LACONIA — The number of businesses that were nominated, and the total number of votes cast in the first Best Of the Lakes Region contest went beyond organizers’ hopes, and so it was only fitting that the culmination of the contest would again blow expectations out of the water.

The party was held on Wednesday evening at the Naswa Resort Beach Bar, where winners of the 181 local business categories were publicly revealed for the first time. Many of the food-related winners brought samples to share with attendees, and there was music and mingling on the sand.

The event was organized by the Laconia Daily Sun, Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce and the Naswa Resort. Organizers had hoped for between 350 and 500 attendees. Karmen Gifford, president of the Chamber, said more than 750 tickets were sold. So many, in fact, that the hours of the party were extended to begin early, at 4 p.m., to give everyone a chance to visit, pick up a 98-page booklet listing all of the first- and second-place winners, and to toast the businesses that serve the Lakes Region.

“It was a phenomenal event, it exceeded our expectations. We had a super large group – the hospitality that the Naswa did was phenomenal,” Gifford said. One of the goals of the Best Of program was to highlight some of the “gems” of the region, she added, and having the event at the NazBar did just that. “It’s a great little gem that we have.”

“We were honored to host the Best of the Lakes Region party and have all of the winners celebrate their success in business at the Naswa,” said Cynthia Makris, whose family founded and operates the Paugus Bay-side resort. “It was the best and largest event we’ve ever hosted.”

Nicholas and Megan Stanley, owners of Paragon Roofing in Alton, were among the attendees. “We’re a fairly new company,” said Nicholas, who said he hoped being voted Best Roofing Company would help their family-run business. “We can handle any project, any size. There’s no job too large or too small.”

Ryan Phelps, at the Insurance Outlet in Laconia, won silver in the “Insurance Agent” category. He has been working in Laconia for less than five years, and with all of the nearby competition he has, he said it was gratifying just to be nominated. “We work on ‘Insurance Alley.’ To be recognized makes you feel good,” he said.

Perhaps no one was recognized more than the family behind The 405 restaurant and Lakeside Pizza and Roast Beef. Between those two businesses, Dave Henrick and Yvette Imhoff, and their son, D.J. Henrick, collected 12 wins – Best Burger, Best Chili, Best Wings, Best Lobster Mac and Cheese, Best Sports Bar, on and on.

“It’s a great compliment to our employees,” said Dave. “It’s nice that the patrons took time to recognize us for the quality of food and experience and all of our restaurants.”

Gifford said that some people came as individuals, while other businesses bought up large blocks of tickets. That was the case for Laconia Eye and Laser Center, which took golds for Best Eye Doctor and Best Eyewear Shop, and silver for Best Doctor.

“We put our heart and soul into what we do,” said Stacie Brown, optician. “For them to recognize us as best in the area is rewarding.”

Brenda Duggan, marketing and Lasik coordinator for Laconia Eye, said, “Our staff recognizes that everyone that comes into the practice comes in for a reason, so we treat them the way that we want to be treated.”

For Adam Hirshan, co-founder and publisher of the Laconia Daily Sun, the Best Of contest turned into a means for locals to celebrate the entrepreneurs, professionals and service providers who make the region special.

“This year’s participation exceeded expectations. I wouldn’t be surprised if next year, we see significant growth,” Hirshan said.

He said the success of the event was owed to the partnership with the Naswa and the Chamber of Commerce.

“I really enjoyed working with Karmen and Cynthia. They have years of experience with these types of events. We really relied on them, and they hit it out of the park,” Hirshan said. There were also other volunteers and businesspeople who leant a hand, such as Rick Hassler, who made available a parking lot on White Oaks Road for the event, and radioman Dirk Nadon – who promoted the contest on his stations, 101.5 Sports Radio and 104.9 The Hawk and saw the value of a contest to highlight local businesses of all types, and of all sizes.

“It’s not just about the dollars and cents of business, it’s about intangible values,” Hirshan said. “We’re all trying to develop new relationships, new partnerships.”

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