FROM THE Spring 2015 ISSUE


Film has the Oscars. Television has the Emmys. Literature has the Pulitzer. The Minnesota meetings and events industry? Well, we have Minnesota Meetings + Events’ annual Best of Minnesota Awards. And this year, as every year for the past 13, the most knowledgeable and trusted voters—you, our readers—selected the esteemed victors in 22 categories. Winners, come grab your statuettes—it’s time to celebrate.



Once again, Grand View Lodge takes the cake as Best Golf Venue. With three courses (one even featuring kid’s tee boxes), Grand View gives guests a plethora of holes to play ranging from leisurely to difficult. And it’s not just our readers who deem the resort to be a top destination for golf—Grand View has received honors from a number of national publications including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golfweek.

Hilton Minneapolis receives the Best Hotel with Meeting/Event Space (More than 300 Guest Rooms) award for the eighth year in a row. Renovated in March 2014, the Victorian-style brick high-rise features 35 meeting rooms with 77,000 square feet of space and the largest hotel ballroom in the state. For added convenience, the hotel is connected via skyway to the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Hilton Minneapolis

This year’s Best Hotel with Meeting/Event Space (Less than 300 Guest Rooms) is Oak Ridge Hotel & Conference Center. Located in Chaska, Oak Ridge gives planners 35 meeting rooms and 22,000 square feet of space just a hair outside of Minneapolis. “[Oak Ridge employees] make everything very easy,” says Kathy Bakeberg, manager, Festivities, who voted for the hotel. “It is all in one place so you can feel like you can actually have a private event away from the hustle and bustle.”

Built in 1895, Aria’s building has a varied history featuring everything from a produce exchange building to a shipping warehouse and theater. For the second year in a row, the venue is voted Best Meeting/Event Space (No Hotel). Transformed into an event space in 2012, Aria can host 450 seated guests and 1,000 for a standing reception. “There is definitely nothing that looks quite like Aria, not just in the state but in the nation and the world,” says Jessica Barrett, director of operations. “It has a very unique aesthetic. As far as aesthetics go, it would be really hard to replicate or compare.”

CRAVE West End takes home Best Restaurant/Bar with Private Dining Space. Located in The Shops at West End, the restaurant allows for events that serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and hors d’ouevres. With an excellent happy hour, CRAVE makes for not only a standout venue, but a delicious restaurant to boot. Event menu items include an extensive sushi list, grilled mahi mahi and filet mignon.

Not only is Grand View Lodge recognized for its golf offerings, but the retreat is also voted as Best Resort with Meeting/Event Space. While golf is a popular attraction for the resort, other activities abound including guided fishing tours, bonfires, ice skating and tennis. And the food is not to be missed. With seven restaurants dotting the property, there is something for everyone. Welcoming its first guests in 1916, the resort has been offering standout service for almost 100 years.

Rounding out Grand View Lodge’s awards is Best Venue Outside of Twin Cities Metro Area. A mainstay for visitors to the area, the resort features a number of accommodations guests can stay in from eight-plus bedroom cabins to lodges and homes. Russ Mohr, senior sales representative, Linen Effects, voted for Grand View after his experiences as a vendor at the resort. “Each of the outlets on the resort do a wonderful job and are consistent in good service,” says Mohr. “That makes for a wonderful guest experience overall. It’s the total package.”

Grand View Lodge


A winner once again in the Best Convention + Visitors Bureau (Town/Area More than 25,000 in Population), Meet Minneapolis had a big year in 2014. There was the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Meeting Professionals International’s (MPI) World Education Congress (WEC), the 140th Imperial Session of Shriners International and the many local events held each year. But even with so much on its plate, the CVB continues to please. Meghan Gustafson, event manager, Basilica Events, voted for the CVB, citing its passion and dedication to the city: “I think they do a good job of showcasing all that the city has to offer.”

For the third year in a row, Visit Brainerd is voted Best Convention + Visitors Bureau (Town/Area Less than 25,000 in Population). The CVB is known for its dedication to attracting visitors to the area and sparking a desire to return. “The Visit Brainerd staff and partners are committed to making every visit a successful and memorable one,” says Richard Polipnick, executive director. “I think people like the diversity in our content and the consistency in our delivery. We try to focus on the information they want and need.”

This year, A Touch of Magic snags Best Entertainment (Performer or Talent Agency). Entertainment options within the company run the gamut from clowns and comedians to face painting and fortune telling. Owner Lori Hurley started the St. Paul-based company in 1986 and has enjoyed immense success over the years. “More than 70 percent of our customers are repeat customers,” she says. “They keep coming back because we take such good care of them and we make sure [the event] goes well from beginning to end.”

Graddy Photography

Honored by The Knot and our sister publication, Minnesota Bride, many years running, Graddy Photography is selected as Best Photography/Videography. In their 10th year of business, Justin Graddy, the company’s main photographer, gives credit to their creativity as a reason voters likely chose them as the winner. “We are forefront leaders and we are dreamers,” he says. “We are creative, visionaries, and problem solvers, hardworking, unrelenting and ever-evolving both personally and professionally.” Graddy has shot numerous events in a plethora of locations including Duluth, Winona and Mexico.

A perennial winner, metroConnections is voted Best Team-Building Activity/Facilitator/ Organizer. The interactive activities they host allow companies to grow closer and trust one another and are available for groups of all sizes. Opportunities include physical-style team-building, including Amazing Race and Win it in a Minute, and creative-style, including culinary competitions and Playing Picasso.

Minnesota State Fair


This year, voters chose everyone’s favorite summer event, the Minnesota State Fair, as Best Attraction (Fair, Festival, Zoo, Museum, Amusement Park, etc.). From concerts to rides and an abundance of food on a stick, there is something for everyone at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. “There is so much here that you can’t see anywhere else, and the fair is such a patchwork quilt of the best of everything that is Minnesota,” says Brienna Schuette, marketing and communications manager. “It’s just the slice of America that you can’t experience at any other event or location.” Mark your calendars: Consume as many cheese curds as you want from August 27 through September 7. 

Thirteen-year-old AV for You takes home the top prize as Best Audio-Visual/Visual Presentation Provider for the fifth year in a row. “AV for You is keenly aware we are a vested partner in every event we support,” says Josh Reitan, owner. “All our events are a direct reflection on us. We always want the event to look and sound its best.” Clients can rent LCD projectors, microphones, lighting and much more.

AV For You

Paradise Charter Cruises and Minneapolis Queen is voted Best Boats/Cruises/Charters for its consistent success in hosting events aboard many different boats. The company has been in operation since 1985 and averages more than 50,000 passengers every year. Rita Wilson, executive administrative assistant, Donaldson Company, Inc., voted for the company this year after taking part in its cruises multiple times. “Paradise is always accommodating,” she says. “Their food is always good, their staff is always friendly and they make adjustments both trying best to assist you and getting your event to go off well beforehand and during,”

Earning this year’s Best Catering Company (On- or Off-Site) is Bloomington-based CRAVE Catering. The company stemmed from increased demand after the opening of the first CRAVE restaurant in 2006 with a launch for the catering side in 2009. CRAVE has catered all sizes of events from five to 2,500. “At CRAVE Catering, we pay close attention to the detail, quality and presentation of our food,” says Sara Paciotti, director of catering sales. “We prefer to work one-on-one, which reassures clients of our concentration and emphasis on flawless execution of their event.”

Earning the crown for Best Event is MPI WEC 2014, which took place August 1-5 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The annual affair takes place in a different location each year and offers attendees opportunities for education, networking and business. The event kicked off with a standout opening reception that was found on the ballots of many of this year’s voters, thanks to a herculean effort from Meet Minneapolis and MPI, along with a plethora of local vendors.

The first of two awards Festivities is taking home is Best Event Décor, and rightly so. The company has been around since 2000 and runs a host of events including weddings, grand openings, birthdays, product launches and more. Jennifer Braun, owner, believes voters selected them because of the dedication they put in to each and every event. “We pride ourselves on being a true partner,” says Braun. “We treat each event as if it’s our own, understanding that they are incredibly significant—either personally or professionally—in the lives of our clients.”

With services including on-site setup and metro-wide delivery, Luna Vinca wins Best Florist. The company has been in business for nearly 20 years and works both weddings and a variety of special events. Their beautiful blooms truly make the company stand out with everything from small bouquets to large centerpieces. Especially convenient? Luna Vinca can make same-day deliveries if placed before noon.

Festivities also snags Best Rental Service Provider (Tables, Linens, Tents, etc.). The full-service event provider can assist planners with everything from wedding bouquets to event design and tent rentals. Especially important is the company’s commitment to customer service. “We offer a high level of service, even staffing a 24/7 emergency line where our clients and venue partners can reach us anytime a need arises,” says Braun. “The unexpected is bound to happen in the events industry, and no one is more well-versed in handling surprises than the members of our team.”


Vital in today’s tech-savvy universe is the use of social media. Madden’s on Gull Lake excels at communicating via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even LinkedIn, winning Best Social Media Presence (CVB, Venue or Company). “Our goal is to drive interactions with our loyal fans both within Minnesota and around the United States,” says Kathy Reichenbach, marketing director. “Our guests are extremely passionate about our brands, and social media is such a great way to continue the Madden’s experience before and after your visit. … We feel very confident that our social media presence is the best in the hospitality industry right now.”

While finding the perfect venue, flowers, décor and food is a must, actually getting to the event is of utmost importance. Founded in 1965, Premier Transportation is a pro and wins Best Transportation (Limo, Motorcoach, Taxi, Shuttle) this year. And for good reason. While based in Minneapolis, the company covers 550 cities in 65 countries across six continents.

Take note of these seven pros who are making their mark in the meetings and events industry. 

Jolene Ihle, Founder
Lifetime Achievement 

“I was 10 years old when I received my Muscular Dystrophy Carnival Kit in the mail. The box was filled with cool ideas and colorful materials to  support fundraising efforts. I was completely enthralled with the event planning process. … This experience was my jumpstart into events and I was hooked.”


Here's who has been crowned the winners and runners-up of the Minnesota Meetings + Events Best of 2020 readers' choice awards. Congratulations!  

Best Brewery/Cidery/Distillery/Winery with Event Space 
Surly Brewing Company 


Congratulations to the finalists for Minnesota Meetings + Events Best of 2020 readers' choice awards. We look forward to celebrating with each of you at the awards celebration (date/location TBA) where the winners and 2020 Hall of Fame inductees will be announced.

* Connect with us on social media before, during and after the awards with the hashtag #MNBestof

Best A/V Provider

Allied Production & Sales 
AV For You

Best Boats/Cruises/Charters