It could have been the samples of their delicious homemade chicken and ham salads, fruit and cream pies and cookies or maybe it was the friendliness and personalities of owners Gail and Robert Speer.
Whatever the reason, Cortland Diner, Bakery and Catering earned the coveted Red Spoon Award on Saturday night at the first Savor Jackson County event.
Gail Speer said she was surprised and humbled to receive the award because of the quality of food from all of the participating vendors.
The Red Spoon Award was voted on by those who attended and was presented to the booth chosen as best overall.
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“I’ve never won an award before in my life,” Gail Speer, 62, said. “It is truly an honor.”
Conducted at Celebrations in Seymour, the fundraiser allowed ticket holders to taste and savor the offerings of 13 local and popular food and drink vendors all in one place.
Proceeds from the event go to support the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce’s work to promote local businesses and carry out its mission to “serve as the catalyst for the advancement of commerce, culture and the community.”
“The chamber was looking for another fundraiser, and a lot of discussion went into a variety of different things, but we felt this worked best for our mission,” said Tricia Bechman, president of the chamber. “And it was a great way to highlight some of the food vendors in Jackson County.”
Bechman said all 92 food establishments, wineries and breweries in the county were invited to participate at no charge.
Each vendor was encouraged to bring menus, coupons and giveaways to hand out to people to get them interested in visiting their business.
Bechman said she got the idea for Savor Jackson County from similar tasting events in Columbus, Franklin, Greenwood and Bloomington.
“We took a lot of elements from those and decided what we liked best and what we wanted to do with ours, and this is what we came up with,” she said. “We wanted to make it an evening event so it could be a date night for adults.”
Live music was provided during the event by the jazz band The Ang Trio and Friends. And guests could get their pictures taken in a photo booth run by food science students from Seymour High School.
“It’s something where people can come and sit and stay, but there is no set program for the evening, so people can get up and move around and come and go as they please,” she said.
Sherri Cardinal and her brother, Roger Wessel, of Brownstown said they were enjoying all of the food and conversation.
“It’s great because I haven’t tried a lot of these places before, and if I try something, that’s what gets me to go back,” Cardinal said.
“It’s an easy way to go around and check out what everybody’s got without going and visiting each place individually,” Wessel added.
For a first-time event, Bechman said she was pleased with the night.
“We have a great group of vendors with a good variety of foods,” she said. “The vendors that are participating have really gone all out.”
Each vendor got to set up and decorate a booth and offer samples of their most popular menu items.
Participating restaurants included franchises such as Arby’s, Marco’s Pizza and Subway and places more exclusive to Seymour such as Bullwinkle’s Family Restaurant, Rails Craft Brew and Eatery, The Pines Restaurant and Catering, D’s Diner and Twisted Crew Brewing Co.
There were plenty of sweet treats and desserts offered at Savor Jackson County, too, from Cakes Created and Sonya’s Party Plus and Russell Stover Candies.
Mike Hall, owner of The Pines, said he wanted to be a part of the event because it was all about highlighting local food establishments.
“We’ve been a part of Jackson County for 66 years,” he said of The Pines. “It doesn’t get more local than that.”
He also wanted to use the event to introduce some new things people may have never seen before, he said.
Hall showed off some of his culinary “toys,” including a vacuum packaging machine that allows for sous-vide and rapid infusion.
His menu for the night included sous-vide pork loin, black and bleu chicken and basil-infused watermelon.
“I like to try to stay ahead of the curve as far as what is happening in bigger cities and bring some of that here,” he said. “I thought this was an appropriate venue to showcase some of these trends.”
Around 150 people attended throughout the three-hour event.
Although ticket sales weren’t as high as organizers had hoped, Bechman said she wasn’t letting it get her down.
“We decided it didn’t matter how many tickets we sold, we are going to make it the best event we could for the people who are here and the vendors who are here so that when they leave, they will say, ‘You really missed out if you weren’t there,'” she said.
The biggest sponsor of Savor Jackson County was Jay C Food Stores. The grocery chain, which is now a part of Kroger Co., also offered samples.
Other major sponsors were the Jackson County Visitor Center, Premier Companies, Nash Icon 92.7, Bob Poynter, JCB and Rose Acre Farms.
Gail Speer said the event was a great opportunity to get her business and products out to people in a fun way in the hopes they come visit the diner someday for more.
She doesn’t consider herself a chef and just likes to cook and bake good food for people, she said. She has been doing it for the past 11 years and said she is blessed to serve the community.
“To think people would vote for little Cortland Diner,” she said. “It’s challenging to be in this business, especially with finding good employees and training them, but I’m so blessed with the five ladies that work for me. They are my backbone.”
She said she planned to hang the Red Spoon Award up in the diner so everyone can see it.
“But really, it’s not my spoon. It belongs to our employees and our friends and everyone who comes in,” she said. “It’s the diner’s spoon.”