This issue of South Sound really is the best because of our loyal readers. Every year, we ask you to vote for your favorite South Sound people, places, and things — everything that makes the area great. Winners on this list are from Olympia, Spanaway, Tacoma, Gig Harbor, Union, and more. We received thousands of votes, and these are your top picks! Congratulations to all the winners.

By Maria Leuzinger and Kara Patajo

Arts & Entertainment | Business & Services | Fashion & Retail | Food & Drink | Health & Wellness | Home & Garden | Kids | Travel & Recreation | Weddings & Events | Citizen of the Year

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Local Celebrity: Sonics Guy

Tacoma’s Kris Brannon, known around the Northwest as “Sonics Guy,” who has been voted numerous times by South Sound magazine readers as their favorite local celebrity, died in February. The 47-year-old Brannon famously sported green and gold Seattle SuperSonics gear since the team left town for Oklahoma City in 2008, rallying to bring an NBA team back to Seattle. He was gracious, friendly, and had a big presence, willing to pose for selfies with his fans. Though he is no longer with us, we are humbled to give this award to him posthumously, as we know he was immensely proud of this award and incredibly grateful to the South Sound residents who repeatedly nominated him for it. Tacoma

Live Theater: Tacoma Little Theatre, Tacoma

Casino: Emerald Queen CasinoTacoma and Fife

Art Gallery: Tacoma Art MuseumTacoma

Festival: Destiny City Film FestivalTacoma

Museum: Museum of GlassTacoma

Local Radio Personality: Dori MonsonSeattle

Local TV Personality: Joyce TaylorSeattle

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Courtesy of Effie Gurmeza

Office: The Pioneer Collective 

Workspace flexibility might have never had a more shining moment than it has since the pandemic hit. Fortunately, The Pioneer Collective offers artfully designed spaces that just might make work feel a little less like work. Complete with meeting rooms, private offices, and spaces for co-working and events, there is something for everyone. Access to a podcast studio and production rentals also are available. Tacoma and Seattle

Small Business: Financial InsightsTacoma

Medium Business: Eliseo, Tacoma

Large Business: Columbia BankVarious locations

Credit Union: BECUVarious locations

Auto Repair: Ball Auto Sales & ServiceTacoma

Courtesy of Laurie Allen

Nonprofit: The Tuned In Academy

Coupling music education with accessible pricing, The Tuned In Academy serves South Sound music lovers of all ages. Beyond learning how to play music, the nonprofit encourages the community to “learn music at a much deeper level, to understand it, what it means, and how it impacts people.” Recently, the academy added a licensed and board-certified music therapist to its team. Keep an ear out and you might notice the nonprofit’s presence beyond the classroom in local retirement homes and public projects, such as Olympia’s Arts Walk. Olympia

Veterinarian: Metropolitan Veterinary HospitalTacoma

Groomer: Bubbles and Bows Pet GroomingTacoma

Doggy Daycare: Biscuits Doggy Daycare & Pet ResortTacoma

Courtesy of Swantown Marina & Boatworks

Marina: Swantown Marina & BoatworksOlympia

Law Firm: Horwath LawVarious locations

Attorney: Casey Arbenz, Puget Law GroupTacoma

Courtesy of Kyle Rohrbaugh

Mortgage Lender: Kyle Rohrbaugh, RPM MortgageGig Harbor

Insurance: Pfarr Insurance AgencyTacoma

Courtesy of Blitz & Co. Florist via Facebook

Florist: Blitz & Co. Florist

Blitz & Co. Florist helps South Sounders brighten days and honor special occasions with its handcrafted, personalized floral arrangements. The Pacific Avenue florist covers it all, from celebrating anniversaries to expressing sympathy at the loss of loved ones, and every occasion in between. Family-owned and -operated, its care is reflected in every bouquet and delivery. Sending flowers to loved ones locally and nationally is an “iris-table” way to bring smiles and support local business at the same time. Tacoma

Real Estate Agent: Shelly Hallsted, Keller Williams Realty, University Place

Courtesy of City of Tacoma via Facebook

City: Tacoma

Tattoo Artist: Travis Brown Fleshworks Tattoo StudioOlympia

Financial Advisor: Molly Axworthy, Edward JonesTacoma

Cannabis Shop: Mary MartTacoma

Apartment Community: Madison25Tacoma

Auto Dealer: Titus-Will Automotive GroupVarious locations

Retirement Community: Harbor Place at CottesmoreGig Harbor

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Courtesy of Abe Clary Creative Portraits

Boutique: The Pink Chandelier

Beaming with charm and treasure, The Pink Chandelier is our readers’ go-to shop for fi nding special gifts, home décor, or simply passing time. Fair warning: Guests might lose track of time in this relaxing West Meeker oasis. Co-owners Colette Wilson and Renee Quiett took over last summer with the hope of adding a café. According to the duo, “We want people to feel that while they are in our shop, everything is calm, and life will be OK — a break from a year that might not have had many of those moments.”

Men’s Fashion: NordstromVarious locations

Jewelry: Tacoma Custom JewelersUniversity Place

Courtesy of Fleet Feet via Facebook

Shoe Shop: Fleet FeetBonney Lake and Tacoma

Hair Salon: Union SalonTacoma

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Photo by Bel Peterson

New Restaurant: Cooper’s Food and Drink 

Founded in 2020, Cooper’s Food & Drink has a bit of everything. Its family-friendly seating, fully stocked bar, and socially distanced outdoor patio make it the ideal eatery for most groups. Cooper’s serves classic American comfort food, such as hearty wings, meatballs, mac and cheese, and fish and chips, to get customers through typical PNW gray days. Or start the day off with Cooper’s weekend brunch, complete with chicken and waffles, fresh-squeezed orange juice mimosas, and New York-style steak and eggs. Tacoma

Restaurant and Fine Dining: Lobster Shop, Tacoma

Romantic Dinner: The Restaurant at AlderbrookUnion

Best Lunch: Crisp GreensTacoma

Photo by Jeff Hobson

Food Truck: Burger SeoulTacoma

Brunch: Devoted Kiss CafeGig Harbor

Happy Hour:  MatadorVarious Locations

Montezuma’s | Photo by Amy Johnson Photography

Mexican: Moctezuma’s Mexican Restaurant & Tequila BarVarious locations

Chef:  Rena Bailey, Lobster Shop, Tacoma

Sushi:  The Koi, Tacoma

Photo by Jeff Hobson

Burger: Spanky Burger & Brew

Spanky Burger’s mouth-watering beers, buns, and burgers are no joke. Its gourmet, smash-style burgers are sure to knock diners’ socks off. Check out its Sweet Aloha, Bacon Bleu, Peanut Butter Burger, and jalapeno-packed Fireball Burger if you dare. The only thing better than Spanky’s burgers? Its customer service. Spanky Burger places a high value on customer satisfaction, communication, and providing options for dietary needs. And what burger would be complete without onion rings, milkshakes, and fries? It’s got all that, and more. Tacoma

Japanese: Fujiya Japanese RestaurantTacoma

Pizza: Salamone’s PizzaTacoma

Courtesy of Heritage Distilling Co.

Distillery: Heritage Distilling Co.

Heritage Distilling Co. is among the top distilleries in the United States, and one of the largest in the Pacific Northwest. This majority women-owned business crafts specialty whiskeys, vodkas, gins, and rums. With more than 1,500 U.S. craft distilleries, the American Distilling Institute has named Heritage the most awarded craft distillery in North America for the past seven years. Moreover, Heritage offers tours, tasting rooms, and gift baskets for any event. Gig Harbor

Vegetarian: VivaTacoma

Hole-in-the-Wall: Top of Tacoma Bar & GrillTacoma

Coffee Shop: Valhalla Coffee Co.Tacoma

Bakery: Corina BakeryTacoma

Winery: Browne Family VineyardsTacoma

Brewery: 7 Seas BrewingGig Harbor and Tacoma

Photo courtesy Le Sel Bistro

French: Le Sel Bistro

This romantic, rustic French eatery combines traditional French cuisine with locally sourced seafood and produce. Visit during the restaurant’s brunch service for eggs Benedict, fresh omelets, and brioche French toast. Le Sel’s outdoor patio overlooks Commencement Bay, making for a perfect, socially distanced dinner date. Tacoma

Chinese: Tacoma SzechuanLakewood

Courtesy of Boathouse 19 via Facebook

Dessert: Boathouse 19, Tacoma

Vietnamese: La Cà BarTacoma

Seafood: Duke’s SeafoodVarious locations

Thai: Silk Thai Café, Tacoma

Indian: Gateway to IndiaGig Harbor and Tacoma

Outdoor Dining: Tides Tavern, Gig Harbor

Photo by Jeff Hobson

Cocktail: En RamaTacoma

Italian: Marzano Italian RestaurantTacoma

Grocery Store: Metropolitan MarketVarious locations

Donut: Pao’s DonutsTacoma

Bartender: Alderbrook, Jane Logan, Union

Courtesy of Ice Cream Social

Ice Cream or Gelato: Ice Cream Social

Since its launch in 2014, Ice Cream Social has quickly become a Tacoma favorite, as anyone who has lined up along Sixth Avenue will know. Ice Cream Social creates original, rotating flavors, including Stracciatella, Black Sesame, and Lemon Basil Sorbet. Don’t worry; it always has the classics available, too. Ice cream lovers can stop by one of Ice Cream Social’s shops for a scoop, a pint, or some special merchandise. Keep an eye out for Ice Cream Social’s Proctor District shop coming later this year. Ruston and Tacoma

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Courtesy of Concordia Star Medical Aesthetics

Doctor: Ladie Christine Araña-Domondon

Widely known for her approach of “combining artistic talent with medical expertise,” Dr. Ladie C. Araña-Domondon is the doctor our readers say they can always count on. After years of work in internal medicine, Araña-Domondon now runs her own practice. Specializing in aesthetic work of the highest quality, she implements “a holistic approach to medicine and a thirst for knowledge that results in new, cutting-edge treatments making their way back to Puyallup.” She often onboards new patients who connected with her through good old-fashioned word of mouth. Puyallup

Nurse: Camille Brock, Cottesmore of Life Care, Gig Harbor

Massage: Meridian Medical MassagePuyallup

Gym: Revolushon Fitness Group LLCUniversity PLace

Dermatologist: Cascade Eye & Skin CentersVarious locations

Eye Doctor: Keith Dahlhauser, Cascade Eye & Skin Centers, Various locations

Dentist: Dr. Stephen R. Hansen, Hansen DentistryTacoma

Naturopath: Puget Sound Family HealthTacoma

Hospital: MultiCare Tacoma General HospitalTacoma

Courtesy of Yoga Wild

Yoga: Yoga Wild 

Yoga Wild is not a typical yoga studio — and we mean that in the best possible way. It’s all about teaching and practicing self-care so that we are better equipped to give back to the community — what the studio refers to as “collective care.” This central tenet of the studio’s mission recognizes all people as deeply connected, so that caring for ourselves naturally includes caring for others. With outdoor “wild” sessions in local parks and digital on-demand classes, Yoga Wild can bring a breath of fresh air whenever, wherever. Tacoma

Physical Therapist: Physiostrength Physical TherapyTacoma

OrthodontistDr. Douglas Knight, Douglas Knight OrthodonticsTacoma

OB/GYN: Dr. Adam Nickel, Nickel Obstetrics and GynecologyTacoma

Pediatrician: Pediatrics NorthwestVarious locations

Spa: Olympus SpaLynnwood and Tacoma

Courtesy La Bella

Mani/Pedi: La Bella Nail SpaTacoma

Cosmetic Surgery: Dr. Justin Piasecki, Harbor Plastic Surgery CenterGig Harbor

Personal Trainer: Shon Peterson, Revolushon Fitness Group LLCUniversity Place

Chiropractor: Dr. Scott Lowell Bergen, Lake Tapps

Assisted Living: Harbor Place at CottesmoreGig Harbor

Acupuncturist: Jeremy Frieling, Serenity Spa & Natural Health Clinic, Tacoma

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Courtesy of Fergus Hyke

Condo: Point Ruston Condominiums

This luxurious waterfront living community has unparalleled scenic views of Mount Rainier, the Cascades, and the Sound. With a collection of 206 modern estate homes that are furnished with modern appliances, high ceilings, and hardwood floors, and its quick access to downtown shops and cafes, Point Ruston Condominiums offer the perfect mix of serene scenery and city life. Tacoma

Builder: Dickinson BuildersOlympia

Architect: Dephiance Design Build, Tacoma

Courtesy of Olympic Landscape

Landscaper: Olympic Landscape, Puyallup

Kitchen and Bath Designer: Kitchen & Bath Design Studio, Tacoma

Courtesy of Liz Morrow

Interior Design: Liz Morrow Studios

Tacoma resident Liz Morrow has had a lifelong love for interior design and home renovations. She began her artistic career studying graphic design and printmaking, and later worked as a style blogger and wedding photographer. Morrow’s diverse artistic background informs every step of her interior design and home decor process. She brings her passion and expertise into each and every project to help her clients create the home of their dreams. PS: We can’t get enough of her home DIY videos on Instagram. She’s a must-follow. Tacoma

Remodeler: Gordon T. Jacob, Puyallup

Garden Shop: GardenSphereTacoma

Place to Buy Appliances: Albert Lee Appliances, Various locations

Courtesy of Sage Interiors + Design

Place to Buy Furniture: Sage Interiors + Design, (Formerly Known as Tree), Tacoma

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Courtesy of Sy Bean of the University of Puget Sound

College: University of Puget Sound 

With a history nearly as long as the city itself, the University of Puget Sound attracts students from far and wide to study liberal arts in the City of Destiny. “Puget Sound offers a small community of independent thinkers, a launchpad for adventurers, and an incubator for entrepreneurs. We are makers, shakers, and doers — and we never stop learning,” the school proclaims on its website. As one of only two independent colleges in the state, it offers an 11:1 student-faculty ratio. More than 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students receive a higher education on the 97-acre campus, which boasts views of iconic Mount Rainier. Tacoma

Public High School: Stadium High SchoolTacoma

Public Middle School: Mason Middle School, Tacoma

Public Elementary School: Lowell Elementary SchoolTacoma

Private High School and Preschool: Life Christian Academy, Tacoma

Private Middle School: Tacoma Baptist SchoolsTacoma

Private Elementary School: Charles Wright AcademyTacoma

Daycare: North Tacoma Montessori CenterTacoma

Photo by Brian Lee

Teacher:  Suzy Ebalo, Charles Wright Academy

Beaming with warmth and sincerity, Suzy Ebalo is a kindergarten teacher whose students love to have and hate to leave. For nearly two decades, Ebalo has been teaching at Charles Wright Academy, receiving an Inspirational Faculty Award in 2019. Known as a nurturer, mentor, and friend, Ebalo cares about the long-term well-being of her students. In fact, she sends yearly postcards to previous students. Parents are drawn to Ebalo just as much as her students are; one jokingly says, “I wish I had another kid just to stay in her classroom … or maybe I’ll have another kid just to stay in her classroom.” While she can’t teach every grade (though some of her students might wish she could), her care and kindness seem to resonate for a lifetime. Tacoma

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Courtesy of Alderbrook

PNW Travel Destination: Alderbrook Resort & Spa

Nestled along Hood Canal, Alderbrook’s luxury resort and spa make it the perfect weekend getaway. Alderbrook was voted the safest U.S. Hotel for Social Distancing by Fodor’s Travel. Its amenities include an indoor pool, fitness center, golf course, and a full-service spa. Take a hike through nearby woodland trails, or spend an afternoon kayaking the canal before unwinding with Champagne around the firepit. Alderbrook offers specialty add-on packages for outdoor enthusiasts, pet lovers, and students. Union

Bowling: Chalet BowlTacoma

Courtesy of McMenamins

Hotel: McMenamins Elks TempleTacoma 

Golf Course: Chambers Bay Golf Course, University Place

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Photo by Donna Nguyen Photography

Bridal Shop: Brides for a Cause

Brides for a Cause isn’t a typical dress shop. The store collects and resells wedding dresses to raise funds for charities that support women’s education, single mothers, women with cancer, and women who have experienced abuse. Brides for a Cause donates approximately 90 percent of its net revenue to charity. The company’s Tacoma, Portland, and Seattle shops have raised more than $1.2 million for women-centered charities since 2012. Portland, Seattle, and Tacoma

Caterer: Gallucci’s CateringTacoma

Courtesy of Jas + Jules via Facebook

Photographer:  Jas + JulesSpanaway

Wedding & Event Venue: Alderbrook Resort & SpaUnion

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Story by Madison Miller

Photos courtesy of Make-A-Wish

It all started with a note Ken Kieffer’s mother wrote in his lunchbox in third grade. It was a quote from John Wesley:

“Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.”

Those words have stuck with him ever since. Kieffer has spent his life volunteering. The Gig Harbor resident started volunteering with the Special Olympics during his sophomore year in college. What started as volunteering at a small track meet turned into a lifelong commitment to helping others. He is well-known throughout the South Sound community and beyond. Readers nominated more than 150 people for the title, but it was Kieffer who earned South Sound magazine’s Citizen of the Year honor for 2021.

After retiring from a career as a lawyer in 2011, he’s made volunteering his full-time job. He would never use the words “work” and “help” or “volunteer” in the same sentence, though.

Kieffer supports a long list of causes throughout the year. In addition to the Special Olympics, he donates his time, effort, and money to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Make-A-Wish, Susan G. Komen Puget Sound, the Tibetan Nuns Project, and the Ronald McDonald House, just to name a few. He also spends time with sick children at the Children’s Hospital in Barlad, Romania. And, he’s no passive volunteer. Kieffer always dedicates everything he has to all of his causes: In 2016, for instance, his devotion was recognized through the Make-a-Wish Volunteer of the Year award.

Not even COVID-19 could slow Kieffer down. He’s found new ways to keep doing what he’s always been doing — mostly virtual or socially distanced.

“I do something every day for Make-A-Wish,” he said. “I help send gifts to kids. I call and send notes. Even with all this technology, kids love getting mail that’s just for them. It makes them feel special.”

After volunteering at such a high rate for decades, he said he’s never felt a twinge of fatigue or discouragement.

“How could you?” he said. “You get the chance to share joy with others. I can’t think of anything better. I’ll never burn out.”

Not to say that there haven’t been hard moments, but Kieffer wouldn’t trade them for anything.

“Whenever someone asks me why I do what I do, I always say, ‘What would I do if the person I’m helping were my child or grandchild?’” he said. “That’s what motivates me. That’s what drives me.”

Though his efforts have not gone unnoticed, Kieffer said he can’t help but feel a little flushed with embarrassment each time he receives an accolade.

He said he has never done it for the recognition. Everything he does is for others, not for him. He hopes when others hear about his volunteering journey that they will volunteer for a cause they’re passionate about.

He said he understands people feeling stumped on how to start volunteering, as it can often feel as if there are too many good causes to support.

“Just find something you love, and look for a way to help,” he said. “You will get more out of it than you’ll ever know.”

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