Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce honors two local favorites

Smokehouse 52 BBQ owner Phil Tolliver, standing, accepts his large business leadership award from the Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 21.

By Lonnie Huhman,

Whether a small business or a large one, the recipients of this year’s Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce’s leadership awards have produced the same results.

Having a positive impact on the community.

On Feb. 21, the Chelsea Area Chamber had its annual meeting and gave out its small business leadership award to RK Studios and the large business leadership award to Smokehouse 52 BBQ. Held inside the conference center at the Chelsea Comfort Inn , family, friends, business people, chamber officials and political dignitaries gathered to see Randy Lee of RK and Phil Tolliver of Smokehouse honored.

Chamber board president Paul Schissler welcomed everyone and called the event one of his favorite put on by the chamber. He said the event is important as it’s the annual get-together for the organization, made up of 266 members, and it’s the chance to recognize two standout businesses.

He said this year’s recipients, among many things, have shown leadership through their ideas, service and contributions to the community’s economic and well-being, and enhanced its uniqueness all the while being examples of helping to fulfill the chamber’s mission.

Marcia White of Lehman & Scheffler Real Estate Services, who nominated Lee and his business, said Lee’s RK Studios has become well-known and liked for the video production he’s done around the Chelsea community.

She said Lee had a knack for capturing all of the best moments in a way that was discrete and he seems to be everywhere while always being funny, dependable and when needed, serious. She said he met all of the boxes on the nomination form.

But in talking about her nomination, she said, “and the reason why I nominated him…Randy is so devoted to our community. We’re so fortunate to have someone so committed to Chelsea. ”

Also honoring the recipients were Chelsea Mayor Melissa Johnson, State Rep. Donna Lasinski, State Senator Lana Theis, U.S. Senator Gary Peters’ Regional Representative Chris Matus, U.S. Congressman Tim Walberg’s District Representative Dustin Krazny and Julie Deppner, representing U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Each offered comments on the honorees and presented them with recognition honors. Johnson said Lee helps make Chelsea better while Krazny offered up some humorous remarks with Lee before calling him a class act.

Chelsea Mayor Melissa Johnson, standing left, helped recognize Randy Lee, standing right, as he accepted the small
business leadership award from the Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 21.

Lee accepted his award with graciousness, sincerity and a lot of humor, which included stories about BB gun fights with his brother and his rollicking years in Florida. However, in the end he thanked his wife, family, friends and everyone for helping and honoring him.

He said the success of Chelsea is due to a group effort. He said he, like many others, just love being part of that success.

“Thank you all,” Lee closed.

Tolliver’s nominator was Lynae MacLellan of Devil’s Haircut, who said when she arrived in Chelsea from North Carolina she was happy to see the town had a great BBQ joint. She said Tolliver and his team have created a welcoming atmosphere for everyone, from families with kids needing some time out of the house, to a group on a night out or someone just needing a good craft beer and BBQ. 

In looking at a personal story, she recalled Tolliver making her and her husband feel at home, welcomed and comfortable after they ventured out for the first time with their recently born child. She said he sets the bar for how to treat customers.

However, she said her reasons for nominating him go way beyond, and includes how Tolliver looks out for others and works to makes a positive contribution through community involvement.

“Phil is dedicated to making Chelsea a destination and he’s helped put Chelsea on the map,” MacLellan said. “He’s an example that if you believe you can then you will.”

This recognition for Tolliver and Smokehouse come on an anniversary. Smokehouse just recognized it’s sixth year as a successful downtown restaurant, which has become well known locally and statewide for its authentic BBQ and great atmosphere.

Mayor Johnson called Smokehouse a true Chelsea business and quipped that it’s changed the smell of Chelsea in a good way. Many of those recognizing Tolliver and his restaurant cited one of their favorite dishes, including the burnt ends and Mac and cheese. After recalling a story of when she was active in the local schools sports community and how they were looking to have a gathering at Smokehouse, Deppner said Tolliver has embraced the community and likewise.

In accepting his honor, Tolliver said he has a lot of people to say thank you to; looking to his wife, family, employees/friends and others in the community. He said he’s not only in the food business, but also in the hospitality business with customer service the priority. He also said being part of the community and helping it in different ways, such as through Faith In Action, is very important to him.

In the end, he said any success he and his business has had in doing what it does best and in also giving back is because of a team effort.

“I did not get here alone,” he said.

And finally in looking at his and Smokehouse’s journey over the past six years, which included Tolliver selling his former business to start the BBQ joint to Smokehouse now opening a second location in Saline, Tolliver cited a quote that motivates him:

“Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm. ‘The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.”

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