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Breen Bentley leaves audience in stitches at BEA gala

Updated: May 31

By Galen Simmons

Breen Bentley, winner of this year’s business leader of the year award, delivered perhaps the funniest and most memorable keynote address in the Stratford and District Chamber of Commerce’s history at the 2024 Business Excellence Awards gala May 2.

Bentley, who was helped on stage at the Best Western Arden Park Hotel by his three children and co-award winners – Breen Jr. Bentley, Tanner Bentley and Brooklyn Bentley – spoke candidly about his and his family’s 40 years running the popular Stratford eatery, Bentley’s Bar Inn and Restaurant.

“It’s been a hell of a tough journey. I should have opened a shoe store,” said Breen Bentley. “I get pissed off all the time and I tell myself, ‘You were nuts.’ I can’t even believe it myself. It’s been 40 years. You’ve got to be nuts to do it for 40 years. It’s 50 staff seven days a week 17 hours a day for 40 years except Merry Christmas – and COVID. COVID gave us a break and it slaughtered us.

“ … Bentley’s, that joint in Woodstock, St. Thomas, Brantford, and Chatham and downtown Kitchener; it would not have worked. It wouldn’t have. Like the mayor said, we are shit lucky to be in Stratford. You go downtown, the streets are busy, the lights are on. We have one of the best city halls, I think, maybe in the world, the best theatre in the world, the best river in the world, the best bloody chocolates in the world. In downtown Stratford, there’s not even a bloody Starbucks. I think that’s beautiful … because you’ve got individual, hardworking, private citizens working their asses off.”

Breen Bentley told those in the banquet hall for the awards gala that his success in the food-and-drink business comes down to a few key things. He has the unwavering support of his kids despite never pressuring them to follow him into the family business; he has the support of his friends and the people he trusts to give him the right advice when he was starting out and when he was dealing with life’s hardships; and, as an unabashed capitalist, he can recognize a good idea when he sees it, and he’s not afraid to steal it if he thinks it will be good for business and good for his customers at Bentley’s.

“I wouldn’t be here without Stratford,” Breen Bentley concluded. “And I’m not talking about a few people. I’m talking about a trainload of people. A big, damn train.”

In addition to Breen Bentley accepting his business leader of the year award, awards were presented to businesses across 10 other categories. All in, representatives from 73 businesses across Stratford, St. Marys, Mitchell and the surrounding area were nominated for awards at this year’s 28th Business Excellence Awards gala, which was emceed by former Stratford-Perth Museum general manager John Kastner and Windsor Hospitality Inc. owner Shelley Windsor.

The winners were selected by a panel of judges chaired by Stratford Public Library CEO Krista Robinson comprising previous award winners based on each business’ history of growth, commitment to professional excellence, innovation and community engagement.

The following is a list of the winners in each category. Congratulations to all winners and nominees!

2024 Business Excellence Award winners:

• Non-profit/charitable award: Wellspring Stratford Cancer Support Centre

The non-profit/charitable award is given annually to a not-for-profit that has significantly contributed to the overall quality of life within the community and its citizens through programming and activities.

• Service award: Modo Yoga Stratford

The service award is presented to a service business that demonstrates a consistent adherence to the excellent business practices necessary to deliver the highest quality service and support to their clients or customers.

• Enterprise award: Vicwest

The enterprise award is presented to a manufacturing, agricultural, or distribution business or organization that has created, invented, or developed an innovative product or process that has resulted in a significant and measurable increase in any of the following areas: product or process development, employee culture, job creation, increase in sales growth, community involvement. The recipient business executes best practices in all areas of their operation to ensure maximization of its capabilities and capacity.

• Emerging business award: Chok. Fine Chocolates

The emerging business award is presented to an entrepreneur who has been in business for one to five years. They have investigated the opportunities, weighed the risks and developed a strong and successful business through effective business practices, community engagement and entrepreneurial spirit. This business has demonstrated significant business achievement, sustainable financial performance, exhibited resilience to economic challenges and has gone above and beyond in their business and in the community.

• Hospitality award: Social Thirty-One

The hospitality award is presented to an accommodation, food service, or tourism operation that has enhanced the allure of the community. This recognition is for those demonstrating a commitment to excellence in hospitality or customer service, staff knowledge, quality and consistency of product, and community involvement. The recipient business not only excels in their service but also plays a pivotal role in enriching the overall hospitality experience in the community.

• Retail award: Rhéo Thompson Candies

The Retail Award is awarded to an independent brick-and-mortar or online retailer whose business is located within the Stratford-and-district area. The recipient business excels in selling merchandise, demonstrating commitment, innovation and excellence in their field while providing exceptional customer service.

• Skilled trades award: D & S Downham Equipment Ltd.

The skilled trades award is awarded to a business that excels in providing skilled-trade services to individuals or businesses. The recipient demonstrates a consistent adherence to excellent business practices and the high standards necessary to deliver quality service and support to their clients or customers.

• Trailblazing award: Lynn River Farm and Graze Farm Dinners

The trailblazing award is presented to a business that is characterized by its innovative spirit and pioneering approach. This business has introduced a novel idea or technology, which may even have revolutionized its industry. It exhibits adaptability, responding agilely to market changes and customer needs. This business type often leads in sustainability and ethical practices, showing a commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Moreover, it's marked by strong leadership and a visionary mindset, inspiring others and driving progress in its field.

• Professional award: Peter Maranger & Associates Inc. (Co-operators)

The professional award is presented to a business that provides professional services to individuals or businesses. The recipient business executes best practices in all areas of their operation to ensure maximization of their capabilities, capacity and excellence in the outstanding service they provide. The recipient business demonstrates a commitment to the ongoing education, skills development or professional accreditation of its employees.

• Business of the year: D & S Downham Equipment Ltd.

The business of the year award is awarded to a business which has demonstrated a commitment to professional ethics, excellence in customer service, a willingness to engage in innovation, an ongoing responsibility to its staff and an involvement in its community over the years.


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