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Newport women take top business honors

COSTA MESA — Three Newport Beach women will be honored for transforming their dreams into thriving businesses at the 15th annual Remarkable Women Awards dinner Oct. 5.

The Orange County Chapter of the National Assn. of Women Business Owners chooses three exemplary female entrepreneurs each year who define the organizations’ core values in promoting women as effective leaders and role models.

Although thrilling for Newport residents, as all three of this year’s honorees are local businesswomen, it is purely a coincidence.

Women from all over Orange County were evaluated and considered for the awards, chapter President Kathy Dawson said.


These three women all reflect this years’ theme: “inspiration, courage and hope.”

“We can learn a lot from these outstanding women who have evolved their passion into profitable business opportunities while leveraging their leadership positions to elevate a number of charitable, educational and community-based organizations,” Dawson said in a prepared statement.

More than 800 women are expected to attend the dinner at the Costa Mesa Hilton Hotel.



Lifetime Achievement Award: Kathy Gardarian, Qualis International Inc.

Although the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Qualis International owner Kathy Gardarian said, “In some ways, I feel like I’m just getting started.”

Gardarian started Qualis International in 1988 when she felt that her self expression was being stifled in a male-dominated workplace.

“They wanted me to bottle the old paradigm of male hierarchy in the business world, and I just couldn’t accept it any longer,” Gardarian said of what spurred her to create Qualis, which means “quality.”

Quality as in everyone — high ranking executive or part-time stockroom worker — has a quality opinion that is worth being heard, Gardarian said.

Since striking out on her own, Gardarian’s company has become responsible for selling, distributing and stocking for Fortune 500 companies, including being named one of Home Depot’s top 10 female vendors in 2008.

“What’s really needed to succeed in business is honesty and collaboration,” Gardarian said. “It needs to move from ‘I’ to ‘we’ because it’s always about the bigger picture, about creating the best solution possible.”



Business Owner of the Year: Angela Cortright, Spa Gregorie’s

Angela Cortright, founder and principal owner of Spa Gregorie’s, found her center of balance in the spa service industry.

Since its founding in 1998, Spa Gregorie’s has consistently placed in the top 1% of spas surveyed annually by Day Spa Magazine for customer care, staff retention and community outreach, and was named Favorite Day Spa in America in 2009 by the American Spa Magazine Professional Choice Awards.

“I think that to have a successful business and become a successful entrepreneur, you first have to have that spark of inspiration,” Cortright said of first coming up with the idea after her husband treated her to a massage to combat work-related stress.

“I discovered that after an hour or two in the hands of a skilled massage therapist, I was able to become a healthy, functioning human being again,” Cortright said.

This is the same gift she wants to impart to her clientele. The ultimate hope, she said, is that the feelings her clients achieve in the few hours they spend in the spa will be carried with them and have a ripple effect of other people and events in their daily lives.

Cortright is supporter of local and national nonprofit organizations. One of those foundations is the Susan G. Komen Foundation, for which Cortright raises an average of $30,000 each year for cancer research.



Entrepreneur to Watch: Allyson Ames, Wonderland Bakery Inc.

In five years since its founding, Wonderland Bakery has already satisfied the sweet tooth of some high-placed figures.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger named Wonderland Bakery the California Business of the Year in 2008 and co-owner Allyson Ames created cookies for President Obama’s inaugural day events.

Ames credits Wonderland’s success to its unique appeal, modeled after children’s fantasy favorites like “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and Candy Land.

“With Wonderland, everything is fun, magical and whimsical,” Ames said. “It’s this entire kind of experience where families come out for a few hours to be caught up in a fairy tale — kind of like Disneyland.”

The store features brightly painted murals of fairy tale scenes, a chocolate fountain, a create-your-own-cupcake station and a cookie decorating station.

Additionally, Wonderland has more than 100 retail products.

Ames will open a new location at the Grove, Los Angeles, in October. The store will feature an Enchanted Garden patio, which will seat up to 60 people and can be booked for private parties.