S earns the Silver, while BLUE KOI takes the Bronze with its mastery of noodles and dumplings on display in Midtown and Leawood.
BEST FRENCH RESTAURANT
Fried chicken? French? Who knew? But that’s the case at AIXOIS, near the UMKC campus, which goes au français with that traditional American fare by twinning it up with French gravy. But the Gold honors aren’t just about the chicken: Aixois treats its fans to a feast of options at breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner, giving them virtually any-meal access (and don’t even get us started on the wines!). LE FOU FROG brings the bounty of a French bistro to the River Market, and picks up Silver, while CAFE PROVENCE, with its seasonal French menu celebrating Provencal cuisine, earns Bronze.
BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT
Whether you’re Downtown, in Lee’s Summit or Overland Park, authentic Italian fare isn’t far away, thanks to Gold-medalist GAROZZO’S RISTORANTE, which makes the access even easier with its catering options. With appetizers like toasted or truffle ravioli to main courses with beef, veal, chicken and seafood—and, of course, pasta—Garozzo’s brings Italy into the heartland. For more than 60 years, the name Cascone has defined Italian dining in Kansas City, and with three locations, CASCONE’S ITALIAN RESTAURANTS locks up Silver honors. In the Freighthouse district, LIDIA’S garners Bronze.
BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT
There are as many interpretations of Mexican fare as there are states in that country (31, if you didn’t know), but for our money, and readers seem to agree, the menu at JALAPENO’S sets the standard in Kansas City this year, and brings Gold to locations in Brookside and Overland Park. On Southwest Boulevard, the gateway to Kansas City’s biggest Hispanic community, MANNY’S brings in the Silver, while Bronze goes to JOSE PEPPER’S in Mission, Overland Park and the Northland.
BEST ART GALLERY
What makes the NELSON-ATKINS MUSEUM OF ART, year in and year out, the readers’ choice for Gold as an art
gallery? For one, it’s the depth of offerings; there is much to see here, and the price of admission—a voluntary donation—truly sets the Nelson apart. Silver goes to the KEMPER MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, with its mix of traveling exhibitions and rich permanent collection of works.
BEST CHARITABLE EVENT
Kansas City loves its zoo, and loves to support it: the annual black-tie JAZZOO is the biggest fund-raiser of the year for the zoo, and the event that earns a fifth straight Gold here for its philanthropic mission as well as the food, drinks, dancing under the stars and the live music (occasionally accompanied by some wild vocalists in the exhibits). In the few years since its inception, the Silver-winning BIG SLICK CELEBRITY WEEKEND has become one of the hottest tickets in town. And the Harvest Ball Society’s HARVEST BALL picks up Bronze for its work to support various local charities in the Northland.
AMERISTAR locks up the votes for the region’s best casino, combining a 184-room hotel with a wide range of ’round-the-clock gaming options—2,200 video and poker machines, table games like blackjack, craps and roulette. Gold? You bet. Silver goes to HOLLYWOOD CASINO AT KANSAS SPEEDWAY, with 52 table games and 2,000 slots. ARGOSY CASINO HOTEL & SPA, with 258 guest rooms in Riverside, racks up the Bronze.
Apples and oranges? Perhaps, with indoor cinema and the outdoor stage competing for honors here, but we like to think of it as the best of both performance venues in the region, and AMC THEATRES, with 120 screens at six movie-plex locations around the area, raises the curtain on Gold yet again. Venerable STARLIGHT THEATRE, pleasing stage fans with performances in Swope Park since 1951, takes home the Silver.
BEST FAMILY OUTING VENUE
THE KANSAS CITY ZOO adds to its run of category-leading Gold medals, thanks in part to new attractions like the koalas and dingoes from Australia, a pair of Sumatran tigers that moved in last spring, and the simian births of a chimpanzee and orangutan. Those additions helped stave off a run for top honors here from the KANSAS CITY ROYALS, who earn the Silver after bringing baseball fever back to Kansas City with World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015, including last year’s crown.
BEST GOLF COURSE
Tom Watson’s design genius lies behind a pair of award-winning courses: THE NATIONAL GOLF CLUB OF KANSAS CITY, which brings home the Gold in this category, as well as LOCH LLOYD, which earns the Silver. Both of those 18-hole championship courses are among the region’s most challenging, and most popular. The voting produced a tie for Bronze between IRONHORSE GOLF CLUB in Leawood and DEER CREEK GOLF CLUB in Overland Park.
BEST JAZZ OR BLUES CLUB
Combining the best of two key Kansas City attributes—music and barbecue—BB’S LAWNSIDE BBQ serves up the Gold by emphasizing smokin’ blues and slow-smoked meats—a dinner combo too tasty for readers to pass up. Silver goes to THE PHOENIX, which rose from the ashes of Kansas City’s Garment District in 1998, while the Bronze this year belongs to the GREEN LADY LOUNGE, offering no-cover live jazz seven nights a week in the Crossroads.
There’s more to NELSON-ATKINS MUSUEM OF ART than art in a frame, so readers reach for the Gold to recognize other pieces that draw them to the museum. Later this year, for example, the museum will wrap up a nearly four-year run with the Rodin collection from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, a sterling example of its work to bring world-famous classics to KC. Silver goes to the NATIONAL WORLD WAR I MUSEUM, firmly rooted in the ongoing centennial observations of the War to End All Wars.
BEST DAY TRIP
This category launched in 2002 and precisely one location has commanded reader loyalty for Gold honors every year they’ve had the chance: WESTON, MO., is the day-trip capital of the Kansas City area. The special appeal of this Missouri River jewel runs beyond the shopping, dining and brewing/distilling acumen of its resident craftsmen. Silver goes to another nearby town that has marched more forcefully into the 21st century. LAWRENCE, Kan., as home to a major research university, still retains some of that small-town charm along Massachusetts Street, but it’s
definitely a destination city in its own right for other attractions there.
BEST WEEKEND GETAWAY
When the weekend beckons, so does the lake: BRANSON, MO., on the shores of spectacular Table Rock Lake, picks up this year’s Gold. Offering not just lake life but the most concentrated set of live music and entertainment venues in the state, it’s not only a weekend draw for Kansas City and St. Louis, but a national destination. Silver goes to LAKE OF THE OZARKS, where floating cities emerge on Friday afternoons and dissipate as sunset rolls in on Sundays. HERMANN, MO., with its vineyards and geographic hints of Europe, picks up the Bronze.
BEST PERFORMING ARTS VENUE
We may never see its like again, when it comes to transforming the city and region: Since its opening in 2011, the KAUFFMAN CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS has been sweeping up the Gold honors here. With twin stages for performance and for symphony, with its spectacular design and world-class acoustics, the K-PAC seems destined to lock up these honors for decades to come.
BEST SPORTING EVENT
There’s nothing like a World Series appearance—or two—to elevate interest in attending a professional baseball game, and the KANSAS CITY ROYALS are wearing a crown of Gold for their on-field success and the demand they’ve created for showing clients a good time at Kauffman Stadium. Silver goes to the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS, with their NFL-record winning streak in 2015 ginning up attendance at Arrowhead Stadium, while the Bronze goes to SPORTING KANSAS CITY for the high caliber of athletic excellence on display at Children’s Mercy Park.
BEST LOCAL ENTERTAINER
In this category, it’s the PATRICK LENTZ BAND, perhaps the region’s first choice for live music at corporate gatherings, weddings, college parties (“Where’s my toga?”) and other events, where the tunes must reflect a festive mood. When Lentz and his crew are hammering away, you don’t just hear the music—you feel it. Solid Gold, say our readers.
BEST AUTO DEALER (DOMESTIC)
CABLE DAHMER CHEVROLET is a key piece of its namesake auto group, which boasts four area dealerships. But the ones that get readers excited is the flagship Chevrolet dealerships in Independence and South Kansas City. The deciding factor for many may well be what the company calls the Cable Dahmer Difference, which includes a package of services that help take the hassle out of vehicle ownership. Free annual vehicle inspections? Complementary loaners? Lifetime warranties on body shop repairs? All of that, and more, earns Gold. And oh, yes, they sell new and used vehicles there, too. Just a bit further up Interstate 70 is BLUE SPRINGS FORD, packing Silver honors behind its sales of new and used individual and fleet vehicles, parts, service and financing.
BEST AUTO DEALER (FOREIGN)
From the sleek outlines of a new RLX to certified pre-owned vehicles, JAY WOLFE ACURA in south Kansas City has what our readers say is a Gold-level package of cars, parts, service and leasing options—what the dealership calls the Jay Wolfe Customer Experience. On top of all that, it goes a step beyond with special programs and incentives for college graduates and military veterans. Across town, in Merriam, ARISTOCRAT MOTORS picks up Silver for its range of luxury-vehicle offerings including Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, Jaguar, Porsche, and Maserati, as well as the Smart car. For Bronze, we motor down I-35 to OLATHE TOYOTA, featuring new and used vehicles, parts, service and financing.
Bringing a touch of elegance to any corporate event venue—just as with weddings, anniversaries or other personal milestone celebrations—the floral arrangements from TRAPP & CO. FLORIST help secure Gold for a fourth straight year. But there’s a lot more to this company than fresh flowers delivered nationwide; it also offers home décor, women’s fashion and retail gift options. STUDIO DAN MEINERS racks up Silver honors, bolstered by both its floral and event designs as well as 8,000 square feet of event space in the Crossroads district. Brookside icon THE FIDDLY FIGG wraps up the Bronze.
This category features a legendary Kansas City jeweler in one-and-only fashion: TIVOL. The 116-year-old company, with locations on the Plaza and in Overland Park, walks off with the Gold for its extensive selections of rings, earrings, necklaces and pendants, cuff links, time pieces and other accoutrements wrought from precious metals like gold, sterling silver and platinum. Many of those will be accented with precious stones like diamonds, sapphires rubies or more than two dozen other choices. Perhaps a fitting tribute to the late Harold Tivol. No Silver or Bronze awards this year.
BEST LIQUOR STORE/WINE SELLER
For corporate events, a dinner party at home, client gifts or employee rewards, nothing impresses quite like superb wines. And our readers know where to get them: Start with LUKAS LIQUOR SUPERSTORE for the Gold. With locations in south Kansas City and Overland Park, it’s a one-stop shop for wine, spirits and beer selections (including kegs), but it’s also a repository of knowledge about what makes a good wine, how to handle and serve it and pair it with the right foods. GOMER’S, now bracketing the area with six locations offering wine, spirits and beer, pours out a Silver. In Lenexa and Prairie Village, RIMANN LIQUORS offers a top-tier selection of beverages, plus a party shop to pick up those event extras, and racks up the Bronze.
BEST OFFICE INTERIOR/FURNISHING FIRM
Great workspaces, say officials at ENCOMPAS, are more than just places to work: They inspire employees, increase productivity and contribute to the success of the organization. By delivering on that vision as a Haworth-preferred, full-service dealership, Encompas brings home the Gold here. From its Kansas City-area location in Lenexa, Michigan-based HERMAN MILLER offers a full range of seating, desks, table, storage and office accessories, good for Silver. And Bronze goes to SCOTT RICE OFFICE WORKS, the longtime KC company offering a complete package of services that include planning, construction, move management and, naturally, furnishings.
BEST ACCOUNTING FIRM
KPMG defines itself—and differentiates itself—as an accounting firm that lives by core values: among them, leading by example, respecting the individual, working together, acting with integrity and being committed to its communities. A global firm providing advisory, audit and tax services to some of the region’s leading companies, it earns the Gold. Silver goes to regional powerhouse BKD, based in Springfield but operating both its accounting and wealth-management sides from the Kansas City office. RUBINBROWN, a full-service firm with offices from Denver to Nashville, picks up Bronze.
BEST ADVERTISING FIRM
Home-grown advertising agencies are locked in an annual battle for this Gold, and this year, BARKLEY emerges from the scrum with the prize. Testament to the changes in that profession, the word “advertising” doesn’t appear in its list of brand-building capabilities; now, it’s about strategy, digital development, data and performance analytics and other means of driving client success. VML, the global digital marketing giant, picks up the Silver.
And Bronze produced a tie between BERNSTEIN-REIN, another full-service creative firm that, like Barkley, was founded in 1964, and Wichita-based SULLIVAN HIGDON & SINK, which has a strong presence in Kansas City.
BEST ARCHITECTURAL/DESIGN FIRM
The rich diversity of Kansas City’s design community comes shining through as recently rebranded GASTINGERWALKER& picks up the Gold; the company’s designers have their fingerprints all over some of the offices for the region’s best-known companies, non-profit organizations and public-sector buildings. BNIM, which helped lead the region’s architectural community into the era of sustainability, racks up Silver here, while Bronze goes to St. Louis-based HOK, which acquired 360 Architecture here and immediately launched a new Sports + Recreation + Entertainment practice.
Family Feud! Only twice in the 17 years since this category was introduced has a bank not controlled by Kemper family interests seized the Gold, and we revert to the norm with COMMERCE BANK, the region’s largest local bank in terms of assets, coming out on top this year. Almost as if by default, that puts UMB, the region’s largest in terms of deposit market share, in the Silver slot. Bronze is divided between Topeka-based CAPITOL FEDERAL and MISSOURI BANK, now an arm of Tulsa-based BOK Financial (parent of Bank of Kansas City).
BEST COMMERCIAL CONTRACTOR (Large)
This is one of the few remaining categories dominated by a single company since inception of the award: JE DUNN CONSTRUCTION builds a 17th straight Gold for itself, endearing itself to readers not just with its construction might and civic leadership, but the philanthropic weight it throws around. TURNER CONSTRUCTION, though based in New York, has developed a local following that declares it the Silver winner. And MCCOWNGORDON CONSTRUCTION, another home-grown champion of contracting, civic engagement and local philanthropy, picks up the Bronze.
BEST COMMERCIAL CONTRACTOR (Small)
When a builder’s revenues get within hailing range of nine figures, it’s a tight squeeze to fit them into the “small” category, but there sits NEIGHBORS CONSTRUCTION, riding the wave of apartment building that has engulfed the region the past five years, and putting up some of the area’s most distinctive multifamily housing to earn the Gold here. RAU CONSTRUCTION, now it its fifth generation of family leadership, unpacks the Silver, while another family company, A.L. HUBER GENERAL CONTRACTOR, uncrates the Bronze.
BEST COMMERCIAL REAL-ESTATE FIRM
A legacy of the Van Tuyl family’s enduring contributions to the local business scene, VANTRUST REAL ESTATE didn’t even exist before 2010. Yet today, it has a powerhouse of real-estate development projects across much of the nation, including high-profile logistics centers in the Kansas City region. That impresses readers who bestow Gold honors on this rising star. Silver, by contrast, goes to one of the oldest companies in any sector still doing business here today: KESSINGER/HUNTER & CO. And home-grown REECE COMMERCIAL, the business end of a name that’s also prominent in residential realty, picks up the Bronze.
BEST DRY CLEANING
Looking sharp at the office is made easy with the right dry cleaner standing behind your wardrobe, and HANGERS CLEANERS gets the Golden nod here. Some might think it’s because Hangers boasts two storefronts, eight Hy-Vee locations and an environmentally friendly cleaning process; we think the door-to-door pickup and delivery has something to do with this outcome. PRIDE CLEANERS, with unmatched ease of access (more than three dozen area locations), sports the Silver. Serving the heart of Johnson County with four locations, TIDE DRY CLEANERS bags the Bronze.
BEST ENGINEERING FIRM
Long known as the city with the highest per-capita number of engineers, Kansas City is adding to that distinction thanks to Gold-winning BURNS & MCDONNELL, which has doubled in size the past 10 years and now has more than 5,000 employees (and a sparkling new headquarters building in south Kansas City to house them). Omaha-based KIEWIT, with muscular operations in its power division (design and construction) headquartered in Lenexa, picks up the Silver. And the long-standing leader in both regional engineering employment and global engineering acumen, BLACK & VEATCH, pulls in the Bronze.
BEST GROUND TRANSPORTATION
Business executives and prom-night superstars alike look to Gold-winning OVERLAND CHAUFFEURED SERVICES for a superior limousine experience. But what makes this Leawood company stand out are the multiple means of getting you from here to there—fleet transportation, executive mini-coaches, airport car service, even transit-management services worldwide. Rolling with Silver is UBER, the digital dial-a-ride service that has defined the emerging shared economy. AGENDA: USA, billing itself as the region’s only accredited destination-management company, picks up Bronze.
BEST HEALTH CLUB
Time-starved executives have enough of a challenge just getting to the gym, so when the do get there, they want a Gold-level experience, and LIFE TIME FITNESS delivers with its gleaming facilities in Lenexa and Overland Park. From workout machines to competitive athletics, swimming, Pilates/yoga and weight-loss counseling and more, it’s a full-service fitness facility. PLANET FITNESS—“Home of the Judgment Free Zone”—makes access easy with nine are locations, including Topeka and St. Joseph, and earns the Silver. Based Downtown, ONELIFE FITNESS picks up Bronze with programs that also address corporate wellness, personal training and group fitness.
BEST HEALTH INSURER
In a sector rocked by change, BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD OF KANSAS CITY is a touchstone of stability for nearly 1 million regional customers, picking up the Gold for programs that promote individual wellness, corporate wellness programming and efforts to improve population health. HUMANA, with health, dental and vision products for individuals, families and businesses and plans for the Medicare-eligible, grabs Silver, while GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES HEALTH
ASSOCIATION, serving more than 1 million customers nationwide, is the pick for Bronze.
BEST HOSPITAL/MEDICAL CENTER
In a highly competitive health-care market, standing out does indeed require truly outstanding levels of care and skill sets. THE UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS HOSPITAL delivers a Gold standard of care and serves as a research bulwark against maladies like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and more. SAINT LUKE’S HOSPITAL, part of a health system with three other hospitals ringing the metro area, is a popular choice for Silver. And Bronze yields a tie between two of the heavyweights of health-care delivery in Johnson County, SHAWNEE MISSION MEDICAL CENTER and OLATHE MEDICAL CENTER.
BEST IT CONSULTING GROUP
The more complex your office’s information technology gets, the more valuable your outsourced IT company is to your own success. NETSTANDARD picks up Gold in this vital category, with managed IT services, products and consulting that allow business owners to focus on making the widgets that you make so well. THE PURPLE GUYS win the Silver in this category for their work on behalf of small and mid-size business clients. VALOREM CONSULTING, with big-company clients like Populous, HNTB, MIQ Logistics and Lockton, checks in with Bronze.
The “new” hasn’t come close to wearing off at the HOTEL SORELLA, the seven-story, 132-room addition to the Plaza area that opened in November 2013. Designed to mesh with the Spanish influence of the neighboring retail district, it resonates with patrons for its rooftop pool and terrace, luxurious rooms and suites (including the Presidential). A solid Gold experience. Just a stone’s throw away are a pair of iconic Plaza establishments: Silver-winning THE RAPHAEL HOTEL, home of the romantic getaway, and the INTERCONTINENTAL KANSAS CITY AT THE PLAZA, is our Bronze winner.
BEST JANITORIAL SERVICES
CITY WIDE MAINTENANCE, founded in KC but now a nationally franchised company, walks away with Gold honors. Its model to deliver custodial services as well as building exterior and landscaping upkeep has proven a smashing success for this 55-year-old company.
BEST LAW FIRM
POLSINELLI is a fast-growing firm that provides legal counsel infused with business insight and litigation services to clients in such high-profile areas as health care, financial services and real estate. An AmLaw 100 firm (the 86th-largest in the nation), it secures the Gold here. The region’s oldest operating law firm, LATHROP & GAGE, is showing no signs of slowing down, and gathers in the Silver, while SPENCER FANE, another firm focusing on the legal needs of business clients, emerges with the Bronze in an inordinately competitive category.
BEST MEETING/CONFERENCE FACILITY
The OVERLAND PARK CONVENTION CENTER emerges with the Gold—not surprising, since companies and private parties have already voted: The center hosts more than 330 corporate events or gatherings a year, drawing on its team of event-planning specialists, flexible and functional space for exhibitors, and an accessible location right next to Interstate 435 in Johnson County. Silver goes to the KANSAS CITY MARRIOTT DOWNTOWN, still the biggest hotel inside the loop, or out, with nearly 1,000 guest rooms.
No, the digital age is not doing away with commercial printing; if anything, it’s added to the need for high-quality, eye-catching designs and products. In that space, readers tip their hats to SUMMIT LITHO for the Gold, recognizing its mastery of both the creative side of that as well as digital and offset printing and bindery services. PRECISION PRINTING, a full-service printer based in Lenexa, rolls out the Silver, while Downtown Kansas City’s SOLI PRINTING polishes up the Bronze.
BEST RESIDENTIAL REALTY FIRM
At the center of the residential realty universe in Kansas City, there is REECENICHOLS, a mammoth home-selling enterprise with more than 1,900 agents in 18 area offices, and 350 more in the two-state area. Sheer volume alone could account for the Gold vote here, but the level of service and satisfaction from both buyer and seller is what keeps ReeceNichols No. 1. Picking up the Silver is KELLER WILLIAMS REALTY, with seven offices stretching from the Northland to Olathe and Lee’s Summit. Bronze goes to BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS REAL ESTATE, with 450 agents working from eight offices in the region. (CORRECTION: The print edition of Ingram’s incorrectly stated the number of agents and offices for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate.)
BEST SMALL-BUSINESS LENDER
Small-business lending is a vital cog in the wheels of regional commerce, and our readership in particular understands the value of that function. Accordingly, they designate UMB as winner of this year’s Gold; only two other banks had greater SBA lending volume in the agency’s most recent reporting year. COMMERCE BANK, another Top 5 SBA lender, doubled its loan volume in that same period, and racks up Silver honors. Bronze, meanwhile, goes to LEAD BANK, which has made lending to emerging and fast-growth companies a niche.
Helping you relax, rejuvenate and live your best life is the stated mission for the staff at the THE SPA AT BRIARCLIFF, a Mosaic Life Care enterprise that promises to take your work week stresses and turn them into faded memories. How? Gold-level massage and facial therapies, European bath and nail services, waxing and full-body treatments—you won’t be the same coming out as you were going in. Silver goes to PAR EXSALONCE, treating everything from hair, skin and hands to feet at three locations, while the storied THE ELMS HOTEL & SPA in Excelsior Springs offers Bronze-worthy delights.
BEST WEALTH MANAGER
There’s a very good reason why Leawood-based CREATIVE PLANNING is closing in on $20 billion in assets under management: It delivers on a complete range of wealth management services, from investments to tax planning, insurance needs to wills and trusts. And it’s doing all of that under the guidance of a man designated by Barron’s for three years running as America’s top wealth manager, Peter Mallouk. Small wonder the Gold rests here. EDWARD JONES, based in St. Louis but with thousands of certified financial planners nationwide, picks up Silver. Overland Park’s WADDELL & REED, a formidable presence on a national level, earns the Bronze.
BEST WIRELESS CARRIER
One of your most productive business tools fits in the palm of your hand, and you don’t realize how much you rely on it until the service fails. It’s your wireless device, and the level of consistency and quality of service from VERIZON WIRELESS earns the Gold medal here. AT&T, which traces its roots almost back to Alexander Graham Bell’s first phone call, is a 21st-century telecom company with services that earn the Silver. And hometown favorite Sprint
dials up the Bronze.