HomeCommunity NewsDavid Laurell: Chamber Recognizes Excellence in the Community

David Laurell: Chamber Recognizes Excellence in the Community

For those with a love of history, you probably know Burbank was once the home of Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs, known colloquially as the “Skunk Works,” where many highly classified aircraft were designed and built, including the U-2 spy plane and the F-117 Nighthawk Stealth fighter.

As the glory days of aviation started to dwindle, the city became better known for “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” which originated from Beautiful Downtown Burbank, and as the domicile of “The Tonight Show” during the time of Johnny Carson and Jay Leno.

Today, as the Media Capital of the World, the city is a mecca of over 1,000 studios, post-production facilities, media-related and entertainment companies, and more animation studios per capita than anywhere else in the world.

If you can rattle off information from those prior three paragraphs, you will pretty much convince anyone you are up on your Burbank knowledge. However, if you really want to know Burbank, you have to get to know the small businesses, the restaurants, the nonprofit and social groups, the faith-based organizations, and the people, especially the ones who don’t just live or work in Burbank but constantly work for the betterment of the city.

Six of those individuals or entities were recognized this past week as the Burbank Chamber of Commerce presented its 2024 Chamber Excellence Awards, which celebrate the outstanding achievements of those who contribute to the local economy and the community at large, and help those among us who are in need of assistance.

Staged in the quad of the Nickelodeon Animation Studios, the event, which included a Taste of Burbank buffet, honored Tequilas Restaurant and its owners, Carlos and Patricia Rivera, as the Small Business of the Year, and the College Help Squad, co-founded by Cynthia Wagner and Karrie Sullivan, as the Emerging Small Business of the Year. The evening also saw the annual Community Impact Award bestowed upon Nothing Bundt Cakes and its owners, Jeff and Bonnie Abel; Cheryl Fox named the 2024 Chamber Ambassador of the Year; and the Burbank YMCA and Burbank Temporary Aid Center recognized with the Heart of the City Award.

Burbank Chamber Chief Executive Officer Jamie Keyser-Thomas welcomed the attendees, and the evening’s awards program, which brought together an assemblage of more than 350 people, was emceed by comedian Justin Worsham.

Local business owner and former Burbank Chamber of Commerce board chair Gema Sanchez presented the Small Business of the Year award to the Riveras, who were joined by family members, Tequilas Restaurant employees and the eatery’s general manager, Juan Vazquez.

Tequilas Restaurant’s Small Business of the Year Award

Honored for the annual holiday toy drive, fundraisers and awareness events they stage at their restaurant, the Riveras have become as well-known for their care for the community as they are for their margaritas and family-recipe Mexican dishes.

Wagner and Sullivan of the College Help Squad were presented the Emerging Small Business of the Year Award by Realtor Barry Gussow. Wagner, a lifelong Burbanker who has given back to the community on a regular basis throughout her life, was recognized for her work with Sullivan in assisting students and their parents in navigating the labyrinth and often confusing journey of collegiate and university matriculation.

The Abels, the Community Impact Award recipients who own and operate the Nothing Bundt Cakes franchises in Glendale and Burbank, were lauded by Keyser-Thomas as being “an amazing couple.”

“They were supportive of Burbank before they even opened their location at the Empire Center,” Keyser-Thomas said. “They provided their cakes for every person who attended the last two State of the City addresses, and are always doing something to show their extreme generosity to the community.”

Fox, who was honored as the 2024 Chamber Ambassador of the Year, is a longtime Burbank businesswoman who now works with Experior Financial Services.

Tequilas Restaurant’s Small Business of the Year Award

“She has been an ambassador with our chamber for over 15 years and is a true ray of sunshine,” Keyser-Thomas said. “She has played a key role in mentoring new members and, like me, has had a stroke. But that did nothing to slow her down from being the true value she is to the chamber and the community.”

With two entities receiving the Heart of the Community Award, the first was accepted by Sam Kim, who is serving as the YMCA’s interim CEO, and the second was presented to the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, represented by CEO Barbara Howell and board Chair Nancy Gams Korb.

Among the numerous local dignitaries and notables in attendance were state Sen. Anthony Portantino, Mayor Nick Schultz, Vice Mayor Nikki Pérez, Council members Zizette Mullins and Tamala Takahashi, City Clerk Kimberly Clark, City Treasurer Krystle Palmer, City Manager Justin Hess, Assistant City Manager Courtney Padgett, Police Chief Michael Albanese, former mayors Jess Talamantes and Bob Frutos, and former city manager Bud Ovrom.

With its 2024 awards gala now over, the chamber is looking forward to the release of its updated guide to Burbank, which will be coming out online in August, and its next community mixer, which will take place at Warner Bros. Studios on July 18 and will include mini tours of the storied studio’s backlot and production facilities.

Notables in attendance included actress Veronica St. Clair, who played Riley Velez on NBC’s “La Brea,” and her beau, Michael Bradway, who portrays firefighter Jack Damon on NBC’s “Chicago Fire.”
Sam Kim and Chris Weber of the Burbank Community YMCA were bestowed with the Heart of the Community Award.
Cynthia Wagner and Karrie Sullivan, founders of College Help Squad, with state Sen. Anthony Portantino.
Cheryl Fox (center), who was honored as the Chamber’s Ambassador of the Year, with Mayor Nick Schultz and Vice Mayor Nikki Pérez.
Jeff and Bonnie Abel, flanking Burbank Chamber of Commerce CEO Jamie Keyser-Thomas, accepted the Community Impact Award.

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

First published in the June 8 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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