Katy Lesser, and her children and partners Eli and Nina Lesser-Goldsmith (speaking) accept the Deane Davis Business of the Year Award, as Governor Scott looks on Wednesday evening at the Saling Center in Burlington. VBM photo.
VermontBiz and the Vermont Chamber of Commerce announced Wednesday that Healthy Living Market and Café is the winner of the prestigious and highly anticipated Deane C. Davis Outstanding Business of the Year Award, 2021. This annual award honors a Vermont business that shows an outstanding history of sustained growth while displaying an acute awareness of what makes Vermont unique. The award, named for the former governor of Vermont, was created 32 years ago by VermontBiz and the Vermont Chamber of Commerce to recognize and honor the state’s best companies.
The honor was bestowed at the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center on Burlington's Waterfront.
“The year 2022 marks the 50th Anniversary of Vermontbiz and the 32nd Anniversary of the Deane C Davis Outstanding Business of the Year Award, something we are very proud of here at VermontBiz. The list of past winners is a virtual who’s who of businesses in Vermont. This year, once again we had three great companies as finalist for this prestigious award, Caledonia Spirits, Healthy Living Market and Café and Hickok and Boardman Insurance Group, all three businesses have shown great merit for the Deane C Davis Award. Like Davis himself—former governor, president of National Life of Vermont, and environmentalist—each finalist reflects Vermont’s diverse nature and, at the same time, radiates a savvy business sense” said John Boutin Publisher of VermontBiz and co-presenter of the award. “We have so many outstanding businesses in Vermont, but these three finalists reflect much of what we see throughout our state economy,” said Vermont Chamber President Betsy Bishop
Long before it was anywhere near a "market" or a "cafe", Katy Lesser founded Healthy Living Market and Cafe in 1200 square feet, with a strange mishmash of inventory, one employee, and an average of 6 customers a day. With zero business experience and an absence of anything close to an industry devoted to natural foods, it seemed like a recipe for disaster. And in spite of being told it would never work, Katy set out to "grow up," learn how to run a business, and be a true pioneer in the soon-to-be growing natural foods industry.
Since 1986, Lesser has turned Healthy Living into a company with 3 vibrant Vermont markets with over 300 employees and sales growing every year. Along with her deep commitment to sourcing healthy food and supporting local agriculture, she has shown equal devotion to creating hundreds of jobs for a diverse segment of the Vermont population. Their mission statement has not changed over the years. “We’re on a mission to fuel a passion for great food, health, and well-being and be the place where people gather to shop, eat, and work.” These core principles have driven community loyalty, growth in sales, and a dedicated staff!
Going hand in hand with creating jobs, giving back to the communities that loyally support them has been part of their mission for over 35 years. From the very start, their Community Outreach Program has reached hundreds of small local non-profits every year and is devoted to helping groups that have small budgets and big hearts. They work with motivated, innovative groups with values similar to their own. They are especially interested in food insecurity and access to food, environmental issues, building a strong community, making health a priority, supporting organic farming, and educating both adults and kids about these things. At their registers they ask customers to round up to the nearest whole dollar amount and donate the difference to a select charity each quarter. Healthy Living matches these donations and in 2021 donated nearly $120k to charities. The staff also participates in a variety of community outreach projects and is paid for time spent. In 2021 Healthy Living donated $150,000 in cash and in-kind donations to local organizations such as Feeding Chittenden, Spectrum, Family Services, South Burlington Food Shelf, Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, private and public schools.
While they love and believe in the products they sell, their even bigger commitment is to creating interesting jobs for people. The range of jobs is wide; everything from kitchen work to financial expertise, and helping people learn, grow, and move on in their careers is their greatest joy. Their management team works 7 days a week to create a positive place to work. They employ people who started as cashiers and are now managers, buyers, and supervisors, and because of this, they retain successful staff. Over the past two years, the pandemic has offered them the opportunity to take care of their staff in new, bigger ways. As an essential business, they never closed their doors. That meant they needed to find ways to ensure that staff felt coming to work was not only safe, but a place where support was available. They put new bonus plans in place, offered Hazard Pay, upped the Angel Food program, and above all made safety a priority. As a result, their core team of staff has loyally come to work during this difficult time, and the team is stronger than ever!
In 2021 Healthy Living opened their third store, in Williston Vermont. They created 60 new good jobs. They did this in the middle of covid, in one of the most challenging business environments in the past 25 years, in one of the most competitive industries in America. "Healthy Living has endured recessions, pandemics, and many other ups and downs in our nearly 40 years in business. For the Deane Davis award team to recognize our longstanding perseverance is affirming and appreciated. We look forward to the award ceremony later this year, and thank everyone for the opportunity," said Eli Lesser-Goldsmith CEO.
VermontBiz is the state's most respected business publication. Since 1972, Vermont Business Magazine has published statewide business news, economic and political news and commentary, business and individual profiles, data, analysis and statistics.
The Vermont Chamber is the largest statewide, private, not-for-profit business organization, they represent every sector of the state’s business community. Its mission is to create an economic climate conducive to business growth and the preservation of the Vermont quality of life.
DEANE C. DAVIS OUTSTANDING
VERMONT BUSINESS AWARD WINNERS
1990 WALLACE ENTERPRISES
1991 C & S WHOLESALE GROCERS
1992 MCKENZIE MEATS
1993 PERRY RESTAURANT GROUP
1994 GREEN MOUNTAIN COFFEE ROASTERS
1995 VERMONT HEATING & VENTILATING
1996 MACKMOLDING COMPANY
1997 SMUGGLERS’ NOTCH RESORT
1998 VERMONT COUNTRY STORE
1999 CABOT CREAMERY
2000 WAITSFIELD CHAMPLAIN VALLEY TELECOM
2001 WILD APPLE GRAPHICS
2002 NRG SYSTEMS
2003 HUBBARDTON FORGE
2005 KING ARTHUR FLOUR
2007 SYMQUEST GROUP INC
2008 NATIONAL LIFE GROUP
2009 BIOTEK INSTRUMENTS INC
2010 SMALL DOG ELECTRONICS
2011 FOLEY FAMILY OF COMPANIES
2012 GW PLASTICS, INC.
2014 CHAMPLAIN CABLE
2015 PC CONSTRUCTION
2016 MARATHON HEALTH
2017 VERMONT MUTUAL INSURANCE GROUP
2018 GREEN MOUNTAIN POWER
2019 CHROMA TECHNOLOGY CORP.
2020 LAWSON’S FINEST LIQUIDS
Burlington, VT (August 17, 2022) – VermontBiz