OKALOOSA ISLAND — It was a star-studded affair Thursday night as local business leaders dressed to the nines and came to the Emerald Coast Convention Center for the 2018 Finest on the Emerald Coast Awards.
The event, which is put on by the Northwest Florida Daily News, shines a light each year on the people and businesses that are voted the best of the best on the Emerald Coast.
More than 111,000 votes were cast this year, and the top three nominees from each of the 10 categories were on-hand to find out if they had won.
“This community is made up of small and medium businesses that keep our economy going, and it’s an honor to bring all of these fantastic business owners and operators together to celebrate their successes,” said Diane Winnemuller, publisher of the Northwest Florida Daily News.
The guests arrived and took photos on the red carpet, then enjoyed beer, wine and cocktails on the convention center terrace.
Kelsey Robar, a co-owner of Anchored Salon and Spa in Navarre, had won a “Finest” award in the past for her waxing services, but her salon, which has been in business for 10 months, was nominated for the first time.
“We have the best clientele ever, and we just feel very loved,” Robar said. “They knew when it came time to vote, that we’re a group of very talented women and men that are skilled in their craft. It’s called ‘Anchored’ because we live to be an anchor in our community.”
Melissa Matern, senior marketing manager for Northwest Florida ResortQuest, said the Finest event was “a great opportunity to be amongst your top-performing peers.
“It’s nice to be able to celebrate each other,” she added.
Miss Florida Sara Zeng was also on hand for the event, and said it was her first time in the Florida Panhandle.
The Palm Coast resident said she got a chance to visit the beach in Destin earlier in the day, and thought the Emerald Coast was “beautiful.”
“I just think it’s fun,” she said. “It’s so great to bring the community together like this, for the companies big and small.”
Kristi Purvis, an owner and wedding planner with Kiss The Bride Weddings Destin/30A, took a few minutes before the formal dinner to snap some photos with her coworkers.
“It’s really great to be able to get dolled up and celebrate all the hard work we do,” she said. “It’s nice to get awarded honored.”
At the formal dinner, businesses wined and dined over chicken dishes and chocolate mousse. The award ceremony began just before 8 p.m., and winners were announced in the categories for Around The House, Automotive/Boat, Beauty, Dining, Entertainment and Leisure, Health, Services, Shopping, Money and Everything Else.
The event wrapped up at 9 p.m.
“The people in this room are the leaders of the Emerald Coast business community,” Winnemuller told the crowd. “Your creativity and potential will ensure our county’s continued growth and success.”