EVELETH — More Iron Range hospitality employees than ever are being recognized this year for their work in customer service.

A record 94 candidates in eight categories were nominated for the eighth annual Spirit of Hospitality Awards, said Beth Pierce, director of the Iron Range Tourism Bureau, which sponsors the event.

“This is the largest pool of nominees in our eight years of hosting this event,” she said in a press release. “There has been an excellent response this year, and we’re excited to see many new businesses and employees being recognized for their great work.”

Spirit of Hospitality Awards (SOHA) nominees participate in a short interview with two judges. Their answers to a series of questions are rated, and the top point-getter in each category is announced as the winner at the annual banquet, this year set for Oct. 27 at the Eveleth Auditorium, catered by BoomTown Woodfire Bar & Grill of Eveleth.

The SOHAs, which began in 2012, celebrate excellence in customer service in areas ranging from bartending and serving to retail and hotel guest services. A special category also recognizes the work of volunteers.

Last year, there were about 80 nominees.

Anyone who works or volunteers on the Range may be nominated.

Each person nominating an individual submits a testimonial explaining why the person should receive a SOHA.

“To me, the testimonials are the best part of the SOHAs,” Pierce said. “When we read them to the nominee at their interview, it just really makes their day. The words of praise mean a lot to them.”

“We see this event as a way to encourage and reward the type of customer service that any business needs to exhibit if they want to reach the next level,” said Jane Serrano, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Mountain Iron and a SOHA pioneer. “Dedication and hard work by employees make all the difference when it comes to generating repeat business and growing a good reputation for an organization and a community.”

Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, will be the special guest at this year’s banquet. He is a big supporter of tourism and the hospitality industry, Pierce said.

Each nominee and a guest are admitted for free. Additional tickets are available for $25 at www.ironrange.org/spirit-of-hospitality, or by calling 218-749-8161.

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The 2019 nominees are:

• Bartender: Karen Blais, Vi’s Pizza/TNT Bar; Jenny Boese, Aurora American Legion; Betty Bolen, Aurora American Legion; Brieanna Egan, Haven Bar and Grill; Larry Huhta, Liquid Larry’s; Bobbi Josephine, Sawmill Saloon; Maureen Mackey, Eggy’s; Bri McKenzie, Sawmill Saloon; Logan Murphy, Northern Divide Eatery; Joe Petrich, Boomtown Eveleth; Alex Prebarich, Sawmill Saloon; Jacob Rosandich, Flaimer’s Bar; Kat Simmons, Nick’s Bar; Ethan Stacovich, Wacoota Grille; Candi Stavenger, Boomtown Brewery; Rosie Tassi, Sawmill Saloon; Jennifer Zylka, Sawmill Saloon.

• Behind-the-Scenes: Lucas Amundson, Mesabi Family YMCA; Aurora Bartlett, Lodge at Giants Ridge; Lisa Jue Fix and Gwyn Ross, Northern Twistars Gymnastics (nominated together); Kelly Harris, Jim’s Sports Bar; Heather Hausman, AmericInn; Kathie Irish, AEOA; Ashlea Johnson, Lodge at Giants Ridge; Nicolaas Peterson, Holiday Inn Express and Suites.

• Food Production: Shauna Gibbs, Vi’s Pizza; Suzie Gunderson, Country Kitchen; Kelly Halliday, Haven Bar and Grill; Jerry Kaivola, Sawmill Saloon; Dalton Olson, Chisholm McDonalds; Ryon Popescu, Fortune Bay Resort Casino; Lenny Sidle, Fortune Bay Resort Casino; Devon Staines, Country Kitchen.

• Guest Relations: Katie Christense, Chisholm Public Library; Marge Cornelius, Mesaba Drug and Marketplace; Jan Edman, MJ’s Lodge and Resort; Nicole Fairbanks, Fortune Bay Resort Casino; James Hansen, Target; Jane Kreis, Minnesota Discovery Center; Horacio Martinez, Target; Katie Mitrovich, Iron Range Tykes Learning Center; Kelly Nenandich, Minnesota Discovery Center; Velma Ostman, Minnesota Museum of Mining; Pete Pellinen, Soudan Underground Mine; Julie Petrzilka, the Pebble Spa; Mike Salo, Town of Embarrass; Kendra Swanson, Fortune Bay Resort Casino.

•Hotel Guest Services: Krystal Brodeen, Fortune Bay Resort Casino; Rebecca Burke, Fortune Bay Resort Casino; Kayla Fowler, Chisholm Inn and Suites; Kali Juilan, Holiday Inn Express and Suites; Hannah King, Eveleth Super 8; Kayla Lynn Larson, The Villas at Giants Ridge; Sarah Lee Lavalier, Hibbing Park Hotel; Cassie Long, Fortune Bay Resort Casino; Christopher Martin, Fortune Bay Resort Casino; Shani Nelson, Chisholm Inn and Suites; Barbara Schroeder, The Lodge at Giants Ridge; Tristan Renner, Quality Inn and Suites.

•Retail: Suzanne Cardille, Lake Country Power; Tim and Alida Casey, and Jen Nosie (nominated together), Casey Drug and Do It Best Hardware; Neil Johnson, L&M Supply Virginia; Samantha Kudis, AT&T; Hunter Lease, L&M Supply Hibbing; Gracie Niehoff, Verizon Store; Marion Padilla, Virginia Dollar General; Dana Petersen, Biwabik Super One; Brian Radtke, Mesaba Drug; Betty Schanche, Side Lake Store; Janel Gherardi Shain, Trendz Hair Salon; Laurie from Super One Liquor; Anna Weiberg, Bath and Body Works/Giants Ridge.

• Server: Abbey Fox, Sawmill Saloon and Restaurant; Alice Gruska, Boomtown Eveleth; Jodi Gunderson, Perkins; Brett Gustaphson, Adventures Restaurant; Lynn Marie Halliday, Haven Bar and Grill; Katie Hardy, MJ’s Resort; Shaylynn Hartland, Fortune Bay Resort Casino; Carol Helf, Sleeping Giant Restaurant; Linda Keller, Country Kitchen; Lily Kohler, La Cocina and Cantina; Trish Maras, Boomtown Eveleth; Autumn Mohawk, Sawmill Saloon and Restaurant; Leah Peterson, Country Kitchen; Carissa Sleen, Boomtown.

•Volunteer of the Year: Brittany and Luke Chopp, Land of the Loon Festival (nominated together), Boyd Peterson, Grandma’s Saloon and Grill; and Pete Hyduke, City of Hibbing.

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