By SHELBY MERTENS
Daily News-Record 1/4/19
HARRISONBURG — Kristo and Mira Papa had a dream to open their own restaurant.
Often, they would stay up until 4 a.m. planning and building Rocktown Kitchen inside the Ice House complex in downtown Harrisonburg.
“I remember the nights when we bought chalk and drew out the entire restaurant on the floor,” Mira Papa said in a video played at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet and awards ceremony Thursday night. “We slept right here on the floor, on these benches, because we couldn’t wait to finish it up and we were so excited.”
The upper casual, farm-to-table restaurant opened in spring 2017. Kristo Papa, 38, is Rocktown Kitchen’s executive chef and his wife, Mira, 38, handles service operations.
The couple, who live in Harrisonburg, were named Entrepreneur of the Year by the chamber during the awards ceremony held at Hotel Madison.
The annual banquet and award ceremony recognizes the achievements of the community and its businesses in the past year, while also looking forward to the coming year. The night began with business leaders mingling followed by a dinner and the presentation of awards, which included a video segment with each of the award winners.
Frank Tamberrino, president and CEO of the chamber, said the entrepreneur award is typically geared toward young business owners. The community submits nominations for the categories and the chamber’s selection committee, which consists of “high profile chamber members,” make the final choices.
Tamberrino said the owners of Rocktown Kitchen were selected for this year’s honor because of the passion they have, not only for the restaurant, but for the community.
“I think passion is the key ingredient to owning a restaurant,” Kristo Papa said. “If you don’t have the passion, you just can’t make it.”
Judith Trumbo, president and CEO of Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, was named the Business Person of the Year.
VMRC, founded in 1954 as Virginia Mennonite Home, is now home to 700 residents and staffed by 450 employees.
“We think of ourselves as a community of hope, meaning and growth for persons to age well and live fully,” Trumbo said.
Tamberrino said the award is given to a longtime business leader who may have set an organization on a different path or helped it overcome challenges. Business Person of the Year is the chamber’s longest-running award.
Before VMRC, Trumbo, 58, was instrumental in Rockingham Memorial Hospital’s — now Sentara RMH Medical Center — move from Harrisonburg to the county in 2010.
“She was the one in charge of the logistics of the move,” Tamberrino said. “She’s obviously very good with vision as well as detail.”
Trumbo, who lives in Broadway, was the director of Home and Community Health for 20 years and director of the hospital’s transition until 2013, when she joined VMRC.
The chamber, in partnership with its Diversity Council, created a new distinction this year called the Diversity Business Leadership Award, with Wilhelmina Johnson, a 90-yearold retired social worker earning the first one.
Harrisonburg Councilman Chris Jones, who presented the award, said the honor was created to ensure that minority business leaders are recognized for their achievements and contributions to the area.
Johnson, who grew up in Luray, worked for the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Department of Social Services for 13 years.
“It was very important to me because I was involved in programs that made a difference in people’s lives and helped people,” she said.
Johnson founded the nonprofit People Helping People, which helps more than 2,000 local families each year with financial assistance.
The organization, established in 1992, is supported by over 50 faith communities.
Johnson, who now lives in Harrisonburg, was director of People Helping People for six years and remained on the board until 2002. She stayed involved with the organization until this past year.
The Community Champion of the Year award was given to Charles Hendricks, 45, an architect at Gaines Group Architects.
“Typically, we’re looking for someone who goes above and beyond volunteering,” Tamberrino said. “[Somebody who] really puts their heart in it in terms of making a difference in the community.”
The Harrisonburg resident volunteers with local Rotary clubs that support organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, as well as the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Daycare Center and On the Road Collaborative. Hendricks mentors students at Harrisonburg High School and Elkton Middle School.
Gaines Group Architects has provided pro bono services to area organizations.
“Our business, Gaines Group Architects, has a strong foundation in serving our community,” he said. “It’s my belief that’s what architects are meant to do is to serve the community through design, so we do a lot of volunteer work at our business.”
A “Community Champion” to Hendricks means doing whatever it takes to make your community a better place, he said.
“I’m honored to be recognized as Community Champion for 2018,” Hendricks said. “To be ... recognized for the work I’m doing is humbling.”
Mike and Paula Thompson, owners of Round Hill Poultry LLC in Broadway, received this year’s Farm Family Stewardship Award.
“It typically goes to a farm or farm family that has an active farm that also embraces conservation and the most efficient farming methods at the same time,” Tamberrino said. “They’re both sustainable from a business standpoint and environmentally sensitive at the same time.”
Mike Thompson, 47, grew up on a farm and started Round Hill Poultry in early 2000 after his grandfather died.
Today, the Broadway couple operates 10 poultry houses and contract with Cargill. They also own 60 sheep and 70 goats and raise crops on 2,400 acres.
Farming is all Michael Thompson’s ever done, but he loves the job and the ability to be his own boss.
“It’s been very rewarding and very challenging at times, but I really like where we’re at and what we’re doing,” he said.
His wife, Paula, 49, worked in the medical field for 25 years before joining the Virginia Poultry Federation. She, too, has developed a passion for farming.
“I loved my job at the hospital, but it does not compare to being on a farm,” she said. “When you see a baby goat or lamb born, or you see a sunset or sunrise or a rainbow, it’s all worth it.”
Kristo (center) and Mira Papa, owners of Rocktown Kitchen, talk with other guests at the annual Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce banquet Thursday. The Papas received the chamber’s Entrepreneur of the Year award during the ceremony held at Hotel Madison.
Wilhelmina Johnson, 90, founder of People Helping People, won the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce’s first Diversity Business Leadership Award on Thursday.
Mike Thompson, owner of Round Hill Poultry, talks with his family before the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce Banquet on Thursday. He and his wife, Paula, won the Farm Family Stewardship Award.