2019 City Council Awards
Downtown Escondido Well-Represented Among Award Winners

On February 27, hundreds gathered at the California Center for the Arts for the annual State of the City Address and City Council awards.

Each year, the council recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to improve the quality of life in Escondido through volunteer service. The city accepted nominations from the public, and a council subcommittee composed of John Masson and Michael Morasco narrowed down the nomination field to the group of nine winners.

This year, four of the nine honorees were businesses or business owners - William Toone of ECOLIFE Conservation, The Grand Tea Room's owners, Louisa and the late Bob Magoon, local landscape architect Glen Brouwer and Henry Avocado Corp.

"We are really fortunate to have such an engaged and active business community in Escondido," said Michelle Geller, the city's economic development manager. "The award recipients were selected for their invaluable contributions in the areas of conservation, business, service above self, and leadership."

ECOLIFE Conservation Efforts Get Council Nod

ECOLIFE has built its own Aquaponics Innovation Center (AIC) in order to promote a more sustainable method of food production

Imagine a world where man and nature coexist in harmony, where the improvement of human life and the protection of natural resources are not mutually exclusive.

This has been William Toone's vision for nearly four decades. In 2003, Toone, a conservation biologist, founded ECOLIFE Conservation with this noble goal as its mission.

Today, the Escondido-based nonprofit both educates and takes part in conservation and sustainability efforts across the globe: It educates thousands of children about sustainable agriculture practices and installs fuel-efficient stoves in poor communities in Mexico and Uganda that both improve the health and quality of life of the people who use them and protect the habitat of vulnerable species.

It was for this reason that the Escondido City Council presented Toone and ECOLIFE with the environmental conservation award during the Feb. 27 Escondido City Council Awards ceremony.

The honor has raised interest in the community in ECOLIFE's work, Toone said, and he welcomes the added exposure.

"It's a real honor," Toone said this week of the award. "The interesting thing is that in the short period of time since we've received it, it's made a big difference, as people have asked for more information about us.

"One of the challenging things with the organization is that we are 15 years old, but if you asked people if they have heard of ECOLIFE, the answer would most likely be no," Toone continued. "I believe the work we are doing is very important, and recognition like this helps spread the word. Without it, the word doesn't get out, and we would fail at our mission."

The Grand Tea Room: Business and Volunteerism

The Grand Tea Room has fine China tea sets displayed for sale

Nestled along a row of Grand Avenue storefronts in Downtown Escondido, the charming Grand Tea Room and its energetic owner Louisa Magoon have been fixtures in the city's core since opening in 2011.

Magoon started the business after years in the corporate side of the restaurant industry, drawing inspiration from similar tea rooms that she and her friends would frequent in south Orange County. While she searched around the county for a spot for her vintage-style tea house, she said her heart was set on opening in Escondido, her home for the past two decades.

"We lived in Escondido, and the thought of the Grand Tea Room on Grand Avenue seemed so cool," she said.

Louisa and her husband Bob landed the spot in early 2011 and opened the business in August of that year. It has been a hit ever since, as ladies and daughters come dressed in their dantiest attire and sip on tea and eat tiny cakes, sample marmalades, and buy memorabilia from the companion gift shop.

And the shop stays busy: on any given Saturday, more than 100 people will drop in or make reservations, Magoon said.

"We've gotten to the point where we've hosted bridal showers, and now we're hosting the baby showers for those brides," Magoon said. "I just really enjoy getting to know the customers."

Geller said that Louisa and her late husband Bob - who passed away in December after a long battle with cancer - received the business award not only for the success of the business, but their presence in the downtown business community.

"Not only does she run a successful business, she is very engaged with the Downtown Business Association, she's always donating to different events and volunteering her time and resources to the betterment of downtown," Geller said. "She is an example of a successful business, but she still volunteers so much of her time to help downtown Escondido."

Downtown Escondido, Magoon said, is a special place, and she enjoys being involved, getting to know her neighbors and fellow business owners, and giving back."It's been wonderful," she said about her involvement with the Downtown Business Association.

Magoon took time away during the bustling lunch hour to talk about the award, which she called a great honor."I feel honored, it didn't even occur to me that someone would nominate me," Magoon said. "But thank you, whoever that is."

Glen Brouwer: Service Above Self

There's an old saying: "If you're good at something, never do it for free."

Don't tell that to Glen Brouwer, a landscape architect who has called Escondido home for decades.

In early 2018, downtown merchants approached the city with a partnership opportunity to beautify Grand Avenue by purchasing trees, plants, and materials to replace the dying eucalyptus trees that lined the street.

The city was able to find funding to remove the trees, but the Downtown Business Association needed to find someone to design the new landscaping - at a steep discount.

Enter Brouwer, who owns Carlsbad-based Integration Design Studio Inc. Introduced to the city and the association by the city's landscaping contractor Steve Smith, Brouwer said the opportunity to give back to the community that he called home for all but a handful of years since moving to the United States from Canada as a child was too good to pass up.

He designed the landscaping for free.

"Glen stepped up and donated time and work creating a professional landscape plan for our medians along Grand Avenue," Geller said. "I don't know how much it would have cost to hire his firm. It probably would have put the project out of the realm of being able to do it."

His selfless act landed him the City Council award for "Service above Self."

Brouwer, who said he wishes he could do more work in his hometown, was surprised by the award."I was totally surprised, because I didn't do it for an award, I just saw it as an opportunity to give back in that way and help the Downtown Business Association," Brouwer said.  "I thought it was a good project to do, and it was something where I thought the DBA does great things for that area of Grand Avenue and I think that area needs some revitalization."

Henry Avocado: Staying True To Its Roots

Henry Avocado has deep roots in both Escondido and the avocado industry and continues to thrive today. The company just transitioned into a new headquarters, a packing and distribution center that it moved to in late 2018. The new 50,000-square-foot, two-story facility is 20 percent larger than the previous site. While remaining in Escondido, this move was made to accommodate the company's growth and to increase efficiency.

It was this choice to remain in Escondido that netted the company the biggest award of the day: Mayor Paul McNamara's Mayor's Award.

"The mayor recognizes the importance of the agricultural industry to Escondido, it's where our roots lie," Geller said. "Henry Avocado deciding to permanently put its headquarters here and expand was something the mayor really wanted to highlight. They are a family-owned business that has been here for a long time."

Staying in Escondido was a no-brainer for company president Phil Henry, who describes the city as having "a good business climate...and actually a good climate as well," he laughed.

Being located on Escondido's Harmony Grove Road gives the company a central location among its Southern California customers and easy access to Interstate 15 and Route 78. Henry Avocado was built on strong relationships with business associates and customers, which gives the company more reason to stay and grow in Escondido, according to Henry. Additionally, Escondido's economic development team is focused on expanding core industries like agriculture, making Henry Avocado's expansion one that fits within the City's strategic goals.

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