Heart of Hospitality in Cook County

We all know delivering extraordinary service creates loyal guests. Having a beautiful property or serving great food is important but not enough. Hospitality is what creates guest loyalty. In 2019, Visit Cook County launched a new award to highlight the good work of hospitality workers in our community. Nominations will be accepted from each tourism community: Gunflint Trail, Grand Marais, Grand Portage and Lutsen/Tofte/Schroeder. Anyone can nominate a Hospitality industry employee who stands out for excellent service and enhance the visitor’s experience. 

Who is eligible for the award? Anyone working in the hospitality service industry is eligible. This includes front-of-house staff like cashiers, servers, guest services, and guides as well as the cooks, housekeepers, maintenance workers, gas station attendants, and so much more. Business owners should be reserved for Chamber Business Award nominations

Who can submit a nomination? Owners, managers, coworkers and even community members. Anyone who has first-hand knowledge of an individual’s professionalism and leadership in the hospitality industry. 

How many awards will be announced? One individual from each tourism community: Gunflint Trail, Grand Marais, Grand Portage and Lutsen/Tofte/Schroeder.

Heart of Hospitality Award Winners


  • Lutsen Tofte Tourism Association: Katie Oakes, Cascade Lodge & Restaurant 
  • Grand Portage: Nicki Spry, Grand Portage Lodge & Casino
  • Grand Marais Area Tourism: Katie Clark + Team, Cook County Historical Society 
  • Gunflint Trail Association: Rick Grabko, Gunflint Lodge


  • Gunflint Trail Association – Charlotte Smith, Bearskin Lodge
  • Grand Marais Area Tourism Association – Sue St. John, Birch Terrace Supper Club
  • Lutsen Tofte Tourism Association – Tami Engrenn, Cascade Vacation Rental


  • Grand Portage Lodge & Casino – Joyce Merillat
  • Gunflint Trail Association – Chris Hartman, Hungry Jack Lodge
  • Grand Marais Area Tourism Association – Samantha Wallner, GM Recreational Park
  • Lutsen Tofte Tourism Association – Bernard Banks, Cascade Lodge and Pub


  • Grand Portage Lodge & Casino - Julisa Swader
  • Gunflint Trail Association – Mandy Husky, Gunflint Lodge
  • Grand Marais Area Tourism Association – Nick Stevens, Hungry Hippie Tacos
  • Lutsen Tofte Tourism Association – Dan Hinton, Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts

Heart of Hospitality Coffee Break

In addition to the annual individual awards, a new campaign was launched in 2021, Heart of Hospitality Coffee Break. For a week, Visit Cook County offers a cup of coffee for any hospitality worker free of charge. Stay tuned for upcoming events. 

Chamber Business Awards

The Chamber understands the value of recognizing the businesses and individuals that stretched the extra mile to deliver services and remain viable…

Partner Portal

Learn all about the Visit Cook County Partner Portal and find a training video and helpful documents.