The stage is set at the Soper Reese Theater in Lakeport. Four Christmas trees frame the presentation screen, two to the left and two to the right. A grand piano and podium balance the front of the stage; it’s the first time the piano’s been out since March. Maryann Schmid and Olga Martin Steele, cofounders of the 1Team, 1Dream competition, bustle back and forth from the auditorium to the lobby, checking on the innumerable details involved in coordinating both a physical and virtual competition. The theater’s sparsely filled; everyone’s distanced and masked.
Three judges sit at their tables on the floor, spaced in thirds across the stage: Pat Scully, Laurie Dohring, and Ernesto Padilla all wait eagerly to hear the contestants.
Olga wipes down the microphones with disinfectant wipes, then steps to the podium and double-checks that the Facebook feed is up and running.
“Welcome to the first-ever business competition in Lake County,” she begins. “Our dream is small but mighty. We began with a vision to support the local economy and started the 1Team 1Dream competition. Thirty-six businesses applied. Fifteen made it to the semifinals, and six made it here today. Each of these businesses will get ten minutes to give their presentation, followed by five minutes to answer questions.
“Lisa Wilson, owner of Clear Lake Campground in Clearlake, is our first contestant. Lisa, come on up.”
Lisa starts her story, telling about her childhood memories of growing up camping, then begins her pitch. “Guests come to us to escape and get away,” she says. “and are disappointed that there’s nothing on the south shore for boat rentals. We have a big lake and few boat rental choices.”
Lisa shares her plan to purchase several 14’ aluminum boats for rental on the lake. “They’re perfect for going slow on Cache Creek. When you invest in Camp Clear Lake Boat Rental,” she summarizes, “You give another reason for visitors to come to Lake County.”
She walks off stage left. Olga wipes down the microphone again, then steps back to the podium. “Now,” she says, “It’s my pleasure to introduce Mark and Tammy Lipps, owners of Ripe Choice Farm and Catering.”
Mark and Tammy walk to the stage and frame themselves in front of the Christmas trees.
“Our mission, Tammy begins, is to let the cat out of the bag about a region we discovered a year ago and have made our home. We want people to start their Lake County experience at Ripe Choice Farm.”
“We’re all organic, all healthy, solar-powered,” Mark adds. “We want the Ripe Choice Farm to be a microcosm of lake county. A base to enjoy your event or stay.”
They continue their pitch, showcasing how Ripe Choice Farm fits perfectly in the growing agritourism industry. “We’re offering a nostalgia that’s popular with Millennials, GenX, and Baby Boomers.”
As they finish and thank the judges, Olga walks to the podium to introduce the next business. “Our third presenters,” she announces, “are Nic and Mayra Lam, owners of Lam Printing in Clearlake.”
“Hello, judges!” Nic cheerily says once he’s situated behind the microphone. “I’m Nic.”
And I’m Mayra. And we’re Lam Printing.”
Mayra then begins telling their story about how they were paying the bills and successful in life. “We were set,” Mayra says, “but there was still something missing.”
“I remember talking in the parking lot at McDonalds. I got a call from a friend who said, “have you started a business already? He kept calling. So, I talked to Mayra, and we did it. We had nothing but our car, so we sold it and started out of our garage.”
Mayra concludes the presentation. “If we win, we’ve got a lot of things we can do with the money. It doesn’t matter if we win or not; we’ll get there. It will make it happen faster, but we’ll still get there.”
They exit the stage to applause, and Olga once more heads to the podium, this time to introduce Dottie Bates from True Grit Coffeehouse in Loch Lomond.
“Tough times never last,” Dottie begins, “But tough people do. That’s a quote from Robert Schuller, and it’s our philosophy at True Grit Coffeehouse. Human intellectual connection is what we need more than ever,” she continues. “Working as a barista for several years, you become a counselor and guide for local customers.
“And have I mentioned that we’re the only juice bar in Lake County that offers custom juice blends?”
Dottie continues with her presentation, showing her commitment and to local arts and her employees, then thanks the judges and exits stage left.
“So,” Olga announces once more, after taking a few seconds to wipe down the microphones a fifth time, “without further ado, let’s welcome David Brown of Suzie Q donuts and Espresso in Lakeport.”
David saunters up, a cowboy had plunked on his head.
“We make everything fresh daily,” he begins, “and we are much more than donuts. We have breakfast, lunch, all kinds of good stuff.”
“When COVID came, we had to make some big changes to how we do business. Now we have online ordering and curbside pickup. We deliver donuts and baked items to twenty-two businesses daily.”
He continues, sharing his passion for his business, then concludes. “My wife and I met at a donut shop in Paradise, California, and fell in love. When we came here,” he pauses. “We thought, ‘What the heck, let’s open up a donut shop.” He stops, emotional. “Thank you,” he tells the judges before walking off.
Lastly, Stacie Judson of Wild Bee Creations in Lower Lake stands on stage.
She begins her presentation. “I handcraft anything from perfume to lip balm to lotion. You name it, I can craft it. I’m passionate about what goes into your skin and into your environment. I try to keep everything natural in my products.
“Martha Stewart just bought thirty of my soaps. I’m excited to see what she thinks of them.”
Then, after answering a few questions, Stacie steps off stage.
It’s decision time. The Facebook stream shut off for a few minutes, and while the judges confer, Andre Williams steps onstage, followed by pianist John Wilder. They haven’t had a chance to practice because of COVID.
John tickles the ivories a bit, and they trill a cheery little tune. “We did practice,” he smiles. “A year ago!” Then he launches into a song. “L,” Andre croons, “Is for the way you look at me.” And for the next twenty minutes, he transports the audience to a time where worries are far away.
Then the judges return, and it’s time to announce the winners. Maryann steps to the front of the stage. “This is very exciting,” she says, holding the papers containing the winners’ checks in her hand. Then she makes the big announcement, handing each contestant a gift basket along with the check.
Here are the results:
$1,000 Fifth Prize, Sponsored by City of Lakeport: Dottie Bates, True Grit Coffee
$1,500 Fourth Prize, Sponsored by City of Lakeport: Stacie Judson, Wild Bee Creations
$3,000 Third Prize, Sponsored by Savings Bank of Mendocino and The Lodge at Blue Lakes: David Brown, Suzie Q Donuts and Espresso
$2,500 Best Business in Lakeport, Sponsored by The Lodge at Blue Lakes: Mark and Tammy Lipps, The Ripe Choice Farm and Catering
$5,000 Second Prize, Sponsored by Community First Credit Union and The Lodge at Blue Lakes: Lisa Wilson, Clear Lake Boat Rental
Fan Favorite Prize – $250 Cash with Gift Certificate for The Lodge at Blue Lakes: David Brown, Suzie Q Donuts and Espresso
Finally, it’s time to announce the winner, and Nic and Mayra Lam walk up to the front of the stage, where Alan Flora, City Manager for Clearlake, presents them the check and gift basket.
“Thank you so much,” Mayra says. “This is amazing! We applied on a whim and didn’t think we’d win.” She’s stunned.
“Thank you,” Nic adds. “This is a shortcut for us.” He stops for a moment, filled with emotion. “I can’t believe it.”
Alan Flora, City manager for Clearlake, ecstactic at having two Clearlake buisneses take the top two prizes for the competition, gives the closing remarks. “I am so impressed with the businesses that presented today – but I’m not surprised,” he begins. “From the instant I heard about the 1Team 1Dream project to support local businesses in this way – I knew it was a great idea.
“After today, I’m more convinced than ever and excited about next year – which I know Maryann and Olga are already planning. And the City of Clearlake plans to take part.” He pauses. “Small businesses are vital to our Cities and all communities in the County. They are the backbone of our local economy; they are our friends and neighbors. So, shop local and keep supporting programs like Hands Up Lake County.”
Hands Up Lake County is the brainchild of Maryann Schmid and Olga Martin Steele, who saw the vision for a local business competition that doesn’t just provide prizes, but also long-term business training and follow-up. These two driven women, as the evening wound down, already had begun planning the 2021 competition.
Their vision has involved the entire Lake County community, without whom this would not be possible. Thanks to the sponsors who helped make this happen.
The Lodge at Blue Lakes
City of Clearlake
City of Lakeport
County of Lake
August Schmitt Realty Solutions
Community First Credit Union
Savings Bank of Mendocino County
Combs Consulting Group
Gateway to Quality Fundraising
Lake County Winery Association
Rotary Club of Clear Lake, California
Lakeport Rotary Club
Samuel Euston Digital Media Production
Pennbrook Insurance Services
Luna Capital Management
Biscocho Insurance Agency
Jim and Olga Steele