WATERTOWN, NY – The Volunteer Transportation Center, Inc. (VTC) has announced winners of the 23rd Annual North Country Chili Cook-Off, an event that was again held in a modified format this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
L.E.A.’S Diner in Heuvelton received the most votes for the People’s Choice Award and was declared the winner. Meme’s Diner in Felts Mills collected the most donations, earning the Top Fundraiser Award. Both participants won their respective awards last year.
“It was a real Yogi Berra moment. It was like déjà vu all over again,” said Jeremiah S. Papineau, Director of Communications and Foundation Director for the VTC. “We almost couldn’t believe it but, after everything was counted and recounted to be sure, we saw each of them bring home the same honors they brought home last year. It was amazing.”
That was a sentiment shared by Steven Bogardus, who owns L.E.A.’S Diner with his wife, Tasha.
“It was absolutely amazing to win again. We’re speechless. We’re at a loss for words,” said Mr. Bogardus.
This year’s experience was even more special, he added, due to the increase in participating locations from 28 last year to 34 this year. Last year, L.E.A.’S Diner was the only business to participate in St. Lawrence County. This year, eight others joined them.
“Participating again was more exciting because there was more competition, which made it more fun,” said Mr. Bogardus.
Brandy Snyder, owner of Meme’s Diner, said she was again honored to participate and said she was proud of her customers and employees who made that participation a success, raising $1,000 – nearly doubling the $560 her business raised last year.
“We did not raise this money on our own. Knowing that out customers will get behind a good cause is always very humbling,” said Ms. Snyder. “Seeing our customers participate and advocate for the Veterans is an amazing experience.”
The cook-off – typically held as a one-day event at the Dulles State Office Building in Watertown on the first Saturday of February – is a fundraiser for the VTC to support transportation it provides for Veterans and their families. This year, the event was again held at participating restaurants in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties throughout the month of February. The move was made in an effort to host the event in a way that would follow New York State mandates and adhere to CDC guidelines.
This year’s North Country Chili Cook-Off again focused only on the “Professional” award category and was held in a “pub crawl” format, in which those wishing to sample and vote on their favorite entries could do so at participating restaurants.
Chili Cook-Off Committee Chairperson Amy McEathron, Owner and President of Independent Medical Evaluation Company, Carthage, said she was excited to see the event be a success again this year.
“We thank everyone who did the chili crawl and tried all the different chilies,” said Mrs. McEathron. “It’s amazing how the tri-county area came together again to show their support for our Veterans and their families. It’s an honor to chair this event.”
Mrs. McEathron — who is a past 5th District President and past Jefferson County President for the American Legion Auxiliary Department of New York — added she appreciates “the many years of support from our community and the American Legion Family.”
“We again congratulate L.E.A.’S Diner and Meme’s Diner for receiving their awards and cannot thank enough all the participating locations in the tri-county area who participated,” said VTC Executive Director Sam Purington. “Their participation really made this format for the event a success again.”
In addition to L.E.A.’S Diner and Meme’s Diner, the following restaurants participated in this year’s North Country Chili Cook-Off: Beese’s Depot Café, Adams Center; Bonnie Castle Resort & Marina, Alexandria Bay; The Dockside Pub, Alexandria Bay; Belva’s Sahara Restaurant, Carthage; The Church Street Diner, Carthage; The Mills Country Store, Chase Mills; River Bottom Bar & Grill, Clayton; Whiskey Jack’s, Constableville; The Cottage Inn, Copenhagen; Silver Leaf Diner, DeKalb Junction; American Legion Post 162, Lowville; Montague Inn, Lowville; Deep Roots Fresh Market and Café, Lyons Falls; River Valley Inn, Lyons Falls; The Blue House, Madrid; Smuggler’s Café/Hosmer’s Marina, Ogdensburg; Hoof & Horn Butcher and Eatery. Potsdam; Big Spoon Kitchen, Potsdam; Plum Brook Café, Russell; The Sandwich Bar, Sackets Harbor; The Cottage Bakery, Three Mile Bay; Tavern230, Turin; Black Waters Café and Trading Post, Wanakena; Celest Jamaican Cuisine, Watertown; Cookie’s Goodies, Watertown; Empire Square, Watertown; Flavors of the Philippines, Watertown; Flashback Brewing Company, Watertown; Garland City Beer Works, Watertown; Johnny D’s, Watertown; The Grille at Hilton Garden Inn, Watertown; and Hall Pass Tavern, West Carthage.
The participants – combined with generous sponsorship of the cook-off – raised approximately $28,000 for the VTC.
“The amount we were able to raise this year is comparable to what was raised last year. And, as we continue to navigate our way out of a global pandemic, we’re thankful for anything we can raise to help us continue to provide the vital services we do for the community,” said Mr. Papineau. “We thank the businesses and organizations that participated and our generous sponsors for making this happen.”
Mr. Papineau noted the North Country Chili Cook-Off’s planning committee will soon begin to review plans for next year’s event. The plan is to focus on a hybrid model which would include both this year’s format and the traditional event at the Dulles State Office Building.
As for next year? This year’s winners already have their sights set on making their victories three-peats.
“We will absolutely be participating again next year,” said Mr. Bogardus. “After two People’s Choice Awards, we are going for a third.”
“Absolutely,” said Ms. Snyder. “Meme’s Diner will need to defend their title of Top Fundraiser for the third year in a row.”
The 23rd Annual North Country Chili Cook-Off is supported by “Underwriting Level Sponsors” Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, Watertown Savings Bank, Stewart’s Shops/The Dake Family Foundation, Glenn and Carol Pearsall Adirondack Foundation, United Food Service Operators, WWNY-TV 7News/Fox28/MeTV, Tunes 92.5/Intrepid Broadcasting, Runningboards Marketing, NNY360/Watertown Daily Times, Victory Promotions, and The American Legion Family.
Additional support came from “Platinum Level Sponsors” AmeriCU Credit Union, Black Horse Group, Kinney Drugs Foundation, Price Chopper, Samaritan Medical Center and Watertown Internists. “Gold Level Sponsors” included Advanced Business Systems; Benefit Services Group; Bradley’s Military; Colello Air Technologies; Keller Williams-Amy Kenney; Knowlton Technologies; Lake Ontario Cattle Company; McQuade & Bannigan; Northwestern Mutual-Steven B. Yelle; Purcell Construction Corporation; Rose & Kiernan Insurance; State CS Employee Federal Credit Union; The ARC of Jefferson-St. Lawrence; and Waite Toyota. “Silver Level Sponsors” included American Legion Post 1788; American Legion Post 583; American Legion Post 588 Sons American Legion; American Legion Post 789 Auxiliary; American Legion Post 904 Sons American Legion; Barrett Paving Materials Inc.; Carthage Area Hospital; Carthage Savings & Loan; Cheney Tire; DOCO Quick Print, Inc.; Fuller Insurance Agency; GEICO Insurance; GYMO Architecture Engineering & Land Surveying; Hospice of Jefferson County; Ives Hill Retirement Community; Lake Ontario Realty; Massey’s Furniture Barn; North Country Insurance Company; RBC Wealth Management; Slack Chemical Company; Syracuse Orthopedic Specialists; The Bonadio Group; Transitional Living Services of NNY; Watertown Hearing Aid Center; and Westelcom. “Friends of the Cook-Off Sponsors” included Jade Stone Engineering; American Legion Post 586 Auxiliary; American Legion Post 61 Sons of the American Legion; Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7227 Auxiliary; American Legion Post 586; American Legion Post 586 Sons of the American Legion; and American Legion Post 832 Auxiliary.
ABOUT THE VOLUNTEER TRANSPORTATION CENTER
The Volunteer Transportation Center, Inc. (VTC), established in 1991, drives thousands of miles each year assisting community members in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties and beyond. Over the last 30 years, this essential non-profit organization has provided rides to health care appointments, food sources and other critical needs destinations for residents.
In 2021, our volunteer drivers provided 26,711 charitable trips over 1,073,435 miles in Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence Counties. Of those miles, 470,002 helped those in Jefferson County, 151,954 in Lewis County, and 451,479 in St. Lawrence County. That equated to approximately $477,679 in mileage reimbursement for our volunteers.
The staff, Board of Directors and volunteer drivers look forward to a time when transportation to community activities and services is accessible to all North Country residents regardless of economic or specialized needs. But for now the mission drives on — striving to provide transportation to health, wellness and critical needs destinations utilizing volunteers and mobility management for anyone who has barriers to transportation.
For more information about how you can help the Volunteer Transportation Center, about its upcoming events, or to become a volunteer driver, contact the agency in Jefferson and Lewis Counties at 315-788-0422, in St. Lawrence County at 315-714-2034, in Oswego County at 315-694-6644, or Western New York at 585-250-5030. Volunteers drive their own cars, set their own hours and receive mileage reimbursement but, more importantly, make a difference in the community. To learn more, visit www.volunteertransportationcenter.org.