STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The Staten Island Chamber of Commerce honored nine borough business leaders Wednesday during the 27th Annual Louis R. Miller Business Leadership Awards Breakfast at LiGreci’s Staaten in West Brighton. And as more than 270 guests sipped coffee and noshed on plates of scrambled eggs and bacon, one general sentiment echoed throughout the room: “It’s good to be back.”
One of the first major in-person gatherings to be hosted since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the popular event (which was held virtually last year) kicked off with a video montage of its honorees before transferring into its celebrated stand-up style roasts.
Jon Salmon of Salmon Real Estate ripped award recipient John Amodio for wearing a suit and tie 24/7, while Larry Anderson, board chair of the Pride Center of Staten Island, pulled props from a shopping bag to emphasize Carol Bullock’s affinity for Goldfish crackers and Diet Coke. Janet Warren Dugo, project manager of Downtown Staten Island, playfully listed the ingredients for Chez Vous Caterers chef and owner Ettore Mazzei’s “recipe for success” — while Glen Cutrona, CEO of Cutrona Architecture, cued up a video clip of Billy Hanson and his goats. (Don’t ask.)
Jokes continued to flow from SCARAN Oil’s Tom Scarangello, who referred to Jeanine and John Tardy as Beauty and the Beast, and Frank Wilkinson, owner of Rab’s Bowling Alley, who playfully mocked his friends Laura Volsario and Robert Fitzsimmons before complimenting them, saying “business is in their blood.”
Jon Salmon returned to the podium to present Linda Baran, president and CEO of the Chamber, with the honor in the not-for-profit business category, noting, “to the business community she is the rock steady captain at the helm.”
Hosted by the Chamber in partnership with the Staten Island Advance, this year’s event was sponsored by Gateway Arms Realty. Recipients were lauded for their work in four categories: Emerging, Established, Master and Not-For-Profit. More than 250 honorees have received the award throughout the years.
Louis Miller, the namesake of the annual award ceremony, was a tireless community activist who mentored hundreds of entrepreneurs, business owners and community leaders. Affectionately known as “Lou” by his colleagues and mentees, Miller viewed volunteering as a way of giving back to his neighbors. Like Miller, this year’s nine honorees have shared their business success by giving back to the local community. During the ceremony, as the speeches were given, Miller’s hat rested on the podium the entire time.
Here’s a brief look at each of the honorees:
Amodio’s work resume is impressive, boasting more than six decades of experience in strategic planning, financial services, management, marketing and problem-solving. After retiring for the third time in 2013, he dedicated his free time toward mentoring small business professionals by joining the Staten Island chapter of SCORE. In 2017, Amodio was elevated to chairman of the non-profit organization.
He has volunteered for a host of local organizations and lectured at each of the borough’s three local colleges. In addition, the former chairman at the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce is a 42-year member of the Rotary Club of Staten Island, and serves as the chairman of the Staten Island Rotary Foundation.
Baran started as a part-time bookkeeper at the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce in 1986. After serving in several roles, she was elected as the first woman president and chief executive officer of the business non-profit in May 2004. For 25 years, she has worked as a tireless advocate for countless local causes and issues, and has supported a multitude of local businesses. Baran and her staff have assisted businesses through tough times, including the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Great Recession, Hurricane Sandy and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
When Bullock was named executive director of the Pride Center of Staten Island, she quickly became one of Staten Island’s strongest voices for the LGBTQ+ community. The non-profit leader keeps her finger on the pulse with LGBTQ+ individuals, and adapts to their changing needs. She is constantly investing in new services and support groups to benefit the people she serves. In 2021, Bullock spearheaded the organization’s recent move to a new headquarters so it could better serve the community.
When Robert Fitzsimmons Sr. founded Gateway Arms Realty Corp. in 1977, the real estate business became ingrained within his family. So, it was inevitable that his children, Robert and Laura, would follow in his footsteps. Today, the siblings team up to operate the family-owned, full-service real estate agency that provides property management services throughout the entire borough. When the brother-and-sister duo is not running their thriving business, each is active in the local community. The two are especially involved with the Seamen’s Society for Children and Families, where they created the Robert and Barbara Fitzsimmons Children and Family Fund in their parents’ honor.
Hanson may not have planned to take over Reliable Office Solutions from his father, Bill, but that’s precisely what happened in 1999 when he was just 26 years old. The company, which offers an array of office products and solutions to improve office workflow and productivity for organizations, has grown under the CEO’s leadership with an immediate relocation into a new headquarters in Charleston, as well as expansions into Manhattan and New Jersey. In addition, Hanson is a cabinet member of the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation, an active member of the Bucks Business Network, and serves on local school boards.
When Mazzei entered the restaurant industry as a 12-year-old dishwasher at Lucchese’s House of Seafood, he unknowingly entered a lifelong career in the food service industry. Mazzei founded Chez Vous Catering in 1996 and, one year later, settled at Stapleton’s historic Edgewater Hall. Passionate about the North Shore, Mazzei has played an integral role in the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce’s economic revitalization work in Downtown Staten Island by donating space at Edgewater Hall to host meetings. And he regularly participates in cleanup and beautification events.
When opening JVN Restoration Inc. in 2002, the husband-and-wife team drew upon decades of experience to ensure the new company thrived. As business flourished, the Tardys became involved within the community. The duo often makes donations — whether it’s labor, services, or contributions — to worthy people, organizations and causes around the borough. Through the years, they have been recognized by several groups, including the JCC’s Sunrise Day Camp, for their big heart.