For the last month, Rubicon has been on the hunt to find this year’s “Best Small Business in America” and award them a check for $10,000.
This is our second annual contest, where we ask small businesses from around the country to tell us their sustainability and social impact stories. What we hoped to find are brick-and-mortar small businesses that have a unique and innovative approach to business, rooted in a continuous focus on their customers, their communities, sustainability, and the environment. We found just that.
Each day, we at Rubicon are inspired by the business owners we interact with who put their trust in us to manage their waste collection, recycling projects, and sustainability opportunities. We want to give back and help great small businesses continue to flourish, saluting those companies that continue to help America thrive.
To help us sort through all of the entries and provide some expert feedback, we were lucky enough to secure an all-star judging panel. Our trifecta includes Rubicon’s Director of Marketing Tim Lamb, Erin Holohan, Director of Corporate Wellness at Mindbody, the leading technology platform for the fitness, wellness and beauty services industries and Toast CEO Chris Comparato, the fastest-growing restaurant management platform in the U.S.
After receiving hundreds of quality entries, our panel of esteemed judges had an extremely difficult decision to make, eliminating several hundred entries to get to the 15 finalists.
These 15 finalists were selected based on their desire to use business as a force for social or environmental good and their determination to not only make money but to also make a difference.
We are proud to present our 15 finalists for Rubicon’s 2018 “Best Small Business in America” competition. From pumpkin seeds to yoga mats and everything in between, these small businesses represent the nation’s best in innovation, sustainability, and spirit.
Finalists are listed in alphabetical order.
Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik (Sister Bay, WI)
Photo Credit: Dave Gilo
Since 1973, Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant is a place where you can find a lot of things. You can find authentic Swedish meatballs, a family atmosphere, and goats grazing grass on the roof. Yes, you read that right. Al Johnson’s signature grass roof is peppered with adorable animals for patrons to enjoy. A landmark in the area, the restaurant took what was originally a prank, and turned into a Sister Bay staple. More than just a gimmick, these goats have earned Al Johnson’s a certification in Wisconsin’s Travel Green Program for their special sod roof. The implementation of this silly yet sustainable practice has helped minimize the restaurant’s energy/water impact for over 50 years.
Compost Crusader LLC (Milwaukee, WI)
Photo Credit: Mike De Siti
The name says it all. Milwaukee’s Compost Crusader LLC is on a mission to fight excess waste. Working with a bevy of businesses to implement composting to divert waste from landfill, the CC team has become a local one-stop-shop for all things organics recycling and the corresponding compost accessories. With philanthropy as a core value, the Compost Crusaders donate 1 yard of compost to the local community for every 20,000lbs of collected material. Founded in 2009 as “Kompost Kids”, the mission of the crusaders has remained consistent throughout the metamorphosis of the company; to divert 50-75% of each customer’s waste from the landfill.
Craft Urban Restaurant (Geneva, IL)
The new kid on the block in the Geneva food scene, Craft Urban’s first year in business has been one of sustainable sourcing, solid service, and success. Laser focused on local ingredients and responsible curation, Craft Urban has reinvented classical preparations into edible works of art. They also donate all of their food waste and scraps to feed local livestock and compost what cannot be given away. Enjoy local produce in a truly unique space; with gorgeous hand-painted murals and eye-catching pop art. Curating so much more than just a charcuterie board, the team at Craft Urban have reignited the experiential and sustainable part of dining.
Evolution Power Yoga, LLC (Lancaster, PA)
Photo Credit: Jenny Foster
Ahead of the trend, Evolution Power Yoga founder Lisa Taylor opened up shop in 2001 to the people of Lancaster, PA. Like it’s namesake, the studio’s evolution over the last 17 years has been one that has affected the entire surrounding community. Neighboring cafes have had to change their employee schedules and inventory, all to meet the demands of the post-class crowd. The classes themselves have changed; experimenting with different teachings, techniques, and training. The Evolution Power team goes above and beyond for their community, and even around the globe, doing all sorts of charitable work for a near-and-dear foundation, the Africa Yoga Project. Evolution Power Yoga and their now multiple locations provide both solace and serenity while emphasizing sustainable business practices.
Farm Hounds Treats (Atlanta, GA)
Photo Credit: Kristen Frasca
Atlanta’s Farm Hounds Treats truly embody the old saying, “quality over quantity.” The brains behind the local and wildly popular, The Whole Dog Market, a sustainably sourced store for pet products and must-haves, have launched a treat line that emphasizes local ingredients for optimal nutrition. Our four-legged friends deserve the best, and at Farm Hounds that means treats made from fresh ingredients with no antibiotics or hormones. Using protein from Georgia’s premiere White Oak Pastures, everything done at Farm Hounds is done with the dog in mind; from purpose to the product, to protein partners. Empowering small farmers while simultaneously keeping pets and owners happy? A true win-win!
Firecracker Pizza (St. Louis, MO)
Perfectly named for the personalities that run this joint, St. Louis’ new Firecracker Pizza is an explosion of all things flavor, brews, and attitude. A part of St.Louis’ “Green Dining Alliance”, the Firecracker team has a robust recycling program, serves only draft beer (to eliminate can and bottle usage), composts their food scraps, and operates without a single straw in sight. With unique flavor combinations like mint chutney, Mexican street corn, and house-cured pastrami; there are several reasons why this ain’t your mama’s pizzeria! Firecracker opened in 2018 and has become the delicious representation of every walk of life that fills the streets of their neighborhood.
GoodWood NOLA (New Orleans, LA)
Photo Credit: Trevor Mark
New Orlean’s GoodWood NOLA is a southern fabrication and design firm with a focus on sustainability in and out of their office. Hand-making furniture can have quite the environmental impact, but GoodWood has made sure to do their part. In their studio, they practice computer energy conservation, have various sustainable equipment certifications, and have banned the use of plastic bags, styrofoam, and bottled water on the property. In addition to donating used materials to the local community, the team at GoodWood annually organizes a group of individuals for a day of planting trees in the community. This initiative, known as “Building the Canopy,” allows the business to almost completely offset their annual lumber consumption.
Hey! Cafe & Coffee Roastery (New Orleans, LA)
A coffee shop with no garbage cans? Open for over half a decade, Hey! Cafe & Coffee Roastery is putting a whole new meaning on the term “made in-house.” This funky shop transitioned from roasting ethically sourced beans for its own use to selling them all over town. It’s also branched out into how Java can be consumed, partnering with NOLA Brewing and Left Hand Brewing to create a coffee saison, as well as rocking a nitro cold-brew coffee on tap. In addition to having some seriously incredible coffee, this shop also has some seriously impressive zero-waste goals. The roastery composts upcycle, and only produces 1-3 pounds of trash daily.
Markham & Fitz (Bentonville, AR)
Bentonville’s Markham & Fitz Chocolate Shop has got a pretty sweet thing going on. With a sinfully delicious range of candy bars, cookies, and cozy sipping chocolates, M&F uses organic non-GMO cane sugar and package their goodies up in compostable and recyclable wrapping. The protective coating that surrounds the chocolate bars is 100% biodegradable and created from vegetable plastic. A small team of visionaries, the brains behind the bars are always looking for new and innovative solutions to handle their excess waste on site. Creating confections using their “bean to bar” method for the last couple of years, the team behind the treats are passionate about environmentally friendly ingredients and sustainable supply-chain management.
RE:3D (Houston/Austin Texas)
Everything is bigger in Texas! Veteran owned, this multi-location 3D-printing technology company is revolutionizing the way we think, build, and grow. 3D printing is helping companies of all sizes think bigger and outside the box when it comes to innovation. Gigabot, RE:3D’s marquee 3D printer implemented in over 50 different countries, allows large-scale 3D printing at a more comfortable price point. In addition to helping corporations, RE:3D is printing its sustainable stamp on the world by aiding in the design and creation of composting toilets. The toilets can be made from plastic bags, milk jugs, and other recyclable items.
Saltwater Brewery (Delray Beach, FL)
Photo Credit: Saltwater Brewery and Coviello Photo
In an effort to maintain the health of your oceans, Saltwater Brewery pioneered a unique invention. The brewery boasts the use of edible six-pack rings, a new approach to solving the issue of the commonly used and unsustainable beer packaging. These six-pack rings are 100 percent biodegradable and edible, as they are made from barley and wheat ribbons used during the brewing process. Not only is the practice reducing excess waste in the brewery, but this packaging can actually be safely eaten by animals that may come into contact with it. To further reinforce their commitment to cleaning up oceans, Saltwater Brewery also gives back to several ocean-related charities such as CCA, Surfrider, Ocean Foundation, and MOTE Marine Labs.
Shades of Green Permaculture (Atlanta, GA)
Shades of Green Permaculture is an environmentally friendly installation and landscape studio serving up sustainable solutions for all of the Southeast. With over 14 years of experience, the visionaries behind the ecological systems and regenerative areas have perfected the art of conscious design. The team specializes in the creation of gorgeous and conscious spaces, structures, and soils. Monday Night Brewing, one of Atlanta’s coolest craft breweries, enlisted help from Shades of Green to create a bountiful orchard in their new tasting room to reflect the use of seasonal ingredients. Besides environmental sustainability, the Shades of Green team values education and holds various workshops, informational events, and sustainability-focused internships.
Stony Brook WholeHearted Foods (Geneva, NY)
Photo Credit: Jason Koski
Proud to be one of America’s few artisan makers of a line of creative cooking oils produced from sustainably sourced seeds, Stony Brook WholeHearted Foods emphasizes local farmers and ethical production practices on US soil. Stony Brook boasts an impressive and addictive line of pumpkin seeds, seed protein powders, and even gluten-free nut free options. This NY based operation has gone back to basics to perfect their product. Small batches of local and seasonal seeds are always sourced, milled, roasted, and packaged onsite in Geneva to produce maximum flavor for minimal environmental impact.
Sun & Soil Juice Company (Sacramento, CA)
Photo Credit: Tatiana Kaiser and Vincent Marchese
Open since 2014, Sun & Soil Juice Co. has made quite a splash in Sacramento. Positioned in between some of the lushest and bountiful organic farms on the West-Coast, S&S Juice Co. has created quite the recipe for sustainable success. Not only is the juice good for the body, but it is good for the planet as well! S&S uses a refillable glass bottle program in order to eliminate the need for Styrofoam and continually work to reduce their carbon footprint. Sun and Soil keep customers coming back to refill those bottles all day with mouthwatering flavors like Orange Carrot Creamsicle, Pear Cider, and the cleansing Spinach Limeade.
Yoloha Yoga (Charleston, SC)
Yoloha Yoga is here to change the yoga experience and our planet simultaneously. Yoloha yoga mats are made from recycled cork and are able to repel the bacteria that lingers in our sweat after a downward dog. In addition to being more sanitary than a traditional mat, the cork also works as an extra layer of grip, providing beginners and experts alike with a much better experience. In order to create the world’s very first cork mats, Yoloha even asks the public to send them their wine corks to be recycled. These recycled corks are then cleaned, ground into small pieces, and turned into blocks, meditation cushions, and traditional mats. The Yoloha team employs sustainable practices in their shipping and warehouse facilities and vow never to use single-use plastics.
Vote for your favorite finalist!
These are the 15 finalists in our “Best Small Business in America” contest. Voting is now open so be sure to cast your vote for the business that speaks to the innovation, sustainability, and social good that is uniquely American. After all, your vote can help them win $10,000!
Voting will end on Sunday, November 18th. The winner will be announced on Small Business Saturday, November 24th!