Burbank Chamber of Commerce Excellence Awards Highlight Outstanding Achievements

(Photo by Austin Gebhardt)

The Burbank Chamber of Commerce presented its Excellence Awards to outstanding members of the local businesses community on Saturday, May 13.

The annual gathering, which has honored the accomplishments of Burbank businesspeople for two consecutive years, took place at the Burbank Water and Power Ron E. Davis EcoCampus courtyard

Those recognized by the chamber were: Tallyrand Restaurant, winner of Small Business of the Year, Emerging Small Business of the Year recipient Media City Design, the Burbank Road Kings, who were named Heroes of Burbank, Chamber Ambassador of the Year Nathaniel Beaver, and Ross Benson, who was offered the Heart of the City Recognition. 

(Photo by Austin Gebhardt)

Additionally, Warner Bros. and The Walt Disney Company were given Centennial Legacy Tributes as both companies are celebrating their 100-year anniversaries in 2023. The chamber also paid tribute to longtime member Jeanne Vlazny Johnson who sadly died in April 2023.

The festivity included a silent auction, an opportunity drawing, a photo op space, and food and beverages from a number of Burbank providers. Burbank Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Jamie Keyser took the stage at the start of the ceremony and welcomed local dignitaries such as Senator Anthony Portantino, Assemblymember Laura Friedman, Burbank Police Chief Mike Albanese, Burbank Vice Mayor Nick Schultz and Burbank City Councilmembers Zizette Mullins, Nikki Perez and Tamala Takahashi. 

Legendary former NBC Channel 4 weathercaster and comedian Fritz Coleman entertained the crowd as he served as the event’s host. Prior to the honorees delivering their speeches, Coleman introduced the award presenters: Chamber Board Member Kevin McCarney, Chamber Board Development Vice Chair Albert Hernandez, former Burbank Mayor Bob Frutos, Keyser and Chamber Ambassador Vickie Beckett, and Chamber Board Governance Vice Chair Gema Sanchez.

“I know many of the honorees tonight personally, and it’s fun to support the small and medium-sized iconic businesses in Southern California,” Coleman said during his intro. “This has been a rough couple of years that we’ve been through, and it’s fun to know that the light at the end of the tunnel is now in full view.”

Karen Ross, who co-owns Tallyrand with her brother, Mark Thomas, accepted the Small Business of the Year award on stage. Tallyrand was founded by Ross and Mark’s parents, Al Thomas and Delores Alexandria Thomas, in 1959, and the siblings have owned the business since 2004. Ross spoke of the history of Tallyrand before thanking the restaurant’s crew members and the Burbank community. 

“Tallyrand is still thriving after 64 years from the enormous support of the community of Burbank,” Ross said. “Many of you come in. We’re so thankful and so just full of gratitude for your support.”

She added, “I’m so honored that we are here to receive this award from the Chamber of Commerce. … I love Burbank and the incredible people that work here and live here, and the city is so special. And we just look forward to serving you comfort food for many, many years to come.”

Through Media City Design, the company’s owner, Romik Hacobian, has carried out design services for local organizations such as the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, Burbank for Armenia, Zonta Club of Burbank Area, Vision Burbank and more. In honor of Mother’s Day weekend, Hacobian showed appreciation to the women he was raised by “who truly shaped [his] perspective on life.” He also dedicated his award to his spouse, Lucy Simonyan, stating that her “unwavering support and belief in [his] dreams have fueled [his] every step.” 

“Tonight, as I accept this award, I want to remind each and every one of you of the profound impact of a strong woman, the immeasurable value of the unwavering support from cherished friends, and the extraordinary opportunities that await for us when we dare to step out of our comfort zone,” Hacobian said. “It’s up to us to honor those who have shaped us, nurture the relationships we’ve built, and use our talents to make a difference in the world.”

Back in 2009, Beaver started Parry-Riposte Films, a film, and video production company. He later joined the chamber in 2019 and became a chamber ambassador the following year. The director/editor noted his satisfaction in being an active participant in the community while he appeared before attendees.

“This is just amazing,” Beaver said. “I have enjoyed serving the Burbank Chamber, the city of Burbank, and I look forward to what the future brings.”

On behalf of the iconic Road Kings car club, Road Kings Community Relations Representative Don Baldaseroni, President Karen Arellano, Vice President Richard Cohn and Secretary Laraine Lisa collected their honor. The club was founded in 1952 and, as of September 2022, has raised around $500,000 for Burbank nonprofits. To fulfill their mission of philanthropy, The Road Kings host charitable events like their annual Johnny Carson Park Car Show, which will take place on June 11.

“We’re in such esteemed company here with the other honorees,” Baldaseroni said. “I can’t even talk. It’s really great. Anyway, thank you very much — appreciate it.”

Next, Sanchez detailed Benson’s many achievements leading up to his Heart of the City Recognition. Almost five decades ago, Benson began his professional photography career following his graduation from John Burroughs High School. He’s since filled the role of official photographer for the Burbank Fire Department for over 45 years, has been the Burbank Chamber of Commerce photographer for nearly 50 years, and has shot photos at the White House, the homes of celebrities, Burbank City Hall, and more. Furthermore, Benson is a Magnolia Park Merchants Association Board of Directors member and has served as the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association Board of Directors vice president. To show their support for Benson, Burbank Fire Department Battalion Chief Edmondo St. Cyr, Deputy Fire Chief Mark Hatch, and members of Fire Station 15 were in attendance. 

(Photo by Austin Gebhardt)

“Our Burbank Fire Department and our public safety are the best that you will ever see. I get to see the inside of it,” Benson said. 

In 2010, Benson co-founded myBurbank.com with myBurbank President and Executive Editor Craig Sherwood. As the two have persistently provided Burbankers with breaking news and other pertinent community information, Benson has shot photos day and night in a variety of circumstances. 

“I go out [at] 2, 3 in the morning. People will see me at scenes of crimes and accidents and all sorts of stuff around this town,” said Benson, who is myBurbank’s chief photographer. 

At the close of his speech, Benson expressed his gratitude, as well as his plans to continue remaining loyal to his hometown. 

“I want to thank the chamber. This is a real honor,” Benson said before adding, “This is my town. I love this town. I won’t go anywhere. I have a son and some gorgeous granddaughters that are going to Burbank schools. … Thank you all.”

The Walt Disney Company Vice President of Government Relations Lisa Pitney and Warner Bros. Entertainment Vice President of Public Affairs Michael Walbrecht stepped on stage after the audience was shown video presentations paying homage to the illustrious media companies. Schultz, Mullins, Takahashi, and Perez together then gave both Pitney and Walbrecht keys to the city for Disney and Warner Bros. To conclude the evening, Portantino congratulated the award winners through a pre-recorded video message. 

Keyser subsequently reflected on the positive reception to the successful 2023 Excellence Awards. Aside from highlighting Burbank businesses, the chamber dedicated a silent auction prize to neighborhood eateries with a Taste of Burbank. This item featured gift cards to dining spots California Fish Grill, Yard House, Randy’s Donuts, Romancing the Bean Café, Barney’s Beanery, Priscilla’s Gourmet Coffee Tea & Gifts, Buffalo Wild Wings, and The Habit Burger Grill. 

“We created the Chamber Excellence Awards to recognize and celebrate our small business champions and Burbank heroes who go above and beyond to support the community,” Keyser said. “This was our second annual event, and it has been very well received. This year we added a Taste of Burbank Excellence which is a new, tasty element that guests truly enjoyed.”

To learn more about the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, visit its site here.