You hold in your hands (or you're viewing online) the culmination of many months' worth of planning and effort—the 2015 Best of Jackson issue. In this issue, we highlight the best that metro Jackson has to offer in a variety of categories from restaurants, nightlife and retail to bands, entertainers and leaders, as determined by our reader poll.
We accepted nominations for the 131 categories back in November via a 100-percent open "write-in" ballot; then the top nominees in each category were placed on the finalist ballot, which went live online and in print in December.
We then tallied the results, established the winners, interviewed winners (as discreetly as possible—some folks might have suspected they'd won something when we called), took the photos, wrote the stories, checked the facts and laid out the pages. We even developed a new website (which we'll introduce soon at bestofjackson.com) and populated it with all this data.
Credit first goes out to the Best of Jackson team—Amber Helsel, Micah Smith, Trip Burns, Kristin Brenemen and Zilpha Young. This issue is always daunting for the staff, but they put a great deal of effort, sweat and even a few tears into getting you the best possible Best Of issue that they can. I'd also like to acknowledge and thank all of the hard work put in by freelancers—especially Kathleen Mitchell, Jake Sund, Mike McDonald, Kendra Wright, Pam Hosey, Shameka Hayes, LaTonya Miller, Maya Miller and Greg Pigott—on the blurbs and write-ups you'll find throughout.
Best of Jackson 2015 is a little different from previous contests, as we've moved to what we call the "Academy Award" model of celebrating those who appear in each category—everyone who makes the final ballot is celebrated as a Finalist (a significant achievement given that they had to be at the top of the write-in ballot to make it there), and then one winner is crowned in each category by popular vote on the final ballot.
We hope this makes for a very valuable resource for our readers—a guide to the Jackson area that you can refer back to as you try restaurants, bars, stores, venues, museums and other options for entertainment or educational pursuits.
One thing is clear from this year's balloting: The competition is on. An entire cadre of new restaurants has burst on the scene in Jackson and made their mark. Just take a look at the winners and finalists in our "new" categories, and you can see evidence of our foodie boom. The fact that some of those newer venues are also taking honors in other categories is testament to their quality and popularity.
Along with the businesses, organizations and "places" that won, I'd like to point out a few of the individual people who are honored by their peers here in Best of Jackson.
Jeff Good, co-owner of Mangia Bene restaurants (BRAVO!, Broad Street Bakery, Sal and Mookie's), has solidified his reputation not just as a business owner and entrepreneur but indeed as someone that the metro Jackson community looks up to as a "visionary" and an "urban warrior," thanks to the effort that he puts into bettering his community and the lives of the people he touches. From the nonprofit outreach his restaurants participate in, to the festivals and events Mangia Bene spearheads, to the work Jeff does himself with Vision 2022 and the city's redevelopment efforts, he's a force to be reckoned with and a man worthy of the accolades.
Phillip Rollins, aka DJ Young Venom, makes the list in a variety of ways, including as a DJ and musician. But I would hazard to guess that some of his popularity stems from the role he's playing in the midtown community of Jackson as a business owner, entrepreneur and a citizen of the community. Just this past week, for instance, Rollins hosted a packed "Black Lives Matter" art and spoken-word event at his relatively new business, offering a venue and a catalyzing effort for important dialogue and action in changing peoples lives. People who attended were a real mix of ages, including high-schoolers who shared their work.
Ron Chane's business(es) Studio Chane, Swell-o-Phonic, Soma Wilia—everything under the Chane banner—comprise the winner this year for best local business, something that is certainly deserved based on Chane's hard work alone.
Perhaps just as significantly, Fondren After 5 surprised us in the Best Musical Festival category as both a strong open-ballot nominee and ultimately as the winner on the final ballot. Fondren After 5 has gone through an amazing resurgence in no small part due to Chane's energy and focus on the monthly gatherings, punctuated by his all-caps emails and texts sent to vendors, businesses, musicians, participants and anyone willing to throw in and help him.
The result has been a wonderfully diverse event in the heart of Fondren. It brings people of different ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and persuasions together for fellowship, a fantastic celebration of this city and some of the progress made by determined locals over the past decade or more.
As happens every year, the Best of Jackson issue is followed quickly by the Best of Jackson party—if you're on the JFP Daily e-blast, hopefully you've already RSVP'ed for your invite! (If you're a finalist, and you want to come, make sure we know it—contact your marketing rep or write us at [email protected])
I'd like to thank a lot of the folks helping with that party, including Lagunitas and Capital City Beverages, Kats Wine Cellar, Cathead Vodka, Stephen's Printing, Estes Group, PY Landmark LLC, Davaine Lighting, Downtown Jackson Partners, the Hinds County Sheriff's Department, 30 plus participating restaurants and many others.
Our marketing and events coordinator, Natalie West, is deep into party preparations on her first Best of Jackson party; wish her luck. It's going to be a fantastic event and venue, and we're already looking forward to seeing many of you there. This year we're finally doing the theatrical Carnivale theme Editor-in-Chief Donna Ladd has long wanted to do. So "feather up," as she says. (Yes, there will be a costume party and lots of surprises, as usual.)
It's always fun to ring in a new year by acknowledging some of the wonderful things that have happened in the past one, along with some of the people, places and participants in this great Jackson experiment who are amazing every year. We celebrate local businesses, engaged citizens, great food and drink, and the Best of Jackson's perennial winner for the best reason to live in Jackson—the People!
Thank you for what you do for the Jackson metro, and thanks for picking up a copy of the Jackson Free Press. I hope you enjoy the "best" that this great place has to offer.
Best of Jackson finalists can email [email protected] to get on the party guest list if you did not receive an invitation.