For the last few weeks, we’ve asked small business owners from around the country to tell us their stories by submitting their business into our “Best Small Business in America” contest. What we hoped to find were brick-and-mortar small businesses that had a unique, and innovative, story to tell that detailed their continuous focus on their customers and communities. We found just that.
Perhaps even better than that though, was the sheer quality of the entries we received.
We had a chance to learn about some of the amazing things small businesses are doing in their communities, as well as hear about those “crossing the Rubicon” moments they’ve experienced as business owners – explaining the trials and tribulations of owning/operating a small business.
For those of us at Rubicon, this contest directly aligns with one of our core values – to celebrate the empowerment of small business. Not only did we want to provide some additional exposure for these amazing entries, but we also wanted to provide them with a chance to win something special – $10,000 toward their small business.
After receiving hundreds of quality entries from around the country, our panel of esteemed judges had an extremely difficult decision to make, pairing down several hundred entries to just ten.
After much deliberation, we are proud to present our ten finalists for Rubicon’s “Best Small Business in America” competition. From ice cream to recycled furniture and everything in between, these 10 brick and mortars represent the nation’s best in innovation, sustainability, and spirit. Finalists are listed in alphabetical order.
Location: Crested Butte, Colorado
Nestled in the gorgeous mountains of Crested Butte, Colorado, this skiing, camping, and outdoor lifestyle epicenter is making an impact on their small community in a very big way.
As a small business creating experiential retail, Chopwood Mercantile has had their fair share of challenges. In addition to the trials of staying afloat in a small ski town, fast-moving changes in the consumer markets have forced them to adapt and adjust – just like you would do on an outdoor adventure.
Chopwood may be the new kid on the block, but they have a large voice in the community, frequently partnering with several neighboring businesses in order to ensure a thriving and close-knit Crested community.
Their passion for helping others is also reflected in their B Corp status. Chopwood Mercantile is one of the first independent outdoor retailers to become a Certified B Corporation. For those that aren’t familiar, B Corporations strive to use the power of business as a force for good in order to solve social, environmental and global problems – and Chopwood is exuding those values by donating 3% of their profits to local organizations.
In addition to carrying the most in-demand brands and every type of gear you would need for any outdoor activity, Chopwood truly takes the sale and turns it into an experience. From outdoor beginners to seasoned vets, owner Travis Underwood and his team offer each customer guidance, suggestions, and support so that they are able to achieve their goals and make a soul-soothing connection with their surroundings.
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Just outside of Atlanta, Grubbly Farms is attempting to reinvent a sustainable snack for livestock. More specifically, they’re on a mission to produce a new and improved protein-packed food source for poultry, pets, and maybe even one day – people!
Founders Sean Warner and Patrick Pittaluga were students at Georgia Tech when they created a nursery for over 500 black larvae in the laundry room of their college apartment. What began as a half-joke in early 2015, turned into a passion for sustainability, respect for the environment, and the belief that they could solve a multitude of problems, one bug at a time.
Once they graduated, they moved their laundry room experiment to a warehouse on Buford Highway where they have been perfecting the process for the last few years.
The concept is relatively simple. Grubbly Farms recycles food waste from various places and feeds the food waste to the black soldier fly larvae. The larvae feast on the food waste and a fantastic fertilizer is formed. The larvae are then dehydrated and turned into a tantalizing treat for animals.
A scrappy start-up at heart, the sky is the limit for the goals of Grubbly Farms. Utilizing sustainable practices by recycling food waste and putting it back into the equation in a new way is an inspired idea that has earned the brains behind Grubbly high praise, a grant from Georgia Tech, and a real platform to do some good in the new world of agriculture. Grubbly Farms is a small business that is hell-bent on turning an ancient agricultural practice on its head with sustainable practices in mind.
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Everyone loves a good Do-It-Yourself project but few are keen on the mess left behind in our homes. Hobby Prodigy, located in the City of Bridges, has remedied this inevitable headache that can often come with crafting.
Hobby Prodigy is Pittsburgh’s first DIY craft studio that allows customers to individually create in a unique environment. With an extensive menu of options (ranging from jewelry to expert level home décor), every guest can connect with their inner-crafter for a few hours of relaxing and rewarding activity.
Jennifer Miller, the brains behind the operation, turned her guilty pleasure into a full-time gig by providing locals with a creative and cathartic creation station. Hobby Prodigy provides all of the necessary materials, tools, and guides needed in order to take your DIY dreams from conception to completion.
While Hobby Prodigy supplies everything you need to get you started, they don’t offer classes. They purposely exclude class options for the sole reason of not wanting to hinder someone’s creative and experimental genius.
Jennifer and her team have become party planners in their own right – planning Harry Potter themed events, wine nights, and craft socials. It’s a fun free-for-all, with a focus on building a foundation of fundraising. Hobby Prodigy partners with a new non-profit every month, gives them 10% of the proceeds of a craft, and encourages community support for the organization throughout your experience. Truly, crafting for a cause!
Location: Stewart, Tennessee
Southern hospitality should be extended to everyone and our four-legged friends should be no exception. Legend Acres Horse, Dog, and Cat Boarding in Stewart, Tennessee is exceeding the expectations of pet care by truly going above and beyond and making sure both owner and pet alike are taken care of.
Owned by United States Army veteran Kristi Kay May, Legend Acres is filling a need for short-term, long-term, and even Military deployment boarding and pet care in their community. With a Masters Degree in Animal Science, May and her team are offering your pet a unique spa-like health and wellness experience in an outdoor environment.
The idea was born from Kristi’s inherent need to create a unique and local small business that fills the needs of other active duty military and their families. With such an emphasis on the surrounding community, it seemed like a no-brainer for Legend Acres to create their own non-profit charities. Legend Acres Charity Membership is dedicated to combating animal abuse, and serves as a great way to help feed, adopt, and nurture man’s best friend.
What is on the horizon for this military focused business model? Dog Obedience Classes, Behavior Problem Solving, and Organized Group Dog Walks. Guaranteed 24/7 service and attention to your pet, the experience with the Legend Acres staff truly feels like leaving your fur-baby with your own family.
Location: Charlottesville, Virginia
NoBull Burger, a mother-daughter run business in Virginia, is on a mission to provide healthy, handcrafted, sustainable, and delicious plant-based burgers to the masses. It’s their hope and mission to feed the world, healthier natural food without compromising on flavor or quality, one veggie burger at a time.
NoBull’s patties are made with an all-organic lentil base mixed with roasted savory vegetables. The combination of textures and flavors create a sustainable and seriously delicious substitute!
The coming of age story for these imposter patties began in Chef Crissanne Raymond’s kitchen when she began experimenting in order to find a mouthwatering meat substitute burger for her own family. It wasn’t until rave reviews from clients and friends rolled in that Crissanne enlisted the help of her daughters, Elizabeth and Heather Raymond, to go into business together and attempt to supply the nation with their creation. The family started small by selling at local farmers markets and utilizing industry connections, but the demand for these unbelievable non-GMO burgers got too high and the ladies of NoBull decided to open up shop.
The burgers come in a variety of flavors: original, savory mushroom and roasted garlic, sun-dried tomato and spinach, and spicy Italian. The sustainably sourced organic ingredients truly set them apart from other veggie burgers on the market. Don’t live in Charlottesville? No problem! The Raymond family has your back, as they ship products to homes and restaurants all over the country as they eye plans for expansion.
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minnesotans are braving the cold year-round to get a scoop of something different at Pumphouse Creamery in Minnesota. As a founding father of the “farm to frozen” movement, Pumphouse has a rotating menu of 20 organic, natural, and locally sourced flavors daily.
Barb Zapzalka opened Pumphouse Creamery in 2003 and has been hand-crafting all of the flavors ever since. The flavors are always changing but customers can’t stop talking about PC’s butterscotch sundaes and salted chocolate chip ice cream sammies. With an emphasis on seasonality and creative inspiration, Barb keeps customers coming back with her assortment of ice cream, dairy-free options, four-legged friendly flavors, and seasonal sorbets. Nothing goes better with ice cream than a warm and sugary waffle cone. Zapzalka’s focus on farm to frozen is not just a creative tagline; the waffles are homemade and use grains from a neighboring town, the dairy products are all fresh from a farm a few miles north, the butter comes from a local co-op, and the berries are all grown close by.
This brick and mortar may be small in size, but Barb and team’s vision for her small business is anything but. Pumphouse has become the heart and soul of Chicago Ave in the twin cities.
Barb credits the success of Pumphouse to her optimism, grit, and lessons learned while she attempts to turn traditional treats into something totally transformative.
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Founder Dan Chase has been crafting custom pieces of furniture from reclaimed materials since he first opened in 2010.
Re.dwell started out of Chase’s primary passion of diverting valuable organic materials from landfills. Although the business itself opened a few years ago, Chase has been an advocate for upcycling and reuse since he was in school studying sustainable design and alternative building methods. Chase salvages what materials he can from local buildings in Michigan as well as purchasing material from barn and building deconstruction sites. What was once going to be thrown away is now artfully (and skillfully) transformed into beautiful custom pieces perfect for any home. In addition to the design, the pieces are all created with durability, mobility, and potential to recycle yet again in mind. Because these works are so customized to its customers, Chase can accommodate almost any budget in order to create something special.
Re.dwell’s portfolio is extensive and impressive as it boasts things such as long banquet tables, sturdy barstools, and coffee table conversation pieces. Chase has become a mad-scientist of reclaimed furniture, as no two pieces are exactly alike, or made with the same materials.
This small business is attempting a large goal to eventually plant a tree for every table Re.dwell sells. Chase explains “Every table sold is a tree that doesn’t need to be cut down today.” Chase and his sustainable vision give a whole new meaning to “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.
Location: Dunwoody, Georgia
Tucked away in Atlanta’s Dunwoody neighborhood, RUIN Skateshop has been setting both trends and standards for service since their opening in 1998. The Ruin philosophy is to not just house products but to expertly curate a collection of skate gear that will resonate with the customer.
Located inconspicuously in a suburban shopping center, you’d never expect to find the epicenter of cool. With the support of large brands, and the endorsement of many local skaters, RUIN’s small business has gotten some large traction.
With so many products on the shelves, RUIN’s owner Ian McPherson understands what it means to be small, successful, and especially sustainable. RUIN actively tries to combat excess waste by utilizing a recycling program, upcycling products, and sourcing their shop supplies from 100% recycled materials. The vision to run a sustainable skate shop may be pretty straightforward, but the creativity and the vibe of this brick and mortar shop is completely inspired.
Ian and his team can boast that after years of unconventional waste practices, they are down to just 2 garbage bags a week of waste. Their cabinets and wall treatments are made from used shipping pallets and additional upcycled material. The lights in the showroom are LED with a UV film to reduce energy costs.
As a pinnacle of the southern skating community, this skate shop has become a haven in Hotlanta. RUIN knows how to be cool, how to be creative, and how to be green.
Sugar Beet Food Co-Op
Location: Oak Park, Illinois
Sugar Beet Food Co-Op was founded on the principle of knowing exactly where your food is coming from.
Sugar Beet, a full-service grocery store and co-op in Illinois, launched in 2015 to provide agricultural transparency to the curious consumer. Since then, they’ve become a local legend, creating a more sustainable approach to food production by connecting farmers and produce providers to create an array of healthy and organic options for patrons to enjoy. Sugar Beet prides themselves on the relationships they create with local farmers and providers in the area.
In addition to their fresh produce, it’s also delivered in compostable containers – as the cardboard, as well as food waste, is then prevented from going to the landfill.
Sugar Beet is also home to an extensive health and wellness section with detoxes, supplements, and knowledgeable staff to keep the body healthy from the inside out.
The core values of Sugar Beet are woven throughout their sustainability practices as well. At the forefront of all of the good Sugar Beet is doing within their local community is their Food For All program. Food For All is a food accessibility program that provides fresh and healthy ingredients to individuals and families with limited means or living in food deserts.
Enjoy a piping hot cup of coffee and pastry at the café in order to enhance what can otherwise be just a regular hectic shopping experience.
Location: Gilsum, New Hampshire
Badger is a small, family-run body care product company tucked away in the woods. But as it turns out, its idyllic scenery is the perfect backdrop for the healing balms, sunscreens, salves, and hundreds of other products.
Founded by Bill Whyte in 1995, W.S. Badger has become the gold standard for sustainably-sourced products and innovative and ethical business practices. Badger’s products are created strictly from ingredients that meet their high sustainability standards – with their product offerings including anything from sleep aids, essential oils, children’s wellness products, to extra virgin olive oil.
With a mission focused on healthier people and a healthier planet, W.S. Badger also holds Certified B Corp status. Furthering that achievement, W.S. Badger also took home two B-Corporation awards earlier this year — “Best for the World” and “Best for the Environment.”
In line with their company principles, Badger impressively donates 10% of pre-tax profits to non-profit organizations that benefit children, serve the community and promote peace in the world. What started as a homeopathic remedy for Whyte’s wife’s cracked hands has now become a pillar of environmental and ethical justice in the health and wellness world.
Vote for your favorite finalist!
These are the 10 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 grit, determination, and ingenuity that is uniquely American. After all, your vote can help them win $10,000! Businesses with the second and third place votes will receive $2,000 and $1,000 respectively.
Voting will end on Monday, November 20th. All winners (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) will be announced on Small Business Saturday (Saturday, November 25th).
Editor Note: References made to businesses/companies in this post are not meant to convey endorsement by Rubicon of those companies in any way.
Photo Credits: Dylan Walker (Chopwood Mercantile), Drew Brucker (Grubbly Farms), Brian Kaldorf (Hobby Prodigy), Allen Clark (Legend Acres), Andrew Shurtleff (NoBull Burger), Sofia Noethe (Pumphouse Creamery), Barry Brown (Re.dwell), Drew Brucker (RUIN Skateshop), Diego Martirena (Sugar Beet Food Co-Op), Robert Worth (W.S. Badger)