Anywhere you look, you can find the best of something. The best restaurants, the best shops, the best cafés, there’s even lists for the best grocery stores. But how reliable can these lists be? After all, anyone can put anything on the internet deeming it the best. And these people aren’t experts—they just think they are.
That’s why our readers’ choice awards are some of the most trusted in the industry: because you decide who should be recognized.
As usual, this year includes some notable repeats and some delightful newcomers. Congratulations to both our winners and runners-up!
Minneapolis had a busy year. There were the X Games in July, the bidding for the 2026 World Cup soccer matches, and a number of renovations from Nicollet Avenue to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, to name a few. Plus, there was that little football game in February watched by millions of people, with some 1 million people who flocked to the city. While you might think that with all of these events the city would be able to promote itself, there’s actually a huge team with a huge campaign that promotes the city in the best light. And that team, Meet Minneapolis, wins Best Convention and Visitors Bureau (Town/Area More than 80,000 in Population). “Our staff, and the relationships we’ve built over the years are key to success,” says Melvin Tennant, president and CEO. “We have an extremely talented and passionate team that always wants to over deliver.”
Uniquely positioned between Minneapolis and St. Paul, Roseville allows visitors to experience myriad dining, shopping and more options in its city while just miles from everything the Twin Cities has to offer. For its work in promoting the city, the Roseville Visitors Association is this year’s Best Convention and Visitors Bureau (Town/Area 25,000-80,000 in Population). “Our staff is committed to Roseville and works well with our hotels and colleagues in the hospitality community,” says Julie Wearn, CEO. “We are never complacent.”
For the third year in a row, Discover Stillwater finds itself in the top spot for Best Convention and Visitors Bureau (Town/ Area Less than 25,000 in Population) made even more impressive by the CVB’s size. Christie Rosckes, marketing director, works alone with help only from a part-time assistant. “We’re small and mighty, but very efficient,” says Rosckes. “We still offer great service and direct visitors to cool things our city offers.” A big plus that the CVB introduced last year is 360-degree photo tours of all the city’s venues. Meeting planners can view these spaces without even leaving their desk. Talk about efficient.
As a 14-year-old, Jay Brian Kochendorfer spent his time working as a DJ at weddings and shows. Fast-forward some 20 odd years, and he’s the head of Adagio Djay Entertainment, this year’s Best Entertainment (Performer or Talent Agency). With 40 professional DJs on staff that range in experience as well as videography, dance instructions, mood lighting, live jazz and other services, there’s something for everyone. “I have a great love for serving the public and people, and music brings people together,” says Kochendorfer. “It’s an awesome business and it’s been in my blood my whole life.”
Capturing the essence of an event in just a few photographs takes a rare talent. That talent can be found in Minnesota’s Laurie Falk McVean, once again this year’s winner of Best Photography for her 11-year-old company lauren b. photography. “I love all of the different places and groups of people photography puts me in front of,” she says. “Being able to preserve these life moments from those involved is such a treat.”
Five years ago Kalsey Beach opened Do Good Events, an event planning company in Golden Valley. That first year Beach led about 20 events. In 2017 she and a team of five other women organized more than 170 events, ranging from 20-person lunches to 2,000-person employee picnics. Many of those events helped to raise a total of $3.5 million for their nonprofit clients. For their incredible work, Do Good Events wins Best Planning Company. “We named the business Do Good Events because of the good events do in our world,” says Beach. “They create memories and build communities and awareness. People feel that when they work with us.”
Nothing brings people together more than laughter. Proving that point is Brave New Workshop’s win in the Best Team-Building Activity/Facilitator/Organizer category. BNW takes a much more creative approach than a simple company icebreaker in a hotel room. So much so that they give their client a questionnaire to fill out so they can create a truly customizable improv event specifically tailored to each business with jargon used at the client’s office and related industry info. “We have a long history of doing this,” says Caleb McEwen, artistic director, who has been with the company for 22 years. “We have an approach and a philosophy that is lasting. We’ve been very, very consistent over the course of our 60 years in business.”
Minneapolis Convention Center
In December 2017 Mystic Lake Casino Hotel (the largest casino in the Twin Cities area) finished construction on Mystic Lake Center, which includes a 70,000-square-foot convention center and event space, and the Promenade hotel tower that has 180 guest rooms. The center took 18 months to complete, but the casino didn’t even need it to win Best Casino. With the new addition, guests can attend a meeting, take a break for a round of golf, visit the restaurant for a steak and then win big at the casino without ever having to leave the property. “We have everything that everybody needs,” says Holland Tudor, group sales manager. “When people come down here, everyone feels welcome.”
With the help of the work of Meet Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Convention Center wins Best Convention/Conference Center. Conveniently located downtown and connected to a number of skyways, the center is an ideal place for groups of all sizes to host their meetings or events. There are 475,000 square feet of exhibit space, 87 meeting rooms, a 28,000-square-foot ballroom, a 55,000-square-foot ballroom and a 3,400- seat auditorium. Last year’s events included a “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” live orchestra concert and film screening, the National Sports Forum, dance workshops, job fairs, the annual auto show and much more.
It wouldn’t be the Minnesota Meetings + Events Best of 2018 readers’ choice awards without a win from Grand View Lodge. This year’s Best Golf Venue (you can also find them down below in another exciting category) features 54 holes across three golf courses. “Our golf team is constantly striving to go the extra mile for all of our golfers,” says Cindy Baysinger, director of sales. “We want our customers to feel welcomed, comfortable, and to have fun playing golf and using our facilities.”
Talk about historic. Landmark Center, which fittingly wins Best Historic or Cultural Venue, was built in 1902. Originally it served as a federal courthouse—where many “gangsters” were tried—and post office. Now it’s a cultural events center and can be found on the National Register of Historic Places. It also hosts art exhibitions and is open for history tours. Groups from 20 to 1,000 can host events in six spaces (or the entire building), many of which boast gorgeous marble, high ceilings and intricate details.
You could spend days at the Radisson Blu Mall of America and never even go outdoors. Its connection to the Mall of America means you can eat, shop and sleep in one facility. This year’s Best Hotel with Meeting/ Event Space (300 or More Guest Rooms), has 26,300 square feet of meeting and event space for 1,400 guests, two ballrooms and 14 breakout spaces. Meetings can include a break in the Nike store, coffee at Caribou Coffee, the opportunity to view thousands of sea creatures at SeaLife or a stop at the FlyOver America simulated ride. “Radisson Blu Mall of America is an event planner’s dream come true,” says Marilyn Miller, director of sales and marketing. “A hotel whose mission is to dazzle their attendees with thoughtful service, delicious and innovative food and beverage offerings, excellent location and a wonderfully positive ambiance all combine to make for an amazingly successful and memorable event.”
A staple in the Minnesota hotel scene, the 107-year-old Saint Paul Hotel wins Best Hotel with Meeting/Event Space (Less than 300 Guest Rooms). The hotel, which has hosted notable guests such as President John F. Kennedy and Charles Lindberg, boasts 14,000 square feet of meeting and event space spread out across nine spaces that can hold anywhere from eight to 320 guests, depend - ing on configuration.
This year’s Best Meeting/Event Venue (No Hotel) is perfect for the outdoor lovers. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum lands the top spot for the first time. And we’re not the only one recognizing its beauty. It was named No. 1 by the USA Today’s Reader’s Choice “10Best Botanical Gardens” for its 1,137 acres of unfiltered nature. Seven indoor spaces (including two auditoriums) can host five to 375 and an outdoor picnic shelter is perfect for 80 guests. Sixteen separate gardens can host 50-300 guests. And, of course, there’s the conservatory which can hold 25 guests or less.
On June 10, 2017, the Walker Art Center revealed the completion of the second phase in its renovation project, which included updates to the Walker Campus and reconstruction of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, to the public. The renovation made way for expand - ed green space, added acres for artwork, and the modernization of indoor and outdoor spaces with sustainable technologies. All this work lands it the Best Renovation award. “I really like the connectivity between indoors and out, and the way our new entrance experi - ence welcomes guests and gives them so many options upon walking through the doors,” says Sherri Beier, director of event and building services. “We’ve created a hub of energy and excitement at our front doors.”
Grand View Lodge, a regular winner in the Minnesota M+E readers’ choice awards, wins the Best Resort/Lodge category this year. The hotel has more than 207 lodging accommodations that range from one-bedroom suites to nine-bedroom units. Eight dining venues, 2,500 feet of shoreline, three golf courses and more can be found on the property. Why do they find themselves on our list every year? Baysinger says it’s their ingenuity and adherence to greatness. “Grand View Lodge has always shown a commitment to constantly improve and add value to our guest experience each year,” she says. “Putting the investment and resources back into the resort is what allows us the opportunity to separate ourselves from our competitors.”
When you’ve been serving steak since 1946 and still have patrons clamoring for your food, you know you’ve got something good going on. And there sure is a lot of good at Murray’s Restaurant in Minneapolis, which you recognized as Best Restaurant with Private Dining Space. Its private dining room is separated into a front and back room, with space for 20 and 26, respectively. The two can be combined to host events for up to 50.
U.S. Bank Stadium
There probably is no shock that U.S. Bank Stadium wins Best Sports Venue (its second consecutive win in the category). Minneapolis’ shiny new stadium showed itself off in Super Bowl LII this past February. The multipurpose facility, with space for 100-70,000 people, has a number of indoor options, including renting the entire field or entire stadium. There are also three outdoor spaces—the Medtronic Plaza, the Downtown East Plaza and the nearby green space called The Commons— allowing guests to soak in all of Minneapolis while still partying in Minnesota’s hottest new sports venue.
This year, we added the Best Brewery/ Distillery/Winery with Event Space category, and Surly Brewing Company has taken the honors of being the very first winner. “Surly really provides the all-encompassing Minnesota craft beer experience, from the second you walk in the door to the staff interacting with you on a tour or eating food and drinking beer,” says Andrea Graham, senior events and brand experience manager. “When you’re here, you feel like you get lost in your own beer adventure.” Surly opened in 2006, while its 3,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor event space with room for 175 guests and a restaurant was unveiled in 2014.
Twenty-five years ago, Allied Productions & Salesstarted out as an audio component rental house. Now it’s a full-service event production partner that works across the globe and winner of Best Audio-Visual Provider. The team also helps with venue selection, contract review, transportation, creative and a host of other services. “Our approach to events is as a partner rather than a typical vendor/client relationship,” says Vanessa Vensas, head of marketing and communications. “When we take on a project, we become engaged in problemsolving with our clients and truly endeavor to work alongside of them as part of their team.”
Just like last year, Stillwater River Boats wins Best Boats/Cruises/Charters. Across 35 years the company blossomed to just one riverboat on the river to a fleet of six—five paddlewheel boats and one luxury yacht—that can host 25-600 people. Excursions, which take place May through October, run for two hours while private charters can go up to four hours. Clients are allowed to board one hour early to set up for their event. “There is no other place in the state of Minnesota where you can experience an authentic riverboat paddlewheel ride on the most pristine and beautiful St. Croix River,” says Lauren Crepeau, event coordinator. “This boat company is something magical.”
Whiskey-ginger cocktail meatballs. Baby polenta cakes. Wild mushroom and leek egg rolls. These are just a few of the many favorites that Chowgirls Killer Catering has been whipping up for 14 years. This year’s Best Catering Company, Chowgirls creates menus based on the season and makes sure its food is organic and sustainable—the backbone of its company, which now includes headquarters in Northeast Minneapolis, the Solar Arts by Chowgirls venue and a cookbook. “Our food is beautiful and features ingredients that are fresh and flavorful,” says Amy Lynn Brown, co-owner. “Our approach to hospitality is an experience that’s approachable, interactive and fun. We believe the most memorable events are those treated with love and care.”
Chowgirls Killer Catering
It takes skill to turn a bare-bones space into a jaw-droppingly gorgeous venue, but that’s what Event Lab does and has been doing for 23 years. This year’s Best Event Décor Provider (as well as last year’s) has its own warehouse with its own linens and décor elements and also have an in-house floral department. Susan Milteer, director of sales, notes that much of their success can be attributed to their connection to the surrounding community. “We are a preferred vendor in almost all, if not all, hotels and venues in Minnesota,” she says. “When we get a client interested in doing something in the community, we work really hard to get the right fit for the right venue so they get the right experience.”
After 132 years in the floral business it’s a safe bet that Bachman’s knows what it’s doing. Proving that point even further is its winning of Best Florist. The company also helps with event execution, offering planning services to clients. And with so much experience it’s nice to place your trust in people that truly know what they’re doing. “Event planning can be, at times, an overwhelming process,” says Jennifer Bevan, head of weddings and special events. “We at Bachman’s strive to provide a personalized planning experience.”
A newbie to the list, Rudy’s Event Rentalsis taking home Best Rental Service Provider. At the St. Paul-based boutique company, owned by a husband-and-wife team, you can find items such as one-of-a-kind farm tables, myriad types of chairs, velvet sofas, marble coffee tables and copper chargers. “I think Rudy’s has developed a reputation of providing an extensive inventory that is different from the big rental companies,” says Michelle Smith, owner and creative director. “We only carry items that the others do not carry, and it has evolved into a very stylized, curated collection.”
When traveling anywhere, you want to arrive in style. And that’s especially true during an event. That’s where Total Luxury Limousine Services, this year’s Best Transportation Provider, steps up to the plate. The 30-year-old company has everything you need from your standard limousine and bus rental to a custom ‘57 Chevy.