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Updated: January 9, 2023 / 2023 Best of Business

Best of Business 2023: Best Food, Drink & Marijuana

Photo | Courtesy Bri's Sweet Treats Briana Azier and son in front of Worcester Public Market

Best New Business: Bri's Sweet Treats

Bri’s Sweet Treats, which provides items like chocolates with corporate logos for company galas, conferences, and boards of director meetings, may be a new business. But it is built on the foundation of skills its owner’s old identity as a corporate recruiter.

Briana Azier has been successful in transferring her knowledge of networking, marketing, and sales into a new place and time – her own kitchen in Leicester – during the COVID pandemic. Always creative and crafty, and with the help of her 8-year-old son Cole, she began making homemade candy treats for friends and neighbors in 2020.

“They were very well received,” she said, with some bumps along the way, like tie-dye cupcakes. “They were not very pretty.”

But she learned all she could about making chocobombs and small breakables, utilizing online resources.

“I had never made candy before, but I got all the education I could. I didn’t have an extreme amount of money, but I did have a lot of time,”Azier said.

The idea of working for herself and the death of her brother during this time caused Azier to reflect on what was important to her, and that was setting up a legacy business for her child and grandchildren, not working for someone else. She eventually left her corporate job and began the steps to get her home kitchen licensed for chocolate making.

Her research skills kicked in to walk her through this process.

“It’s not difficult, but there are many steps,” said Azier. “My work as a corporate manager better trained me to follow processes and procedures. But as I didn’t have a food background, I didn’t know that the food world is so highly regulated, with standards and operating procedures that aren’t common knowledge.

“It really opened my eyes.”

Azier praises Worcester Regional Food Hub for its resources and the food entrepreneur program Upskill at Worcester State University for its classes. Both have been catalysts leading to big milestones for Bri’s Sweet Treats, with its signature purple and white branding, including the acquisition of a wholesale permit.

In case you’re wondering, yes, Cole still helps her create the sugary, creamy, delicious treats.

December marked a major milestone for the business. Azier, who has been relying on pop-up retail events, is moving into brick-and-mortar space at Worcester Public Market, in The Sweet Life location near Canal District Wines.

“It will be a completely new buildout,” said Azier. “Expect purple and white.”

-- Story written by Susan Shalhoub

*denotes repeat winner

Best Locally Owned Place to Meet for Coffee: Bean Counter Bakery Cafe

Location: Worcester,
Top executive: Founder & Owner Alice Lombardi
Founded: 2001
Employees: 45

The Bean Counter Bakery Cafe added a new line of signature decor cakes to its list of handmade desserts in 2022 and expanded its offerings for online ordering. With a majority of products now available for order on its website, the Bean Counter team is working on creating a production management system for online sales.

Notable runners-up: Fuel America, Birch Tree Bread Co., InHouse Coffee

Best Restaurant for Business Dinner: One Eleven Chop House*

Location: Worcester,
Top executives: Robb and Madeleine Ahlquist, founders; Caitlyn Carolan, president and owner of Worcester Restaurant Group; Keith Carolan, chief operating officer and owner of Worcester Restaurant Group; Aaron Francisco, general manager of One Eleven Chop House        
Founded: 1999
Employees: 77

In 2022, One Eleven completed an extensive refresh of the restaurant’s interior, including new furniture and flooring and an all-new bar area, where more than 100 whiskeys and brown spirits were added. The steakhouse still aims to deliver value for patrons, charging $10-$25 less for the same dishes seen at Boston steakhouses and national chains.

Notable runners-up: VIA Italian Table, The Sole Proprietor

Best Restaurant for Business Lunch: The Sole Proprietor*

Location: Worcester,
Top executives: Robb and Madeleine Ahlquist, founders; Caitlyn Carolan, president and owner of Worcester Restaurant Group; Keith Carolan, chief operating officer and owner of Worcester Restaurant Group; Eric Andreoli, general manager of The Sole Proprietor
Founded: 1979
Employees: 98

For more than four decades, freshness and hospitality have been the hallmarks that have made The Sole Proprietor a Worcester institution. Emerging from the COVID pandemic, the Sole worked tirelessly to provide a safe, welcoming dining environment for patrons and staff.

Notable runners-up: VIA Italian Table, 110 Grill

Best Caterer for a Corporate Event: Peppers Artful Events, LLC.

Location: Northborough,
Top executive: General Manager Nick Long
Founded: 1987
Employees: 30

Peppers Artful Events takes clients from planning to execution of events, for corporations and individuals alike. In 2022, staffing challenges impacted the team but did not prevent the company from delivering creative and unique experiences. In November, owners Susan and John Lawrence sold the business to Gourmet Caterers of Boston.

Notable runners-up: Struck Catering, Simply Delicious Catering

Best Local Brewery: Wormtown Brewery*

Location: Worcester,
Founded: 2010

Now offering both beers and seltzers, Wormtown offers three year-round beers in its Don’t Worry, Be Hoppy, and Mass Whole flavors, and Underground Series with beers like Diner Car, and collaborations with companies like Table Talk Pies. Its new taproom on Shrewsbury Street opened in 2021.

Notable runners-up: Tree House Brewing Co., Redemption Rock Brewing Co., Greater Good Imperial Brewing Co.

Best Marijuana Company: Bud’s Goods & Provisions*

Location: Worcester,
Top executive: President & CEO Alex Mazin
Founded: 2018
Employees: 83

Bud’s Goods & Provisions focus on quality products for its customers has the cannabis dispensary feeling well-positioned heading into 2023, which is anticipated to be another year of change for the young legal marijuana industry. The company offers a variety of flowers, vapes, pre-rolls, concentrates, and edibles, and has two non-Central Massachusetts locations in Abington and Watertown.

Notable runners-up: Campfire Cannabis, Verilife

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