Best Of Business Kansas City 2015 Awards

From Golden Spoon to Silver Ladle to Best of Business Kansas City, the name of the game may have changed over the years, but the underlying concept never has: The most discriminating audience in the Kansas City region weighs in each year with ballots for the best places to eat, the best shopping venues—really, the best of everything.

And from hospitals to accounting services, from car dealers to non-profit fund-raising events, we are able to bring you this list of prestigious organizations that make excellence a cornerstone of what they do for those they serve. A bit like Christmas, it comes only once a year, and it’s the only one of Ingram’s annual business-recognition programs where readers have the final say. And like Christmas, the excitement builds for weeks as the ballots roll in.

Under the tree this year, you’ll find plenty of familiar names—which is to be expected. After all, once someone has perfected the art of cooking and presenting the ultimate steak dinner, or plating that uniquely savory slab of ribs, it’s hard to beat perfect. But there are some new faces, too, and we encourage readers to learn more about companies that are creating a buzz with their offerings in the categories of Wining & Dining, Entertainment & Culture, Business Products and Business Services.

Now in its 27th year, the Best of Business Awards give you an opportunity to broaden your own
horizons as you think about the concept of excellence. We encourage you to do just that, and we salute the companies that have earned our readers’ loyalty and admiration. To all: Well done.

It may be the clichéd outsider’s view of Kansas City cuisine, but we really don’t live by barbecue alone—much as we’d like to. Regional barbecue styles abound, but even within this region, there are many interpretations of “Kansas City style.” That’s the beauty of it, and the Gold-winning formulation this year goes to Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, the former Oklahoma Joe’s,  dishing up knockout sandwiches, ribs, chicken, side dishes and more. Silver goes to long time honoree Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, a Kansas City institution, while Bronze goes to a newcomer making a saucy splash on the barbecue scene, Q39.

BRGR Kitchen + Bar, with locations in the Power & Light District and Corinth Square in Prairie Village, commands the Gold, largely on the strength of a dozen variations on the burger concept—and that’s before you start factoring in bison meat. But there are also lots of snacks, salads and what it bills as Not-So-Burgers, appealing to all appetites. Five Guys Burgers and Fries, with 14 area locations open or about to be, grabs the Silver, while Bronze honors go to Leawood’s Blanc Burgers + Bottles, where the drinks—correctly, in our view— command as much attention as the main course.

With this category, it’s First Watch—then everybody else. It has owned the Gold here since this awards niche was introduced in 1990, and you can count on breakfast done right—and lunch, too—at any of its 10 area-wide locations. There’s a Silver split between The Classic Cup, home of the ultimate outdoor breakfast on the Country Club Plaza, and Eggtc., dishing up morning fare or brunch at locations in Midtown and in Shawnee. Bronze goes to Harvey’s at Union Station, with four—count ’em, four—variations of Eggs Benedict.

They’re known for steaks—and for good reason—but since man does not lunch by red meat alone, there’s a wide selection of midday favorites available at The Capital Grille, which locks up a 10th straight Gold in this category. Silver goes to Rye KC, a purely local enterprise from Colby and Megan Garrelts, whose menu varies ever so slightly as the growing seasons change throughout the year. And for Bronze, you’ll find service, selection and speed—and, of course, savory sandwiches, soups and more—across the menu at Panera Bread.

When you treat your favorite clients to the ultimate steak at The Capital Grille, the experience is as important as what arrives on the platter, and it’s all solid Gold. From the seafood appetizers to the signature 24-ounce, dry-aged Porterhouse to the dessert menu (do try the flourless chocolate espresso cake!), this dinner sets the stage for closing your deal every time. Silver goes to McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks, where there’s something for every appetite, and for Bronze we highly recommend J. Alexander’s not just for the food, but an atmosphere that combines the casual and the elegant.

When you think you have Lon Lane’s Inspired Occasions all figured out, along comes his Gold-winning team with a new creation that will be the talk of your gathering, whether it’s a wedding, corporate event, new product launch or any other social get-together. Silver honors are divided between Broncato’s Catering, where it’s not just the food, but the presentation and venue that count, and Jack Stack Kansas City Catering, bringing that succulent barbecue to your location. And for Bronze, Blue Pot Catering offers the full range of services from boxed lunches and cocktail party fare to formal wedding spreads.

The Gold in this increasingly competitive category goes to Michael Smith, Kansas City’s first James Beard Award winner, and owner of both the restaurant that bears his name and the adjacent Extra Virgin in the Crossroads district. Silver goes to another Beard winner, Colby Garrelts, who along with his wife, Megan, has made both bluestem (Westport) and Rye KC (in Leawood) high-demand locations. Carl Thorne-Thomsen, a Beard semifinalist, rounds out the category with Bronze and his elegant, upscale Story in Prairie Village.

At The Roasterie, the business of coffee meets the consumer’s taste buds, a Gold-winning difference you can taste because owner Danny O’Neill and his team are personally selecting the Costa Rican beans that go into his production facility. Those who need a coffee fix—right now!—consider the wide range of offerings at any of nearly 50 Starbucks locations in the metro area; that access alone is worth Silver. Taking the Bronze is the Coffee Girl’s Café in Waldo.

Whether it’s a specialty sandwich, a hot or cold sub or a steaming slice of pizza, readers declare that d’Bronx Authentic Deli & Pizzeria is the place to go, and it takes home the Gold. Silver belongs to Carollo Gourmet Grocery & Deli, where the Italian is proudly authentic and where you can take those tastes home from the grocery side. And Jason’s Deli, where fresh is on the menu at six area locations, serves up Bronze.

Stroud’s delivers that family dining experience with its signature take on fried chicken and a lot more—steaks, pork chops, catfish and seafood—all served with family-style helpings of steaming sides. That’s been good for Gold every year we’ve had this category. The choice between taking the family to Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue or Nick and Jake’s is always tough, so no surprise, our readers’ votes broke evenly for each to share Silver honors. And The Corner Café, serving not just fried chicken but comfort foods like chicken and noodles or pot roast, plates up Bronze at three area locations.

Sometimes, the best dining experience is the one you create at home, and standing ready to supply your every chef-ly desire is this year’s lineup of area grocers. Bagging the Gold is Hy-Vee, the employee-owned chain with nearly two dozen area locations. Price Chopper is our Silver honoree, fully stocked and probably right in your neighborhood with more than 50 locations from Smithville to Ottawa. Cosentino’s Market, both Downtown and in Brookside, takes Bronze for its grocery items as well as harder-to-find specialty items and ready-to-eat delicacies.

It’s not just about the food. Nor the drinks. Happy Hour is about togetherness, a common celebration of a job well done for a day, a week, or longer. And the Gold for putting together the pieces that allow patrons to relish the thought of non-work is Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar. The Silver accolades go to Red Door Woodfire Kitchen & Bar in Leawood, with its discounted drinks and appetizers, while Gram & Dun picks up a third medal by taking the Bronze here.

Success in the restaurant business is all about consistency, one reason Plaza-based Seasons 52 stands out. Not just for its fare, but for a menu that changes with the seasons, summoning dishes that capitalize on the peak freshness of their constituent ingredients. That’s good for Gold with our readers. Seasonality is also a prime differentiator at The Mixx, which picks up Silver for its spin on sandwiches, wraps, salads, pastas and soups at three locations. And Bronze goes to Blue Bird Bistro, the West Side spot with an eclectic mix of offerings—the burgers alone come in beef, bison and black-bean varieties.

Ahhh: Dining outside on the Country Club Plaza. It’s a Kansas City culinary tradition, and one that the folks at Gold-winning Gram & Dun have perfected with lunch, dinner and brunch offerings—but to get outside, you must be determined enough to get past an enticing new bar menu. To the north, in Briarcliff Village, Trezo Mare defines the outdoor dining experience and takes Silver with lunch, dinner, brunch and truly happy Happy Hours. And to the south, at Mission Farms in Leawood, Rye KC takes Bronze, serving the award-winning creations of Colby Garrelts with just the right touch of outdoor atmosphere.

When you strike Gold with a concept, run with it: Minsky’s Pizza is still the same mmm-inspiring fare it was the day it fired up its first oven in Kansas City nearly 40 years ago. The menu has changed and expanded, but as the 15-store chain boasts, it’s “gourmet—and going to stay that way.” At Waldo Pizza, elevated platters of cheesy goodness come in more varieties we can count, and that broad appeal is good for Silver recognition, while Bronze-winning SPIN! Neopolitan Pizza continues to open stores and build a fan base with its northern Italian take on a classic meal.

It’s a restaurateur’s challenge: Creating a menu alluring enough to attract large groups, but in a setting that allows the conversation to flourish. That requires a touch of informality—just a touch, mind you—to go along with delectable foods, but nobody pulls it off like Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, our Gold medalist. There must be something about the barbecuing itself, because coming in with Silver is Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, where dinner conversations take place around mouthfuls of sliced heaven. And Bronze-winning Hereford House serves up steak and trimmings in an atmosphere that also fuels the group dynamic.

Some things are stereotypical because, well, because they’re true. So when an out-of-towner wants the definitive Kansas City dining experience, it’s no surprise that our readers say the top choices are barbecue, barbecue and . . . barbecue. Atop that mound of steaming meat is Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, the Gold winner, where you can dazzle your guests with the ribs alone—but don’t stop there. Silver goes to Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, where the crown rib will make an impression your out-of-town company will never forget. The legendary Arthur Bryant’s, which helped give Kansas City barbecue its national reputation, is our Bronze winner.

The food, the wine, the service, the view—every piece has a part to play in creating the perfect romantic atmosphere, whether you’re popping the question or popping the cork for a 50th anniversary. And for 11 years running in these awards, the Gold standard for creating that atmosphere is set by The American Restaurant. In addition to its regular seating, it offers four-course meals in private dining to keep the evening focused just where it should be: On each other. Silver goes to Story, where a touch of elegance always helps set the mood, and Bronze is offered up at The Majestic Restaurant, a longtime fixture on Quality Hill.

Seafood? Here? You bet. Start with Bristol Seafood Grill, riding an eight-year Gold-winning streak in this category, thanks to its ample samples of oceanic bounty: crab and lobster, shrimp and sushi, oysters, scallops, calamari and more—and, for land-lubbers, steaks and chicken. At Silver-winning McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood and Steaks, the name says it all, while Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, our Bronze medalist, is one of the few places with multiple varieties of caviar.

The sports-bar experience isn’t just about the beer, food or even the game: It’s about all of those, wrapped in the emotions a true fan feels watching a favorite team with like-minded friends. And with six area locations to fill the primal urges to eat, drink, shout and high five—sometimes all at once—there’s Johnny’s Tavern, our Gold medalist, with 10 area locations. Tanner’s Bar & Grill, with eight locations here (they’re also in Nebraska and even Wisconsin), picks up Silver honors, and Bronze goes to Nick and Jake’s, serving up the good times from three locations.

Before it was a barbecue town, Kansas City was a steak town, so our appreciation for this culinary delight runs deep. And for five straight years, The Capital Grille has sated that appetite with a Gold-winning range of beefy offerings from porterhouse to ribeye, filet mignon to KC strip, all in portion sizes sure to please. At Silver honoree 801 Chophouse, steak takes center stage on the menu, but so do the preparations for those cuts, such as au poivre with cognac crème or bone-marrow butter bath. And Bronze goes to Hereford House, home of—among other cuts—the Tomahawk Chop, an eye-popping three pounds of long bone-in ribeye.

Opening a barbecue joint in Kansas City may be as challenging as opening a Dairy Queen in Siberia, but at Q39, the barbecue made a deep—and immediate—impact on Ingram’s readers, who awarded them Gold. Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar impresses for Silver with the sushi-eating set and fish-lovers in general. JJ’s returns to the scene after that 2013 fire, bringing back much of what its patrons missed, and creating a Bronze tie with Cleaver & Cork, where meats from regional ranchers take center stage.

Nick and Jake’s, in all its informal splendor, nails down the Gold for its Sunday brunch buffet, a glorious array that takes you from made-to-order French toast all the way up to slices of prime rib. At Bristol Seafood Grill, our Silver medalist, the menu is predictably heavy on sea fare, including sushi, sashimi and a cold seafood display, but the carving station featuring prime rib and ham is not to be missed. Bronze honors go to Harvey’s at Union Station, where hot and cold buffet stations complement the carving stations and dessert offerings.

Our Gold goes to Bo Ling’s, which has moved a few blocks west on 47th Street from its previous Plaza site (with five more in the metro area), but the dim sum—and all the other Asian delights—are as delectable as ever. Silver honors go to Jun’s Japanese, where you can partake of lunch or dinner, or just a glass of wine over an array of sushi stylings. Bronze belongs to Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop in the Crossroads, where great taste and affordability are part of the mission statement.

At Le Fou Frog in the River Market, French cuisine includes escargot, sea bass, wagyu fillet, lamb shanks and duck—all with perfectly complimentary sauces and vegetables. For our readers, that’s a Golden combination. Silver goes to Café Provence, where the distinctly regional appeal of southeastern France combines with ingredients available at their freshest in the Midwest. And at Aixois, the Bronze-winning, classic French bistro in Brookside, you’ll find breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch—even a Sunday afternoon menu.

Cascone’s Italian Restaurant, our Gold winner, is actually two establishments—Cascone’s North in Gladstone, and Johnny Cascone’s in Overland Park, but the common thread in both is Italian: antipasti, pastas, main courses of veal, chicken and steak, just the way it’s made back in Italy. Garozzo’s Italian Restaurant earns Silver honors on the strength of a menu that boasts beef and veal, chicken and seafood, and, naturally, pasta in various configurations.

Cactus Grill makes its first appearance as a Gold winner after eight years of offering its own spin on Tex-Mex fare in Leawood. One establishment making a repeat appearance in this highly competitive balloting is Silver winner Mi Ranchito, with seven area locations, and featuring margaritas with 15 separate tequila options. Bringing home the Bronze is Port Fonda, offering lunch, dinner, late-night dining and not just a Sunday brunch, but a rare Saturday spin on that concept.

In this category, we award only the Gold, and it goes—for a category-leading 11th time—to The Capital Grille. The energetic, informed staff has all the skills needed to enhance the overall dining experience.

This should surprise exactly no one: When you serve what readers consider the best business lunch, the best business dinner and the best steak, and wrap that in a blanket of the best service, you strike Gold for The Capital Grille. Our Silver medalist is Story, one of the region’s most romantic settings, led by a great chefs. And Bronze goes to Gram & Dun. 

One that tops the list: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, back again this year with Gold honors. The Nelson has something for everyone tucked into 400,000 square feet of space, including the Bloch Building. A little more than a block to the west is the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, our Silver winner, featuring works from artists around the world, while the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College frames the Bronze.

Jazzoo is the largest fund-raiser of the year for the Kansas City Zoo, and one that resonates with the philanthropic spirit of Ingram’s readers, who give it the Gold once again. Silver goes to the JDRF Dream Gala, helping fund the fight against juvenile diabetes. And a relative newcomer to the charity-funding scene is our Bronze winner, the annual Big Slick celebrity weekend on behalf of Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Gold-winning Ameristar scores with its nine fine and casual dining options, a luxury hotel, 18 movie screens, supervised child care—and, of course, one of the Midwest’s largest gaming floors. Just up the river, Harrah’s North Kansas City Hotel and Casino is our Silver winner, offering glitz, glamour and the red-hot VooDoo Lounge. And Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway rings up Bronze.

AMC Theatres is the Gold-level experiencesin theater-going, our readers say. As a live outdoor theatrical venue, nothing tops Starlight Theatre, which captures the category’s Silver, while another cinematic showcase, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, rolls with Bronze.

As we said, the Kansas City Zoo is arguably the region’s top family outing, and if you make that argument, you have the votes of Ingram’s readers on your side: Nine times, the zoo has been their choice for Gold honors in this category. Of course, when the Kansas City Royals get it going, as they did last year and are doing again this summer, the Zoo will get a run for its money—and the fans’ dollars, as well. This year, the Boys in Blue garnered Silver for owner David Glass. And basking in Bronze rays is Union Station.

Kansas City, as a region, is blessed with some first-class golfing options—so much so that spectacular golfing venues routinely fail to make our metallic menu with Best of Business Kansas City honors. Which means that the 6,938-yard championship course at Hallbrook Country Club, this year’s Gold winner, truly has it going for our voting/golfing readers. The National Golf Club of Kansas City, always in contention for top honors, finishes with Silver honors, while another Northland venue, Shoal Creek Golf Course, putts for Bronze.

It takes a certain refined taste in music to truly appre-ciate jazz, and it takes the correct venue to feed that appreciation. For two years running and three of the past four, our readers say that venue starts and stops with The Phoenix Jazz Club, this year’s Gold winner, which is celebrating 25 years of top-drawer jazz this year. Silver goes to the Green Lady Lounge, devoted to the rich history of KC jazz, while a cat of a different color, Knuckleheads Saloon earns the Bronze.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art locks up an impressive 16th Gold in this category, having ceded that title exactly once—to this year’s Silver winner, the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial. Bronze honors goes to the Museum at Prairiefire, an instant attraction since opening in May 2014, who shares the stage with Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater KC is Gold-worthy in the eyes of readers who value youth mentoring. Taking Silver is Ronald McDonald House, serving families and children undergoing medical care Children’s TLC, a pioneer in early childhood intervention programming, garners Bronze.

The year-’round pull of Weston, Mo., from its historical heritage to its first-rate accommodations, from its range of wining and dining venues to its seasonal activities, all endear this small town to readers looking to recharge over a weekend, and they vote it Gold. Silver goes to Lawrence, Kan., and its enduring appeal to alumni and KU fans, while Columbia, Mo., picks up Bronze, with some help from its MU fan base.

The Lake of the Ozarks is a magnet that pulls not just from Kansas City, but across Missouri each weekend. The boating, the dining establishments, the lake life itself, all are Gold in our readers’ eyes. With its more Southern-style mountain charm Branson, Mo., and it’s bottomless well of entertainment options nabs Silver. And Hermann, Mo., known far and wide for its charming accommodations in the heart of Missouri wine country, takes the Bronze.

The Kaufmann Center for the Performing Arts is a four-time Gold-winner here since opening in 2011. Other venues have their attractions, but few are associated with the term “world class” as often as the K-PAC. Starlight Theatre, the crown jewel of outdoor theater, pulls in another Silver. The Music Hall, with its more intimate setting for 2,400, raises the curtain on Bronze honors.

Nothing like a World Series appearance to put a thumb on the scale for the Kansas City Royals, who brought home not just the AL Pennant, but Gold honors here. Sporting Kansas City, with its enhanced fan experience that has been the rage of the pro soccer world, scores with Silver. And football fans, who savor everything from tailgating to touchdowns—give the Kansas City Chiefs this year’s Bronze.

Tim Whitmer’s blend of jazz, religious music, event-planning services and more bring him back for recognition as this year’s Gold medalist. Silver goes to the Patrick Lentz Band, which can help you let your hair down at weddings, college parties and corporate events, charity galas. And Joe Cartwright, who seems to be playing somewhere in Kansas City every single night, cranks out the Bronze

A generation ago, the so-called Big Eight firms dominated the world of accounting. A great deal of consolidation later, we’re down to the Big Four—and we seem to have lost most of our vowels along the way. So follow the initials in this category, where Springfield-based BKD comes shining through with Gold, offering its array of tax, audit and wealth-management services for a wide range of industries across the nation. Silver honors go to KPMG, the global giant with a robust roster of services for both accounting and accountability, while CBIZ-Myer Hoffman McCann claims the Bronze.

With another strong growth year under its belt, Trozzolo Communications Group is the readers’ pick for Gold. One growth driver there: Creation of a specialty practice devoted specifically to the growing needs of law firms. Lawrence-based Callahan Creek, with a client base that runs from small local non-profits to billion-dollar corporations, racks up Silver honors. And Bronze goes to Muller Bressler Brown, another full-service shop, with a health-care niche through its +Hippo operations.

VML became Kansas City’s biggest advertising and digital marketing agency by embracing the latter, and never forgetting what worked with the former. Result: Clients representing some of the world’s leading brands of consumer products. Readers give it the Gold for its embrace of digital messaging. Sullivan Higdon & Sink, which has—hands down—the best Web site domain name in all of Kansas City business (and yes, we’re going to make you look it up), picks up Silver for its ability to help clients stand out from the flock. No Bronze was awarded this year.

HOK, in tandem with its recent acquisition, 360 Architecture, has a global reputation for creating beautiful, functional public spaces around the world—museums, office buildings, airports, hospitals and more. Good for Gold, say the readers. TK Architects International takes Silver as the design behind the fun: for cinemas, bars and restaurants worldwide. BNIM, where form and function are one, is our Bronze winner.

When you talk hometown banks, two dominate. And they’re eyeball to eyeball again this year, with UMB our Gold winner (and No. 1 in this category all-time). As always, it’s a hard-won victory, and No. 2 on that same historic list is this year’s Silver winner, Commerce Bank. It leads the region in deposit market share, in assets in this market, and among locally based banks, in access by number of branches. Bronze goes to Missouri Bank, carrying the community bank flag again in this year’s voting.

Simply put, nobody is in the same league with JE Dunn Construction, which collects its 16th consecutive Gold. Long a family-owned company, and now employee-owned, JE Dunn is still a pillar of civic and philanthropic engagement here, and just flat big—it’s one of the Top 25 contractors in the U.S., according to Engineering News Record. JE Dunn has a special place in voters’ hearts. Silver honors go to a contractor of another sort, Clarkson Construction, one of the so-called “heavies” building the nation’s infrastructure—highways, power plants, railways and more. And McCownGordon Construction, another award-winning employee-owned firm with a strong civic/philanthropic stripe, claims the Bronze.

In 2010 Centric Projects was a startup with a vision that its founders parlayed into a $67 million company within five years. The sheer number of relationships needed to create such success also translate into Gold votes here. Silver goes to family-owned A.L. Huber General Contractor, builders of banks, churches, office buildings and more. Kelly Construction Group, a general contractor specializing in all types of commercial construction, locks up the Bronze award.

Newmark Grubb Zimmer, a full-service firm with a finger in roughly 450 transactional pies in this market annually, is not just busy, but good at what it does, say readers, who make it our Gold winner. Reece Commercial Real Estate, with marketing and brokerage services for owners, landlords and developers, wins Silver and Karbank Real Estate, providing brokerage services for industrial and office sites, land sales and real estate investment, earns Bronze.

No, all dry cleaning is not the same. Take Pride Cleaners, our Gold winner, with nearly three dozen metro locations and same-day service for or-ders placed by 9 a.m. Fast, versatile and convenient is a tough combination to beat. Readers love the convenience of Silver winner Hangers Cleaners and its Hangers Express drop-off boxes, plus the wide range of services. Brushing off the Bronze is Arrow Fabricare Services, offering free pickup and both standard and specialty services.

One of the region’s fastest-growing engineering firms is also the readers’ choice for the Gold award: Burns & McDonnell, a 117-year-old employee-owned company that is riding a hot streak of growth, doubling in both revenues and in employee count in just the past five years. Overland Park-based Black & Veatch, a global provider of engineering and construction services, grabs the Silver, while HNTB, a full-service firm that designs and builds infrastructure projects nationwide, earns Bronze.

Overland Chauffeured Services has distinguished itself with a wide-ranging fleet of vehicles, types of functions served and even locations—they can take care of your ground transportation needs anywhere on the planet, and that’s good for Gold in this category, where making the right impression on a client counts for a lot. Making a splash after entering the Kansas City market, Uber and its contribution to the sharing economy are good for Silver. And Agenda:USA, with event production, convention services and an array of ground transportation options, earns the Bronze award.

The savvy business owner and executive knows that good health is good business—specifically, every employee’s good health. Helping them attain peak physical performance (or at least better fitness) is our Gold winner, Lifetime Fitness, with its range of exercising options, instructional programs and amenities (10 minutes in those over-size whirlpool tubs are life-changers). Prairie Life Fitness scores the Silver, not just for its programs and workout options, but for guaranteed re-sults. Yes, guaranteed. Up-and-coming City Gym breaks into the medal rounds with Bronze, in part because of its fluency with the language of Pi-Yo, Chisel, Zumba and Barre and other group-exercise options.

Nobody in this market provides health-care insurance to more people than Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, our Gold medalist. Individual, group or employer-paid health plans—BlueKC has solutions for all. Silver and Bronze honors are intertwined this year; Silver goes to Coventry Health Care, which is now a subsidiary of Bronze winner Aetna, but either way you go, you’ll find health, dental, vision and pharmacy plans and services.

Since becoming a public health authority in 1998, what’s happened at the University of Kansas Hospital is nothing short of remarkable: The area’s largest hospital in revenues and in-patient volumes, and it’s becoming a national figure in medical research, particularly for cancer. An easy pick for bestowing Gold honors. Saint Luke’s Hospital, the flagship of Saint Luke’s Health System’s campuses, has also grown as a center of clinical care and research, and picks up Silver. Always among the region’s leaders in patient volumes, North Kansas City Hospital takes the Bronze, a full-service acute care medical center that serves as the health-care anchor for the sprawling Northland region.

The defining characteristics of a contender here are quality of accommodations, level of service, and convenience. The Intercontinental Hotel Kansas City has those qualities in Gold, plus that great view of and access to the Country Club Plaza. It didn’t open until late 2013, but Hotel Sorella has made good on its promise to be KC’s next premier hotel, and readers second the motion with Silver. Giving the Plaza area a clean sweep in this category is Bronze winner Raphael Hotel, still swimming in charm as the region’s original boutique hotel.

With a full range of products and managed IT services, Netstandard is the Gold pick for readers who know that letting the experts handle your information technology needs allows you to focus on what you do best—make your company grow. Accenture is ranked among Fortune magazine’s Most-Admired Companies, readers agree, awarding the global consulting firm Silver. Bringing home Bronze is Balance-Point, with not just IT solutions, but staffing services, leadership develop-ment and strategy-setting counseling,
and executive recruiting.

City Wide Maintenance started as a small, one-man janitorial service and grew into a national powerhouse over the next half-century. Today, it offers more than two dozen commercial cleaning and maintenance services, both interior and exterior, and sweeps up Gold honors in this brand new category. Woodley Building Maintenance, privately owned, family operated and serving customers throughout the Midwest, puts a polish on the Silver.

Bolstered by enormous growth in its health-care practice, Polsinelli, P.C. is one of the region’s biggest law firms, with a full-service menu of business law competencies and litigation expertise. The readers’ verdict: Gold. A venerable institution nearly as old as Kansas City itself, Lathrop & Gage is also among the region’s Big Five firms with nearly 20 practice areas serving a dozen business sectors. Stinson Leonard Street, the Kansas City half of a 2014 merger that combined Stinson Morrison Hecker with Minneapolis-based Leonard Street and Deinard, is a Bronze-winner with a well-deserved reputation for excellence in banking and financial-services law, but it also has pratice groups focused on more than 20 other legal niches and litigation services.

Reflecting the region’s evolution as a two-headed beast of commerce, the Overland Park Convention Center, with 119,000 square feet of meeting space in the heart of Johnson County’s commercial core, pulls in Gold. Kansas City Marriott Downtown, with nearly 1,000 guest rooms and 93,000 square feet of space, still rules the roost as the largest single hotel, and garners Silver, while another Johnson County favorite, the Ritz Charles in Overland Park, picks up Bronze for a comparatively intimate 17,000 square feet of meeting space.

Quality, versatility and on-time delivery: All keys to commercial-printing success, and each of them part of the toolbox at Soli Printing, our Gold winner, offering a dozen services from printing and copying to mailing and integrated marketing support. Alpine Litho-Graphics, with digital pre-press services and the exacting toler-ances of Heidelberg presses, picks up the Silver. Bronze goes to Print Time, where on-time delivery isn’t just a local promise, but one made at locations in Seattle and Phoenix.

No sector is poised for growth over the next 20 years more than senior living, and with 11 metro-area communities—part of 1,100 total in 47 states—plus a full range of senior living options, aging-related and end-of-life services, Brookdale Senior Living gets the readers’ nod for Gold honors. Bishop Spencer Place, a comparatively intimate setting in senior care circles with its roughly 180 units, offers skilled nursing, rehab services and independent living at its location just north of the Country Club Plaza, all of which are good for this year’s Silver. And the company that helped give shape to the nation’s senior-living sector— John Knox Village  —earns Bronze honors, offering more residential units, with more levels of care, than any other senior community in this market.

It’s not every year we get to introduce a new category, so we’re pleased to recognize Missouri Bank for its lending prowess with small business clients, earning our reader’s Gold. The Silver goes to Commerce Bank, which despite being the largest locally headquartered bank in terms of assets, has nonetheless  mastered the art of community banking on a big-bank scale. Country Club Bank, which lost a true Kansas City legacy earlier this month with the passing of founding executive Byron Thompson, earns the Bronze recognition.

For that total body “ahhh” experience, Par Exsalonce delivers, with care for hair, hands, feet and the skin, covering you from head to toe in soothing revitalization. Readers delivering Gold honors here say “Don’t forget about the massage.” Always in the running for high honors in this category is The Elms Hotel & Spa in Excelsior Springs, this year’s Silver winner not just for the spa services, but for the weekend-getaway appeal on the hotel side. Rajeunir Medical Spa, Bronze-winning specialists in skin care, hair removal and more, has the region triangulated with locations in the Northland, Overland Park and Lee’s Summit.

There may be firms growing faster in the wealth-management space, but not many, and Creative Planning is carving out a gigantic reputation for itself not just locally, but nationally. So much so that it draws Gold this year from readers who like what they see on the portfolio bottom line. President Peter Mallouk has been recognized in back-to-back years by Barron’s as the nation’s No. 1 independent adviser, and he’s built a highly skilled team in Leawood. At the opposite end of the spectrum as one of the nation’s biggest firms measured by assets under management, Waddell & Reed is highly respected nationally as well as locally. It earns this year’s Silver, and is still fast-growing after nearly 80 years of guidance, thanks in large part to the performance of its Advisor Funds and Ivy Funds, recognized by Barron’s as among the best-performing in their class. Bronze this year goes to Commerce Trust Co., offering both trust services and investment management guidance to individual investors and their heirs, as well as corporate clients.

Never more important than it is at this point in the Information Age, your wireless device is a business lifeline as well as a personal communications tool. The service, speed, access and plan options behind that device are all critical, as well, and readers say no firm delivers the whole package at a higher level than Verizon Wireless, our 2015 Gold winner. Silver goes to AT&T, with its full range of wireless options and the added advantage of bundled services that include cable television programming. The hometown candidate, Sprint, claims the Bronze.

New Fords, pre-owned vehicles, service and parts, collision repair, even financing—Raytown-based Dick Smith Ford does it all for customers, and they repay that consideration with another Gold honor. It helps on the customer-loyalty front when a staple of your offerings is the F-series pickup truck line, the world’s most popular. With matching product and services, Bob Sight Ford brings the Silver to its home in Lee’s Summit. And breaking Ford’s two-year stranglehold on these honors is Bronze-winning Overland Park Jeep Dodge Ram Chrysler, featuring a wide range of models, plus parts, service and body work to back them up.

Mercedes. Jaguar. Maserati. Porsche. Yeah, they get it when it comes to luxury and performance vehicles at Aristocrat Motors. The Merriam-based dealership has plenty of room for the practical, as well, with Land Rover and Smart models, and that broad appeal is one reason readers bestow Gold status for a fourth straight year, and 10th overall. Charging hard in the next lane is Hendrick Lexus, which takes the flag for Silver, offering new and used models, service, parts and financing. And Bronze goes to O’Neill Honda, with the popular Accord and Civic helping boost the on-lot new Honda count to nearly 240.

In this category, there is one—literally—with Halls Kansas City. A year shy of its centennial and a year after vacating its longtime Country Club Plaza digs to rebrand as Halls on Grand, at Crown Center, the retailer continues to make good on the promise that founder J.C. Hall made in 1916, “to always be the first with the best in Kansas City.” Readers concur with an overwhelming vote for Gold. With designer fashions for women and men, elegant and stylish home furnishings, updated and roomier departments and dressing rooms—even a café, bar and coffee shop indoors (remember when this wasn’t an anomaly in shopping?)—Halls seems as if it will always be No. 1 with Ingram’s readers.

Company lore holds that founder Bob Trapp just might be the youngest floral designer to ever ply the craft in his native Kansas, harkening back to skills he learned not long after he started pushing a broom around a floral shop in Russell at the age of 11. Now, 46 years after he founded his own Kansas City shop, Trapp & Company rules the landscape with readers’ Gold acclamations. The company also offers home decorations, gifts and interior-design services. Silver honors go to Toblers Flowers, with petals for all occasions, plus plants, gifts and wedding services. And The Fiddly Fig, a staple of floral design excellence in Brookside, bags the Bronze. for its thoughtful arrangements that celebrate births and birthdays, weddings an anniversaries, or as the company says, “just because.”

Local, local, local. That’s the defining characteristic of what makes for excellence in jewelry and accessories in this region, and at the top of the readers’ list for Gold is Tivol, the 105-year-old family name in precious stones, timepieces and more, and now under the third generation of family leadership. Helzberg Diamonds, which started local and became a nationwide phenomenon, is the Silver pick for its wealth of offerings in engagement and wedding rings, gifts, watches and collectables. Mazzarese Jewelry, now in its fourth generation of that family’s ownership, wraps up a Bronze in a tie with Joslin’s Jewelry, a family-owned retail anchor near 95th and Metcalf for more than 30 years.

It’s hard to tell what Ingram’s readers love most about Gomer’s: Is it the convenience, with five area locations that make access a breeze? Is it the wide range of fine wines, spirits and beers? Or perhaps the special ordering for customer requests, the party-planning and delivery services, or the gift baskets and gift certificates? No matter the motivation, readers love Gomer’s, and they serve up another round of Gold. With its detailed Web calendar of drink-related events and tastings, Lukas Liquor Superstore pairs its on-line savvy with a sommelier’s sensibilities and knowledge of all things grape (and grain!), and earns Silver honors. Bronze goes to Rimann Liquors, known for its tastings as well as its array of vintages at stores in Lenexa and Prairie Village.

This is entrepreneurship in action: Until six years ago, there was no Baldwin Men’s Shop. Since founding it in 2009, Matt Baldwin has built his stores on the Plaza and at Leawood Town Center into one of the region’s most-respected clothing brands, and the Gold standard for men’s fashions. So say Ingram’s readers and their discerning eyes for style—much like the folks at GQ, who named Baldwin one of that magazine’s menswear designers of the year in 2013. Few brands carry the immediate recognition for excellence that Nordstrom possesses, and the company commands Silver for that. Bronze goes to Jos. A. Bank, masters at weaving style as well as value into their product lines.

In the 15 years we’ve welcomed balloting in this category, Nordstrom  has dominated, and the company racks up its 10th Gold-medal performance—and its third in the past four years. The women who vote in this category—and the men who like the way those women look—have discriminating tastes not just in fashion, but in accessories, handbags, shoes and more, and they act on those tastes as the Oak Park Mall store that stands as the brand’s only Kansas City area venue. Standard Style, with an army of more than five dozen designer brands, pockets the Silver honors, operating from both the Plaza and Town Center Crossing. And the venerable Ann Taylor, with its Legends Outlets site and five Loft stores around the region, zips up the Bronze.

Back from a respite of several years, the Gold for office interior furnishings goes to a familiar name to anyone with a business setting in Kansas City: Scott Rice Office Works. The company’s leadership recognizes that all business is not created equal, which means furnishing specially designed for the setting—for schools, health-care settings, or differing offices of varied business operations. A Silver split is shared by Encompas, a Haworth-brand affiliate that in less than a decade has become one of the region’s largest office-furnishing operations, and Contract Furnishings, selling and renting new, used and custom furniture from more than 200 manufacturers.