‘Best of the Islands’ recognized at annual banquet
Nearly 140 businesses from Sanibel to Captiva were recently honored as the best of the best.
On Sept. 24, the Island Reporter and Sanibel-Captiva Islander recognized the 2019 Best of the Islands winners during a lunch banquet at the Sundial Beach Resort and Spa on Sanibel. Each year, the community has the opportunity to fill out ballots with dozens of categories, voting for their top picks.
A handful of island businesses took home not one, but multiple awards this year.
Coming out on top was Traditions on the Beach, which earned nine in total.
“We’re absolutely thrilled, of course,” Sheila Mucciga, who owns and operates the Sanibel establishment with husband Andrea and son Carlo, said. “It was very exciting.”
A lot of their customers have been with them for the 30-odd years that they have had the business.
“We’ve never pushed it as much as we did this year,” she said of encouraging their regulars and fans to fill out the ballots this time around for the competition. “But, obviously, they all voted.”
Traditions on the Beach won in the categories of Best Place for Dancing, Best Place for Entertainment, Best Steak, Best Tapas, Best Wine Selection and Best Martini, along with Best Chef for Aziz Bouras, Best Server for Mike Binkowski and Best Bartender for Carlo Mucciga.
Mucciga noted that Bouras has been with them for over 30 years.
“He’s been with us in all of our restaurants,” she said.
Binkowski is also a long-time employee, with about two dozen years in.
“He is so professional, he is so loveable,” Mucciga said. “Everyone loves Mike.”
The Best Tapas award was a new category for this year’s Best of the Islands.
“We open early and that’s a huge draw,” she said of the small plates.
As for dancing and entertainment, Mucciga reported that Traditions does have the best.
“We love live entertainment, and we’ve always supported it,” she said, explaining that the acts they book are well known and well loved on the islands. “And we mix it up, we have different entertainers.”
Mucciga described the sweeping wins as a great achievement for everyone.
“A lot of our staff are island people, they grew up here, so that’s how they relate to our customers,” she said. “We’re very proud of all our staff. They really deserve it.”
Other big winners recognized in five or more categories included: the Sanibel Day Spa, for best Hair Salon/Barber, Manicure/Pedicure, Massage Therapy, Nail Salon, Salon and Spa; Kingfisher Real Estate and Kingfisher Vacations, for best Real Estate Agency, Real Estate Team, Cottage Rentals, Property Vacation Management, Vacation Rental Agency and Real Estate Agent – Phaidra McDermott; and the Sundial, for best Full Service Resort, Gulf Front Dining, Pickleball Courts, Tennis Courts and Tiki Bar.
CJ Floyd, of Catchin’ Jiants Charters out of Captiva, was a first-time winner this year.
Floyd reeled in Best Fishing Captain.
“Every fishing captain deserves to win this award. We’ve faced heavy challenges this year,” he said. “It’s the captains who have kept me going. They inspire me.”
“They’re the strongest fisherman in the toughest times,” Floyd added.
He extended his thanks and gratitude to his wife, Trisha, and the island communities.
“I’m looking forward to great fishing this next year,” Floyd said.
Another first-time winner this year was the Samson family – comprised of Jeff and Kathy, with daughter Malia – owners of Malia Island Fusion Cuisine and Spoondrift Island Bowls. Both located on Sanibel, Malia Island Fusion Cuisine took home Best Dessert and Best New Restaurant, while Spoondrift Island Bowls scored Best Poke Bowls.
“We’re just super excited,” Malia Samson said of receiving three awards within a year or so of establishing the eateries. “There was a couple of new restaurants this year, so we’re really excited.”
She credited getting involved in the community for the wins.
“I think we are just trying really hard to infiltrate ourselves with the locals and make sure we have a super-strong local base more than anything,” Samson said. “So I think that helped us a lot.”
At Malia, she creates the dessert recipes and makes them all.
“I was so happy because there’s so many good desserts on the islands,” Samson said.
She reported that doing something different may have set her apart.
“We didn’t want to do key lime pie, I knew that right away,” Samson said, adding that she wanted them to be unique but homey. “Nothing super fancy. Desserts that were comfortable, that you craved after your meal.”
Winning Best Poke Bowls was just as exciting.
“We’ve been so fortunate with word-of-mouth with the locals, it’s been so important to us,” she said. “Even in the slow months, we have such a great customer base.”
Samson noted that prior to her family relocating to the islands, they had been visiting Sanibel and Captiva for a long time. They always noticed when a business displayed a Best of the Islands award.
“It’s just crazy that we won,” she said. “For us, it is really exciting because now we can put them up on our walls.”
During the banquet, a moment was taken to honor Lily – the well-known community-loved labradoodle of Karen Bell, a co-owner with Dan Schuyler of Lily & Co. Jewelers on Sanibel. The namesake of the shop, Lily passed away in July. She was an icon for the store and the islands.
“She was with us for 15 and a half years,” Schuyler said.
“We miss her dearly, but she will forever be with us,” he added.
Lily & Co. took home Best Jewelry and Best Company Mascot – for Lily.
“It’s an honor to keep winning because it’s a testimony to the hard work of the staff,” Schuyler said. “We’re not in the jewelry business, we’re in the relationship business.”
“This is a family store,” he added. “It’s not really our store, it’s their store.”
The full list of winners for the 2019 Best of the Islands is as follows:
– Private Jet Charter: Air Trek Inc.
– Police Officer: Anthony Neri
– Chef: Aziz Bouras – Traditions
– Women’s Clothing: B Unique Boutique
– Boutique: B-Unique Boutique
– Museum: Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
– Bakery: Bailey’s General Store
– Coffee Bar: Bailey’s General Store
– General Store: Bailey’s General Store
– Grocery Store: Bailey’s General Store
– Bank: Bank of the Islands
– Financial Services: Bank of the Islands
– Mortgage Broker: Bank of the Islands
– Pool Contractor: Banner Pool Service
– Pool Service: Banner Pool Service
– Pool Store: Banner Pool Service
– Painting Company: Barefoot Charley’s Painting
– Veterinarian: Beachside Animal Clinic
– Printer: Big Red Q Quickprint Center
– Bicycle Rental: Billy’s Bikes & Rentals
– Place For Family Fun: Billy’s Bikes & Rentals
– Auto Detailing: Bryan Zambuto
– Sightseeing Cruises: Captiva Cruises
– Bartender: Carlo Mucciga – Traditions
– Wedding Venue: Casa Ybel Resort
– Humanitarian: Chauncy Goss
– Burgers: Cheeburger Cheeburger
– Insurance Agent: Chris Heidrick
– Fishing Captain: CJ Floyd – Catchin’ Jiants Charters
– Service Organization/Club: Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife
– Builder: Dan Hahn Custom Builders
– Local Entertainer: Danny Morgan
– Home Interior Design: Decorating Den
– Home Improvement: Decorte Four Custom Home Builders
– Primary Care Physician: Dr. Edward Lamotta
– Optometrist: Dr. Michael Pham – Sanibel Eyecare
– Florist: Floral Artistry
– Insurance Agency: Heidrick & Company
– Marketing Agency: Hillgate Marketing Services
– Convenience Store: Huxter’s Market & Deli
– Fine Dining: IL Cielo
– Garden Center: In the Garden – RS Walsh Landscaping
– Dance Instruction: Island Ballroom
– Hotel/Inn: Island Inn
– Locksmith: Island Locksmith
– Association Management: Island Management
– Pet Store: Island Paws
– Pharmacy: Island Pharmacy
– Pizza: Island Pizza
– Island Gear Rental: Island Rental Services
– Concierge Tour Service: Island Taxi
– Taxi Limo Service: Island Taxi
– Attorney: Jason Maughan
– Marina: Jensen’s Marina
– Croissant/Bakery: Jerry’s Foods
– Diner: Jerry’s Foods
– Fresh Doughnuts: Jerry’s Foods
– Specialty Cheese: Jerry’s Foods
– Custard: Joey’s Custard
– Frozen Yogurt: Joey’s Custard
– Ice Cream: Joey’s Custard
– Fireman: John Murray
– Real Estate Agency: Kingfisher Real Estate
– Real Estate Team: Kingfisher Real Estate
– Cottage Rentals: Kingfisher Vacations
– Property Vacation Management: Kingfisher Vacations
– Vacation Rental Agency: Kingfisher Vacations
– Real Estate Agent: Phaidra McDermott – Kingfisher Real Estate
– Remodeling Contractor: Kirchner Contracting
– Company Mascot: Lily – Lily & Co. Jewelers
– Jewelry: Lily & Co. Jewelers
– Book Store: MacIntosh Books & Paper
– Personal Trainer Mahnaz Bassiri – Island Therapy
– Dessert: Malia Island Fusion Cuisine
– New Restaurant: Malia Island Fusion Cuisine
– Swimwear: Mango Bay
– Italian Dining: Matzaluna
– Server: Mike Binkowski – Traditions
– Furniture: Norris Home Furnishings
– Breakfast: Over Easy Caf
– Beach Food To-Go: Pecking Order
– Fried Chicken: Pecking Order
– Lunch: Pecking Order
– Shopping: Periwinkle Place Shopping Center
– Family Dining: Priority Island Cow
– Shoe Store: Rinaldi’s Fashion Shoes
– Landscape Contractor: RS Walsh Landscaping
– Roofing: Saint Rafael Roofing
– Air Conditioning: Sanibel Air & Electric
– Electrical Company: Sanibel Air & Electric
– Trust Company: The Sanibel Captiva Trust Company
– Chiropractic Office: Sanibel Chiropractic
– Event Facility: The Community House
– Hair Salon/Barber: Sanibel Day Spa
– Manicure/Pedicure: Sanibel Day Spa
– Massage Therapy: Sanibel Day Spa
– Nail Salon: Sanibel Day Spa
– Salon: Sanibel Day Spa
– Spa: Sanibel Day Spa
– Deli: Sanibel Deli & Coffee Factory
– Design Center: Sanibel Design
– Glass and Mirror Company: Sanibel Glass & Mirror
– Health Club: Sanibel Health Club
– Hidden Gem: Sanibel Historical Museum and Village
– Dentist: Sanibel Island Dental
– Plumber: Sanibel Plumbing Company
– Auto Service: Sanibel Service Center
– Way to Get Around: Sanibel Taxi
– Shell Shop: She Sells Sea Shells
– Sushi: Shima Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar
– Poke Bowl: Spoondrift Island Bowls
– Gift Shop: Suncatcher’s Dream
– Full Service Resort: Sundial Beach Resort & Spa
– Gulf Front Dining: Sundial Beach Resort & Spa
– Pickleball Courts: Sundial Beach Resort & Spa
– Tennis Courts: Sundial Beach Resort & Spa
– Tiki Bar: Sundial Beach Resort & Spa
– Title Company: Superior Title
– Golf Course: The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club
– Place To Watch The Game: The Sanibel Grill
– Accountant/CPA: Thomas Rizzo
– Craft Shop: Three Crafty Ladies
– Seafood: Timbers Restaurant & Fish Market
– Art Gallery: Tower Gallery
– Bar: Traders/T2
– Beer Selection: Traders/T2
– Happy Hour: Traders/T2
– Martini: Traditions on the Beach
– Place For Dancing: Traditions on the Beach
– Place for Entertainment: Traditions on the Beach
– Steak: Traditions on the Beach
– Tapas: Traditions on the Beach
– Wine Selection: Traditions on the Beach
– Fishing Charter: Whitney’s Bait & Tackle
– Fishing Equipment: Whitney’s Bait & Tackle
– Water Sports: YOLO Watersports