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Updated: January 8, 2024 / 2024 Best of Business Awards

Best of Business 2024: Best Food

A bartender pours a pink drink from a shaker into a glass cup. PHOTO | Courtesy of Peppers Artful Events Peppers Artful Events was acquired by Gourmet Caterers in 2022.

Best Caterer: Peppers Artful Events*

When Boston-based Gourmet Caterers purchased Peppers Artful Events in 2022, the company gained the positive reputation the Northborough husband-and-wife duo Susan and John Lawrence cultivated throughout their 35 years of running Peppers.

Gourmet Caterers’ intention was to keep that reputation in place and continue providing exceptional catering in the Central Massachusetts area without rocking the boat. The first year of ownership has been just that, said Owen Wiggins, director of business development for Gourmet Caterers.

“It has been wonderful to join the Worcester community in this way, and continue the great work Peppers is known for,” said Wiggins.

Gourmet Caterers and the former Peppers owners were in touch for months before the sale was finalized. The Lawrences tapped Gourmet Caterers directly to pursue the acquisition, trusting the Boston company to keep their good work going. For six months, the two companies were in business together, ensuring a seamless transition. Those collaborations have meant the switch over has been virtually undetectable, which for Peppers, is a good thing.

“Peppers has this great reputation, and our intention is to keep that going,” said Wiggins.

Part of the growth plan for Gourmet Caterers is acquiring companies with positive reputations, and to keep them up. Peppers is operating as the same firm in Northborough after the change in ownership.

“Our focus is on what makes Peppers successful, and doing more of it,” said Wiggins.

Peppers Artful Events is the exclusive caterer at New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill in Boylston and is known for sustainable, local food. The caterer has been on the cutting edge of new sustainability practices, including cutting out styrofoam, using solar energy, and conserving water use. The company has a hydroponic farm at Tower Hill and grows lettuce used in salads served at the same location. The company has a freight farm in a shipping container, where additional produce is grown.

Guest experience is at the forefront for a catering business, and Peppers takes that seriously. Peppers has always been known for a team atmosphere and effort coming through at all levels, as well as delicious foods and beverages. After the ownership transition, that fact remains.

“We are experts in treating people well,” said Wiggins.

- Story by Isabel Tehan

*denotes repeat winner

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

About a dozen cupcakes sit in a square white plate.
Photo | Courtesy of Bean Counter Bakery Cafe
Handmade cupcakes from Bean Counter


Top executive: Alice Lombardi, founder and owner

Founded: 2001

Employees: 45

The Bean Counter Bakery Cafe's core values center around desserts handmade from scratch every day, using the best ingredients, the love of creating new products, and having exciting celebration offerings. Lombardi seeks to cultivate a fun and dynamic workplace for employees.

Notable runners-up: Fuel America on Grove Street in Worcester, BirchTree Bread Co., Sturbridge Coffee House

Best Candy Shop:Bri’s Sweet Treats

A young woman with black hair wearing a purple shirt
Photo | Courtesy of Bri's Sweet Treats
Briana Azier, CEO and head treat maker at Bri's Sweet Treat

Leicester, Oxford, and Worcester

Top executive: Briana Azier, CEO and head treat maker

Founded: 2021

Employees: 6

Bri’s Sweet Treats opened its first retail location in 2023, on Jan. 8 inside the Worcester Public Market. The company is looking to expand its brand further in 2024. Bri’s offers a variety of handcrafted desserts and sweet snacks, but it is best known for its giant peanut butter cups. Part of the business model includes donating to community causes with each product sold.

Best Restaurant for Business Dinner: One Eleven Chop House*

Photo | Grant Welker
The Worcester Restaurant Group's One Eleven Chop House on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester


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

Founded: 1999

Employees: 77

In 2023, the steakhouse completed an extensive refresh of its interior, including new furniture and flooring, along with a new bar area. The bar added more than 100 whiskeys and brown spirits to its shelves, and the restaurant highlighted this with a special whiskey dinner featuring WhistlePig Boss Hog X Straight Rye. One Eleven again received Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for its wine list, as it has annually since 2001.

Notable runners-up: The Sole Proprietor, Sonoma Restaurant

Best After-Work Bar: The Mercantile*

A two-story restaurant with tables and chairs
Photo | Courtesy of The Mercantile
The Mercantile restaurant in downtown Worcester


Top executive: General Manager Maxwell Rosen

Founded: 2022

Employees: 110

This two-story restaurant specializing in new American tavern cuisine is equipped with two bars, including a full-service second-floor patio with views of downtown Worcester. The restaurant has a private dining space and offers igloos in cold-weather months.

Notable runners-up: Sonoma Restaurant, Vincent’s, VIA Italian Table

Best Restaurant for Business Lunch: The Sole Proprietor*

Photo | Courtesy of The Sole Proprietor
A sampling of the food offered at The Sole Proprietor


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

Founded: 1979

Employees: 98

In 2023, when most of the restaurant industry was flat or down, The Sole was able to grow. The seafood restaurant did this by controlling costs as best as possible while fighting a rise in food and energy costs. After more than 40 years, The Sole can rely on loyalty of the children and grandchildren of its original customers.

Notable runners-up: VIA Italian Table, Sonoma Restaurant, 110 Grill, Arturo’s Ristorante, Sturbridge Porterhouse

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