Brad Bridges and his wife, Juli, were raising a 1-year-old and 2-year-old twins in 2007 when Brad decided to leave his job at Nestlé ice cream and become an entrepreneur.
The 1992 graduate of Bloomingdale High School had lived in five states in five years and decided it was time to return home and start a business.
Brad founded You Say When Yogurt Shoppe, launching his first location in Westfield Brandon and introducing to Florida the first self-serve shop of its kind. For the first 18 months, he worked from open to close, seven days a week. He has grown the brand into the Southeast's largest self-serve yogurt and smoothie chain with 23 locations, including 19 in Hillsborough County.
Thursday night, Bridges accepted the award for Small Business of the Year in the 1-5 employees category. He thanked business partner Karly Remmert, shared his daughters Abby, Ava and Emmy's favorite joke with a receptive crowd at the Sheraton Tampa East and kicked off the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce's 32nd annual gala event with a rumble.
"We didn't start out to be the Walmart of yogurt," Bridges said. "It took a long time to educate people on what to do and how to do it. You go through life cycles."
Four other small businesses also won in various categories. Brandon Open MRI, which Jeffrey Stone founded in 2001, took home the award in the 6-15 employee category and Sencommunications Inc. won in the 16+ employees group.
TakeOut Butler LLC was named the top home-based business, while Carr Pediatric Dentistry claimed the title of best minority- and women-owned business.
Paul Senory thanked his wife, Fran, for 51 years of marriage, 26 years of working together in business and for allowing him to open Sencommunications, a voice data communications company, in Brandon back in 1971.
"She was mad at me," he recalled. "Ticked. She didn't talk to me for two years. She said, 'There's nothing here but cows.' "
Erik Butler, whose company TakeOut Butler delivers food from local restaurants straight to your table, said he was blessed.
"I want to thank all our loyal, carnivorous customers who continue to feed our business," he said.
Dr. Natalie Carr, an East Bay High School graduate, opened her dentistry practice in 2010 with a focus on educating children and their parents about proper dental care. She shared the podium with her entire staff and gave special thanks to her high school guidance counselor who was in attendance as well — Robert Heilmann, now the principal at Riverview High School.
Eric Vician can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.