Great services helps you stand out from the crowd
The quality of service can only be judged by those on the receiving end. This simple truth is what drives the Catskill Best Service Awards; it is our attempt to give customers the opportunity to express their thanks to the many who go above and beyond what is expected to deliver excellence.
Each year we receive a number of ballots that are clearly part of an effort to nominate a specific business, person or group; usually there is more than one such campaign.
These efforts tend to skew a few categories (different categories each year), but they also provide an ancillary contribution to the process. While the individual ballots are true to their respective campaigns, most also include nominations of other service providers valued by the person doing the voting. This leads to a very clear picture of those businesses that deliver a quality of service appreciated by people from every aspect of the community.
This year was no different. It led to the recognition of Sanford Auto Parts, Miller’s Drug Store, Home Goods of Margaretville and E & D Spirit Shop, each of whom received over 100 votes and won awards in their respective categories.
We spoke to customers, and in some cases employees, throughout the area to find out what makes those first-place businesses special. What we found was that the recognized businesses share some basic qualities; not only are they welcoming to customers the first time, they continue to be considerate through everything that follows – even in their dealings with problems.
Here are some award-winning businesses and people who exemplify great service in our area.
FIRST PLACE - CHEF: Jean-Paul Biasutto, Summerfields, Margaretville
Deliver a quality product
The first rule of great service is to simply do whatever it is you do with excellence. Jean-Paul Biasutto, the chef at Summerfields, knows a thing or two about that. Since he brought his knives to the restaurant, customers have been able to count on getting a consistently good meal; and, more and more customers are coming.
Summerfields is recognized as the number one restaurant in the Casual Dining category and, not surprisingly, Jean-Paul was named top chef. The Main Street, Margaretville establishment’s menu offers steaks, chops and seafood specialties with that something “extraordinaire” that reflects the Jean-Paul touch. The most popular menu item is his Zuppa de Pesce with Lobster, and white wine sauce.
The restaurant has been a mainstay of Main Street since its opening in 1999, but it took on a new patina in 2006 when Jean-Paul came on the scene. His popularity has taken the restaurant’s sales over the top and led to many local residents making a night at Summerfields a regular calendar event. He has also represented the restaurant in cooking competitions and brought home many a blue ribbon, including at Margaretville’s own Cauliflower Festival where he consistently takes first prize for his creative recipes.
His creativity is what owner Robin Tischmacher appreciates the most about Jean-Paul. “He can create anything, which gives us a great deal of flexibility. His food is just great and we serve it in generous portions with friendly service. When you add great food to our cozy log home environment we are able to offer customers much more than just a meal – it is a unique Catskills dining experience.” During the summer months, the unique aspect of the venue expands to include Summerfields’ popular outdoor Tiki Bar created by Robin’s wife, Nadine.
“We are so pleased to receive this honor;” Robin says, “it means that our hard work is really paying off.”
During the winter Summerfields is open Friday through Tuesday for dinner and lunch on the weekends. With the warm weather, comes a seven-day a week lunch and dinner service.
Summerfields is located at Main Street, Margaretville and reservations can be made by calling 586-1111.
FIRST PLACE — B&B/INNS: Ben and Melissa Fenton, River Run B&B, Fleischmanns
Make it personal
The best service is always a personal affair. Few locations have a more personal touch than River Run Bed & Breakfast in Fleischmanns, where Ben and Melissa Fenton treat customers like family. They provide a truly personal experience to each guest enhanced by touches that relate to their own families.
Customers consistently remark on the fact that the innkeepers take a personal interest in their having a great visit. Ben spends the breakfast hour finding out what his guests have planned and then printing out maps that will aide their travels. He recommends restaurants and then makes reservations, when needed, to ensure that his guests have a worry-free experience. “I want to make sure that my guests find the exact experience they are seeking when they come to our mountains,” says Ben. “Sometimes I feel like a cruise director, but it is really important to me that my guests have a great time.”
Since claiming ownership if the Victorian Main Street manse on Sept. 11, 2001, the couple has enhanced the beautiful structure with items detailing the history of their families. Decorations in the main parlor include both of their mothers’ wedding dresses and family photos of grandparents and other relatives, including a shot of Melissa’s grandfather meeting President Hoover. Upon arrival, guests receive a tour that includes a series of personal stories that invite them into the family traditions, even if for just a weekend.
Ben and Melissa Fenton were smart enough to buy an inn that already had a good reputation and build upon that success. One of the ways they do that is through their Web site and the use of Internet marketing opportunities. Their Web site presents pictures of the inn and lots of information about the surrounding area and all it offers. The TripAdvisor.com Web site features consistently good ratings for their service from people who have stayed there. One customer expressed how pleased she was that the inn is exactly what she expected from visiting the Web site. The clarity of their marketing effort makes it easy for people to arrive and have a great experience.
A note from another recent customer makes it clear why River Run was awarded top position in its category, “Thank-you so much for such a wonderful stay at your B&B. We were so intrigued with all the history you had at the Inn. Thank-you so much for sharing. We will absolutely be coming back to the mountain with the kids in the future….Don’t change a thing. I have been telling everybody about your B&B, it’s truly amazing.” That’s what family does for one another.
River Run Bed & Breakfast is located at 882 Main Street, Fleischmanns and Ben and Melissa can be reached at 254-4884 or www.riverrunbedandbreakfast.com.
FIRST PLACE — FINANCIAL SERVICES: NBT Bank, Margaretville
Love what you do
Loving one’s work is a contagion that always leads to good service. When you think about the places people go when they need a pick-me-up, you rarely think about a bank, especially during hard financial times. Nonetheless, one of the things that customers report about NBT Bank in Margaretville is that they love to go there and always leave feeling better than when they arrived. This has everything to do with the attitude of Manager Carol Finch and her staff.
It is not uncommon to hear the sound of laughter ringing through the Main Street building. It is the sound of people enjoying their interactions and it is just as common for it to be between staff as in their exchanges with customers. One of the reasons that customers find it so easy to be joyful is the many things NBT does to make their banking experience easy.
At the top of the list of things customers appreciate are the bank’s hours. Carol and her staff are available five days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday mornings. “Being open on Saturdays gives us the chance to give personal attention to our second homeowner customers and the many local customers who work outside the village on weekdays; it makes it easier for them to bank with us,” she reports.
Carol is the branch manager and as a corporate vice president supervises the operations in Grand Gorge and Hobart. She has been with the bank for 30 years, a fact that is hard to believe given her youthful demeanor. She speaks with the enthusiasm of someone doing exactly what they want to be doing and it is a pervasive attitude in the office. Perhaps that is why she, Assistant Manager Marilyn Pitetti and Customer Service Representative Jennifer Slauson were all named as contributing to the reasons the bank was named at the top of its category in the Best Service Awards.
Of course, no one was laughing when the Grand Gorge branch was robbed last week and precautions were taken through the system. Still, customers in the Margaretville branch during the incident, commented on the fact that everyone remained calm and that attitude assured them that the situation was being handled in the most professional of ways. Even under the worst of circumstances, the staff kept their focus on their customers and took steps to make sure they felt secure.
Of course no one loves their work every day. What makes the people at the Margaretville branch of NBT special is that their customers never know which day is which. They operate every day as if this were their best; the result is that customers find it easy to bank with them and remain confident that their money is in safe hands. That is, after all, what that “T” stands for – trust.
NBT is located at 723 Main Street in Margaretville. Call them at 586-2623.
FIRST PLACE — VETERINARIANS/ANIMAL CARE: Daniel Sullivan, DVM, Grand Gorge Animal Hospital
Put customers first
Customers of the Grand Gorge Animal Hospital know that they come first to Daniel Sullivan, DVM and his staff. Ask anyone who has dealt with them and you will hear, “Dr. Dan has met us in the middle of the night, on Sundays, holidays, whatever or whenever a sick pet needed help!”
In reality, Dr. Dan and his staff split their efforts fairly evenly between the customer who is paying and the patient needing the help. As one of the paying variety phrased it, “They take joy in happy stories, laugh at the funny and cry when a kid has to cross the bridge. I sincerely appreciate Dr. Dan's willingness to ‘talk turkey’ and give me the odds even if they are bad.” It is the ability to maintain that balance that keeps their human customers coming back with their furry and feathered friends.
Ninety-five percent of the practice’s customers are small animals of the pet variety, but Dr. Dan is adept at caring for the livestock that is so critical to local farmers. In all branches of medicine, it is more important to know one’s limitations than it is to be skilled; and here too Dr. Dan excels. Customers report that he provides “the best veterinary care that you will see anywhere---caring, compassionate, and up to date diagnostics and knowledge, either within the practice or within his network of veterinary specialists.”
The Grand Gorge Animal Hospital opened in 1990 and for five years Dr. Dan did double duty serving in other veterinary emergency rooms, from his native Long Island to Poughkeepsie, while he built up the local business. By 1995 he was able to devote his full-time efforts to his Grand Gorge practice. Today his practice is so busy that routine procedures are best planned for well in advance with the appropriate appointment.
Dr. Dan Sullivan studied veterinary medicine, but his compassionate nature is simply part of who he is. It is the thing he brings to his customers, patients and staff. One new member reported that after having worked at other similar facilities, “this is the best animal hospital; he treats every single animal as if it were his own.” It is precisely the kind of care available when the customer and patient come first.
Grand Gorge Animal Hospital is located at 34952 State Highway 23 in Grand Gorge. Call 607.588.7011.
FIRST PLACE — ENTREPRENEUR: Marc Levenshus, Foothills Shoe Store, Red Sparrow and Portfolio Cafe, Margaretville
Listen to what customers want
Every business begins with the recognition of a need. Entrepreneurs are the people who keep their ears to the ground awaiting the voice calling out a need. Even more, they are the people who then take action to meet that need with a product or service. Marc Levenshus is a guy who has been listening to the people of this community and providing goods and services to meet needs he has recognized. The accuracy of his hearing is reflected in the new businesses he has created on Main Street Margaretville, Foothill Shoes, Red Sparrow and Portfolio Café.
Marc’s first local business was Foothills Shoe Co., which occupies the storefront corner of Walnut in the Bussy building. Marc had been a “part-timer” in his Hubbell Hill home for 27 years when two years ago he decided to move here permanently. As any entrepreneur would do, he began looking for opportunities to invest in his new home community. Opening a discount shoe store in a town that had none was a natural; he brought over 30 years of successful wholesale and retail shoe and fashion experience to the venture.
The shoe store had been running successfully for over a year when he got the opportunity to take on a few items of clothing from one of his long-standing vendors. He put them in the shoe store and, much like the proverbial hotcakes, they sold out quickly. Recognizing another need, Marc looked around for an appropriate space for a clothing store; he didn’t have to travel far to The Commons, where he opened Red Sparrow in the spring of 2009.
It sounds as if Marc is simply charmed, but the reality is that he works long hard hours. He also has a talent for hiring people he can count on and then works with them in a collaborative fashion. One of those people is Karen Kolar, who is an individual winner in the Retail Clerk category and works in both the shoe and clothing store. She indicates, “It is just an amazing team. When I walk in the door, I feel as if I am walking into my own business and I listen to customers as if my job depended upon understanding exactly what they need – which it does. Everyone working for Marc feels exactly the same way and that makes it a great place to work.”
Marc’s newest venture is Portfolio Café, which opened in November. In that case, he recognized the need for a relaxed atmosphere in which people could meet and the availability of a perfect space adjacent to Red Sparrow. Marc knew such a venture was beyond his ken, so he went to Mary Todd of Mary’s Cooking, the areas leading caterer (another award winner), to engage her in providing food and traveled to similar venues to learn what he needed to know. Now every day begins with a drive to Boiceville to pick up the fresh breads and pastries that will be served that day in the Café.
It takes a lot to open new businesses that will go the distance, but it is a prospect that Marc enjoys. He looks forward to ten years ahead when Margaretville is the destination it has the potential to be and sees his businesses the n as now part of what makes that dream a reality. Recognition of that vision is what caused so many people to nominate him for the Catskill Best Service Awards in the Entrepreneur category.
Foothill Shoes is located at the corner of Main Street and Walnut, Red Sparrow and the Portfolio Café are located in the Common Building in Margaretville.
FIRST PLACE — UTILITIES: MTC, Margaretville
Never become complacent
When you have a virtual monopoly, it can be easy to take customers for granted, as is evidenced by the treatment received from most utility companies. But when you are the Margaretville Telephone Company, you take a very different approach to business and your customers. At MTC, every employee operates as if it were their company, giving personal attention to the needs of their customers. They never take customers for granted.
The clearest example of this truth is found by simply calling the company. The telephone is answered by a human being – a human being with a smile in his or her voice. The next thing you notice is that they seem to be genuinely interested in what you have to say and they respond with knowledge. The staff is filled with individuals who have both general knowledge and areas of specific expertise; as a team they are committed to excellence.
Indeed, while Glen Faulkner bears the title general manager, he works with team leaders Don Bramley, Peter Curran and Karen Munro in a collaborative effort. “Our emphasis is on serving the community in which we live. We know that every customer is a friend or neighbor; we treat them all as if they were family.” It is a continuation of the traditions on which the company was founded.
Their approach works. Everyone on the staff of 17 wears many hats and approaches each job answering the question, “What do we need to do to get the job done right the first time?” They work in their respective team to ensure that the “I’s” get dotted and “T’s” get crossed. MTC customers consistently report that the question was answered with excellent service.
MTC was selected for the Catskill Best Service Award in the Utilities category because they never forget their first priority – customer service.
FIRST PLACE — NEW BUSINESS: Jack Zamor, Arkville Bread & Breakfast
Dare to risk
One lesser aspect of successful service providers is that they take risks that will lead to satisfaction for their customers. This is never more true than for those starting up new businesses. Jack Zamor has dared to risk and it is paying off for him at the Arkville Bread & Breakfast, one of the area’s newest eateries and winner of the Catskill Best Service Award for New Business.
A primary factor in Jack’s success is the sure-fire combination of great food and an ideal location. The caboose building adjacent to the railroad tracks has been a site for successful food businesses and is perfectly situated for his breakfast offerings: good food at good prices. Add to that the speed with which he delivers each order and you get a whole bunch of happy customers.
Jack opened in June of 2009 with plans to grow the business slowly. Building upon the success of the breakfasts, he will be expanding his offerings in the next few weeks to include lunches in a full dining room. He says, “I have patience. It is important to let the business evolve into what will meet the needs of customers. That’s the only way that it will continue to grow.”
What makes the venture a risk is that even though he has been cooking for others for years, this is his first time owning the business (another reason for taking things at a slow and steady pace). But, the response from customers has been anything but slow – people from a broad cross section of the community are delighted with his offerings and looking forward to the lunches to come.
Arkville Bread & Breakfast is located in the caboose at the junction of the Crossroads and Route 28 in Arkville, 845-586-1122.