For serving up community spirit along with a slice of pie, the Pierre Area Chamber of Commerce has awarded its annual Business of the Year award to Gator’s Pizza in Pierre.

Laura Schoen Carbonneau, executive director for the Pierre Area Chamber of Commerce, said to be considered for the award, nominees needed to demonstrate high levels of entrepreneurship and community involvement.

“We are looking for people who take risks and spend money on the community,” Schoen Carbonneau said.

She said Gator’s fit that descriptions with several high-profile acts of largesse, including donating money to breast cancer and domestic abuse groups in October, giving out gift certificates to educators during Teacher Appreciation Week, and taking free pizzas to volunteers helping out during last year’s flooding.

Also important was Gator’s focus on using of local business for its remodel in March, Schoen Carbonneau said.

Bruce Kessler, owner of Gator’s, said the honor is overwhelming, especially considering all the businesses on both sides of the river that could be chosen.

“I’m not going to say I’m not deserving, because I work hard for my community, but I’m humbled,” he said.

Kessler said when he’s approached to help out local programs such as a hockey team or a 4-H youth rodeo, it’s a no-brainer. Without the support of local businesses those programs might not exist, and without the community he wouldn’t have a business.

Kessler said he even tries to mark money in his budget for charitable causes when he can.

“For me, if I can help my community and get my name out there, it’s win-win,” he said.

Kessler’s long relationship with Gator’s started in 1989, when he began working there as a high school student. He continued to come back to the restaurant during weekends and school holidays while in college, because he enjoyed the job that much, he said.

With that dedication, he moved up through various positions and became part of the business’s family, making it only natural for him to buy the business in 2010 when the original owner decided to retire, he said.

“I knew I had to buy and continue liking my job or move on,” Kessler said.

He also expressed gratitude to the community, saying he wouldn’t be in business today if not for the support of the area. That includes the high-caliber local high school students who work for him.

“I’m proud to be a business in Pierre,” Kessler said.

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