A singing dentist, a 30-year veteran of the catering industry, the executive director of a nonprofit helping families with seriously ill children, and a guy who recycles cigarette butts.
This is not the cast of a reality television show but rather the four winners of 2012's Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce Small Business Excellence Awards.
The chamber's seventh annual awards luncheon Thursday at Paris Las Vegas celebrated small businesses in four categories, including Women/Minority-Owned Business of the Year; Nonprofit of the Year; Small Business of the Year with fewer than five employees; and Small Business of the Year with fewer than 25 employees.
During his acceptance speech as winner of the Women/Minority-Owned Business of the Year, cheers and singing rang out from the crowd of about 240 chamber members as Family & Cosmetic Dentistry owner Dr. Rex Liu sang his own version of the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" extolling the virtues of his dental practice, which includes extended hours and private exam rooms.
"This will inspire me to continue to do my very best," Liu said after winning the award.
Liu said his love of business began as a 10-year-old boy collecting golf balls at the Dunes Golf Course. He said he would clean the golf balls and then resell them for 15 cents or 25 cents depending on their condition.
He also sold milk to his classmates in elementary school, in exchange for lunch.
"I've always loved hard work," Liu said. "It gave me a sense of purpose. One of the lessons I took with me is there is no such thing as a free lunch."
Another winner, Alyson McCarthy, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House Charities Greater Las Vegas, also placed a premium on hard work.
"(This year) our budget is $1.5 million," she said. "It's been difficult, but we raised it locally and will spend it locally."
McCarthy, who took home the award for Nonprofit of the Year, said the Ronald McDonald House provides a place to sleep, transportation and meals to families of seriously ill children from a radius of 50 square miles around Las Vegas.
"We take those issues off their plate, so they can focus on the recovery of their child," McCarthy said. "This (award) will help give us some exposure out there."
Lisa Bobak, who took home the award for Small Business of the Year with fewer than 25 employees, employs 15 to 20 workers at her 5165 W. Oquendo Road headquarters, which houses Soirees Event Planners and Caterers.
When the recession rocked Southern Nevada, Bobak's industry took a serious hit.
"Certainly caterers are vulnerable," Bobak said. "I'm still trying to come out of this. Catering is related to disposable income; you can always throw your own party."
Ken Beckstead, owner of Cigarette Pollution Solutions, was named Small Business of the Year with fewer than five employees.
"I came to Las Vegas to rid this town of cigarette butts and make plastic products," he said.
Beckstead and the other award winners credited the chamber for providing networking opportunities, and other services, particularly as the economy and small businesses continue to recover from four years of recession.
"Today is a celebration of small businesses," said Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kristin McMillan, who added that small businesses will help diversity the region's economy.
Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3893.