BELFAST — Numbers of visitors and attendees were down in the first Best of the Best Gala and Business Showcase since the pandemic stuck, but there was no dampening of enthusiasm in the halls of the University of Maine Hutchinson Center May 25.

Chef Cooper of Rio’s Spiked Cafe, 357 W. Main St, Searsport, greeted visitors in the entry area with a sampling of his fusion of French, European and southern U.S. cuisine — a taste sensation involving

Rio’s Spiked Cafe’s Chef Cooper, judged best chef, right, with wife Hannah to his right, offers samples of his unique fare from the Searsport restaurant, rated best new business. Photo by Carolyn Zachary

mussels, tasso ham, avocado cream and his special touches. Cooper was rated best chef, while Rio’s mixologist John Sullivan won best Margarita and placed second for best martini, and the restaurant overall was rated best new business in the 16th annual voting for the Best of the Best in Waldo County.

Winners with their displays and giveaways filled the center’s large room down the hall. Altogether, 39 area businesses and organizations were there with posters, handouts, goody bags, food, and their framed Best of the Best awards — some for multiple years.

Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dorothy Havey stands behind a table of literature at the Waldo County Best of the Best Gala and Business Showcase May 25. Photo by Michelle Christian

Dorothy Havey, executive director of Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce, said there were 39 exhibitors this year, down from the usual 75, and overall attendence was lower than was the pre-COVID norm. There were eight items in the silent auction held online as part of the event; in past years the large entry area has had several tables covered with items for bid.

Heidi Brown of The Republican Journal/Village Soup advertising staff said, “It was a small turnout, but good for our first year back.”

Anticipating decreased participation this year, Havey said advertising proceeds from The Republican Journal’s Best of the Best Winners insert would go to the Hutchinson Center, as well as proceeds from the silent auction. The Republican Journal and Village Soup (both part of MaineStay Media) sponsored the scholarship benefit, together with Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce and the University of Maine Hutchinson Center.

A final tally of funds raised toward Hutchinson Center scholarships was not yet available.

A visitor examines earrings May 25 at the exhibit of Coyote Moon, which took first places for best clothing store and best gift store. Looking on are Tabitha Lowe, left, and Lisa Fagin. Photo by Carolyn Zachary


KSW Federal Credit Union placed third among banks and credit unions in Waldo County, and Belfast branch manager Bill Crawford placed second among bankers. Photo by Michelle Christian

Ed Lajoie, left, and Mike Marshall at the Northport Golf Club table May 25, offering two 18-hole rounds as door prizes. The Northport club was rated first among golf courses. Photo by Carolyn Zachary

Dairy Queen representatives at their exhibit. Dairy Queen placed third among local purveyors of ice cream. Photo by Michelle Christian

Camrie and Greg Hodgeman won top ratings for both of their businesses: Paws and Claws for pet grooming and Canine Country Club for pet boarding. Photo by Michelle Christian

Brittany Pinkham behind the table of Rip Tide Smoke Shop, voted Business of the Year in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. Photo by Carolyn Zachary

BCOPE’s display at the Best of the Best Gala and Business Showcase May 25. BCOPE Alternative High School was voted first in alternative and continuing education. Photo by Michelle Christian