The Best of Columbia

Winners for 2014 have been selected by Columbia Metropolitan readers

By Introduction by Emily Clay / Photography by Robert Clark


In today’s world, the word “best” is thrown around in daily conversation like popcorn in a popper. In being liberally overused, “best” has simply lost its impact in communicating its original meaning. If a child finally bends his mother’s will over going out for ice cream before dinner, he might declare, “Mom, you’re the best!” What he really means is, “I love getting my own way.”  A coffee shop might display a sign that reads, “World’s Best Coffee.” Any savvy shopper knows to interpret this meaning as quick and cheap. 

Webster’s New International Dictionary, that was published in 1890, has more than 12 different definitions. Here is a sampling: “Having good qualities of the highest degree, mental, physical and moral. Most kind, desirable, excellent. Most advantageous, serviceable. To the most advantage, with the most success, ease, profit, benefit or propriety. To the fullest extent, the highest endeavor. To put one’s best foot foremost, to make a good showing. Utmost.”

In selecting this year’s winners for Columbia Metropolitan’s 24th Best of Columbia contest, readers have embraced the very intent of this original definition. Businesses listed as the 2014 winners have worked hard to offer service of the “highest degree.” They have offered the Midlands community continued efforts that are “to the fullest extent, the highest endeavor.” Success in becoming the “best” also stems from moral standards that offer customers security in being treated fairly and with the utmost degree of integrity. Any business owner will confirm that accomplishing this collective level of service is — without exception — done with grit, great sacrifice, cancelled vacations, 80-hour workweeks and many sleepless nights. 

Rosewood Florist, which opened its doors in Columbia in 1978, has been selected as the Best Florist in Columbia for 22 years. Chad Ridenour, owner of Rosewood Florist, bought the business from Mary and Charles Russell in 2008, and he says that he learned the importance of service quality and the importance of keeping customers happy from Mary. “She encouraged me to give each customer the very best I had in me,” Chad says. “That always challenged me to never stick with old ideas but to keep re-creating myself through each arrangement.” 

His most amazing feat was to prepare floral arrangements for a large Greek wedding that was held on the Fourth of July weekend a few years ago. “It was 105 degrees with 650 guests and with 65 tables that needed flowers. I must have lost 20 pounds that day,” Chad says with a laugh, “from the heat, from the incredible set up, plus another wedding on the same day.”

Chad also places great importance on the timeliness of each delivery. “This past December, I was asked by a loyal customer to adorn a special family gravesite with a Christmas wreath,” he says. “The day it needed to be in place, it was raining and was an extremely busy day. By the time the weather held and by the time I made it to the to cemetery, it was pitch dark. We had to use cell phones as flashlights to put the wreath on the grave. But the customer was having a party with family coming to town that night, and I didn’t want to disappoint her.” 

In working to maintain the Russells’ high standard, as well as his own, of stunning floral arrangements, Chad keeps a rapid pace throughout the year, with the various holidays throwing him into a fever pitch. He works tirelessly on each project as if it’s his only one, causing him to sometimes work 84 hours in a given week. While such efforts sound overwhelming, Chad enjoys giving Rosewood Florist his level best. “When customers are pleased with the end result, then all of my hard work is worth it,” Chad says. “Buying the business was the most exciting time of my life. I was the same age in buying Rosewood as Mary Russell was when she and Charles started it together, so the hard work is just part of my dream that came true.”

Tripp’s Fine Cleaner’s has been selected as the Best Dry Cleaner every year but one since the category was added. Tripp Penninger, owner of the family business that opened in 1967, carries on the legacy established by C. B. Penninger, his grandfather, and Chet Penninger, his father. “They taught me to understand the business of cleaning clothes and to put out the best product I can,” Tripp says. “They repeatedly said that customers are always right. We’re a people business. When it all comes out in the wash, it’s the people who matter — trying to do the best for our customers.”

He relates the lessons of being taught to treat customers the way he wants to be treated, a life lesson. “I learned the meaning of service from watching my family in business since I was a young boy,” Tripp says. “It was ingrained in me since birth. I’ve been a part of our cleaning business for as long as I can remember.” Something that few people know is that his business used to be called Penninger’s One-Hour Martinizing.

In striving to maintain excellence, Tripp sends his production managers to school strictly for understanding quality in dry cleaning and in finishing clothing as well as cleaning and preserving specialty items like bridal gowns. “My business is ever changing,” Tripp says. “I have to stay on top of it by bringing experts in quarterly to teach us how to be the best we can be.” These efforts, along with some work days that last 18 straight hours, are part of his commitment in keeping his business successful in an extremely competitive market. 

The dry cleaning industry, at large, faced difficulties in the 1970s when polyester became popular. Since people no longer favored wearing wools, cotton, linens and silks at the time, Tripp said their business suffered a downturn since polyester doesn’t need to be cleaned. 

The payoff for persevering and enduring sacrifices is people who will go to great lengths to obtain his cleaning services. “I have a customer who moved out of state, and she still ships clothes to Columbia to be cleaned. Another customer recently sent me a bridal gown from Bermuda that I cleaned, preserved and shipped back to her.”

For eight years, Tripp’s Fine Cleaner’s has been invited to be a member of Varsity International, an industry peer group that recognizes the best dry cleaners in the world. This type of validation means a great deal to Tripp. 

“I also greatly appreciate being voted as ‘the best’ by the readers of Columbia Metropolitan,” he says. “Recognition from our customers that we are providing them with exceptional service is my proudest accomplishment.” Living up to his customers’ expectations along with continuing his family legacy inspire Tripp to continue striving to be the best. “Every day I go to work, I’m not only making a difference for my immediate and extended family, but also for the future generations.” 

Jeff Lawler, marketing director of 2nd Wind Heating & Air Conditioning, has also been a part of their family business since he was young. Mickey Lawler, his father started the business in 1985. 2nd Wind has won Best Heating & Air every year since Columbia Metropolitan added the category. Jeff explains that it was much easier to run the business in the earlier days because pricing was lower and there was only one employee: Mickey. “Dad grew the business quickly,” Jeff says. “The challenge for us came when we grew to more than 10 technicians. The management of the growth became a daily balancing act, mostly from keeping up with the paperwork internally. Because we log every single detail, it’s incredibly time consuming.”

Since Jeff and Brian, his older brother, work at 2nd Wind together, they have had the benefit of learning from both Mickey and Betty, their mother. “We had to start in the business from the ground up,” Jeff says. “Our parents made us learn how to do every job so we could better help our employees with any task and so we could understand what it takes to make each customer happy. It also makes us a better team.”

What does it take to be the best? “Going above and beyond with whatever the customer asks,” Jeff says without hesitating. “The customer is always right, and we’ll service any customer any time of day.” In implementing this philosophy, Jeff has endured 80-hour workweeks as just part of the job. 2nd Wind also built a 1,500-square-foot training facility in back of their office for training technicians to complement the national training courses that they require from their employees. 

“We’ll do anything to maintain quality service,” Jeff says. “I had a lady who called one day and demanded someone come to her house within 30 minutes. I scrambled, rearranged several schedules and was determined to make that happen.” They even have one employee, John Fling, son of the late philanthropist with the same name, who has developed a relationship with many senior clients who call on him all hours of the night and day for service. “Going out on a call in the middle of a cold winter night is not unusual for us,” Mickey says. “But John takes that to a different level because he never refuses a request for service from any of his clients. He’s been with us for 27 years so he’s built quite a base.” 

Rosewood Florist, Tripp’s Fine Cleaner’s and 2nd Wind Heating & Air Conditioning exemplify the commitment to service that comes with being voted The Best of Columbia. Congratulations to these three businesses as well as all of the 2014 winners for a job well done! 




Best Appetizer

Bonefish Grill


Best Bakery

Tiffany’s Bakery and Eatery


Best Barbecue

Hudson’s Smokehouse


Best Biscuit



Best Boiled Peanuts



Best Chicken Salad

The Gourmet Shop


Best Cookie

Insomnia Cookies


Best Dessert



Best Doughnuts

Krispy Kreme 


Best French Fries

Five Guys Burgers and Fries


Best Fried Chicken



Best Frozen Yogurt

32° A Yogurt Bar


Best Grits

Blue Marlin Steaks & Seafood


Best Hamburger

Pawley’s Front Porch 


Best Ice Cream

Marble Slab Creamery


Best Iced Tea



Best Milkshake



Best Pizza 

Mellow Mushroom


Best Ribs

Hudson’s Smokehouse


Best Sandwich

Groucho’s Deli


Best Steak 

Ruth’s Chris Steak House


Best Wings 

Wild Wing Café 




Best Restaurant in Columbia

Mr. Friendly’s 


Best Restaurant in Irmo

The British Bulldog Pub


Best Restaurant in Lexington

Travinia Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar


Best Restaurant in Northeast

Solstice Kitchen & Wine Bar


Best Restaurant in West Columbia/Cayce



Best Chinese Restaurant



Best Greek Restaurant

Zorba’s Greek Restaurant 


Best Italian Restaurant

Ristorante Divino


Best Japanese Restaurant



Best Mexican Restaurant

San José


Best Thai Restaurant

Mai Thai Cuisine 


Best Business Lunch

Motor Supply Company 


Best Bang for the Buck



Best Coffee House



Best Family Restaurant

Lizard’s Thicket


Best Fast Food Restaurant



Best Fine Dining Restaurant

Garibaldi Café


Best Healthy Restaurant

Zoës Kitchen 


Best New Restaurant

The Oak Table


Best Outdoor Dining

Café Caturra


Best Romantic Dinner

Al’s Upstairs Italian Restaurant 


Best Seafood Restaurant

Blue Marlin Steaks & Seafood


Best Sunday Brunch

DiPrato’s Delicatessen


Best Sushi Restaurant



Best Wait Staff

Ruth’s Chris Steak House 


Best Wine Menu

Gervais & Vine 




Best Antique Store

Chicora Antiques, Inc. 


Best Appliance Store

Jeffers McGill Appliances & Furniture 


Best Art Store

City Art


Best Bicycle Specialty Store

Outspokin’ Bicycles 


Best Bridal Wear Store

David’s Bridal 


Best Children’s Clothing Store

Little Lambs & Ivy


Best Children’s Shoe Store

Tootsies Children’s Shoes 


Best Consignment Shop (Clothing)



Best Consignment Shop (Furniture)

Main Street Home 


Best Fashion Accessories Store

Just the Thing


Best Flooring / Floor Covering Store

Redd Flooring & Design Center 


Best Florist

Rosewood Florist 


Best Frame Shop

HoFP Gallery


Best Gamecock Store

Jewelry Warehouse


Best Gardening Store 

Woodley’s Garden Center


Best Gift Store

Gibson’s On Devine 


Best Glass Store

Sheppard’s Glass


Best Home Furnishing Store

Strobler Home Furnishings 


Best Hunting/Fishing Supply Store

Barron’s Outfitters


Best Jewelry Store



Best Kitchen Store

Mary & Martha’s 


Best Lighting Store

The Lite House


Best Mattress Store

Best Mattress


Best Men’s Clothing Store



Best Men’s Shoe Store

Granger Owings Classic Clothiers


Best Office Furnishings Store



Best Office Supply Store

Gann Office Suppliers 


Best Organic Food Store

Whole Foods Market 


Best Outdoor Store

The Backpacker Quality Gear


Best Pet Boutique

Pupcakes Dog Boutique and Bakery 


Best Pet Supply Store



Best Running Specialty Store

Strictly Running


Best Shopping Venue

Village at Sandhill


Best Supermarket

Publix Super Markets


Best Toy Store

Be Beep, a toy shop


Best Vision Wear Store

Folline Vision Center 


Best Wallpaper/Wall Covering Store

Wallpaper Additions


Best Wine Shop

Total Wine & More


Best Women’s Clothing Store



Best Women’s Evening Wear Store



Best Women’s Shoe Store

Gwen Rawls




Best Apartment Complex

42 Magnolia



Best Assisted Living Facility

Lutheran Homes of South Carolina


Best Condominiums



Best Home Builder

The Mungo Companies


Best Home Remodeler

Remodeling Services Unlimited, Inc.


Best New Home Community

Saluda River Club


Best Retirement Community

Still Hopes Episcopal Retirement Community




Best Boat Dealer

Mid-Carolina Marine


Best Exercise Facility

Bodysmith Fitness Training 


Best Place for a Kid’s Birthday

Monkey Joe’s




Best Auto Repair



Best Bridal Photographer

John Wrightenberry Photography 


Best Car Dealer

Jim Hudson Automotive Group


Best Car Rental Agency

Enterprise Rent-A-Car


Best Carpet Cleaner

Stanley Steemer


Best Caterer

Southern Way Catering


Best Chimney Sweep

Top Hat Sweepers


Best Facial

Occo Skin Studio


Best Dry Cleaner

Tripp’s Fine Cleaners 


Best Event Planner

Carolina Event Consultants


Best Fence Company

Brabham Fence


Best Furniture Refinisher

Colonial Woodworks, Inc.


Best Hair Salon

Shear Xpectations


Best Hardscape Company

Hay Hill Services 


Best Heating/Air Service

2nd Wind Heating & Air Conditioning


Best Insurance Agency

State Farm


Best Insurance Agent

Jack Goldbold 


Best Interior Designer (Commercial)

Katherine J. Anderson Design/Interiors 


Best Interior Designer (Residential)

Linda Burnside – LGB Interiors 


Best Landscaping Company

Blue Moon Landscaping 


Best Lodging

Inn at USC Wyndham Garden 


Best Massage

Urban Nirvana


Best Modeling Agency

Millie Lewis of Columbia 


Best Moving Company

Two Men and A Truck


Best Nail Salon

Occo Skin Studio 


Best Outdoor Lighting

Outdoor Lighting Perspectives


Best Pest Control Service

Home Pest Control Co.


Best Pet Boarding

Wescott Acres Luxury Pet Resort


Best Pet Grooming



Best Plumbing Company

Superior Plumbing & Gas


Best Real Estate Agent

Jill Moylan


Best Real Estate Agency (Commercial)

Colliers International 


Best Real Estate Agency (Residential)

Home Advantage Realty


Best Staffing Agency

AppleOne Employment Agency 


Best Swimming Pool Company

Jack Oliver’s Pool, Spa & Patio


Best Tire Store

Nuttall Tire


Best Travel Agency

Forest Lake Travel


Best Wedding Venue

701 Whaley


Media & Entertainment


Best Art Gallery

Columbia Museum of Art


Best Live Theatre

Trustus Theatre


Best Museum

Columbia Museum of Art


Best Radio Station

89.7 WMHK


Best Radio Personality

Jonathan Rush


Best TV Station



Best TV News Anchor

Dawndy Mercer Plank


Best TV Sportscaster

Rick Henry


Best TV Weatherperson

Ben Tanner 


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