Small Business

Xclusive Events, Comfort Care Homes named Wichita’s top small businesses

Comfort Care Homes

Comfort Care Homes owner Doug Stark talks about being named the top small business in Wichita with 26 to 100 employees (Bryan Horwath/Wichita Eagle).
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Comfort Care Homes owner Doug Stark talks about being named the top small business in Wichita with 26 to 100 employees (Bryan Horwath/Wichita Eagle).

Perhaps none of the 10 Wichita businesses on hand for Wednesday’s Small Business Awards luncheon were as prepared to celebrate a victory as the co-owners of Xclusive Events.

After all, Xclusive – owned by siblings Crystal McDonald and Cody Lathrop – is a contract bartending business. Translation: They knew what to do after being named Wichita’s top small business in Tier One (up to 25 employees) for 2016.

“Champagne,” replied McDonald when asked what was next for her and her business a few minutes after the announcement.

In Tier Two (26 to 100 employees), Comfort Care Homes took the top spot.

The event – which took place at the Hyatt Regency Wichita downtown – is put on annually by the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. The Eagle’s Business Today was a sponsor of the 12th annual awards.

McDonald didn’t try to hide her emotions while accepting the award, letting her tears of happiness do most of the talking.

Xclusive Events co-owner Cody Lathrop talks about his bartending business being recognized as one of Wichita's top small businesses on May 11, 2016. (Bryan Horwath/Wichita Eagle).

“It’s shocking that we won,” McDonald said. “It’s so humbling that they even thought about us.

“It’s emotional – you don’t get times like this very often.”

More than 100 small businesses were nominated for the award and 25 went through the application process, according to the chamber.

You don’t get times like this very often.

Crystal McDonald, Xclusive Events co-owner

The trademarks for Xclusive are its two booze trucks, including a Drink Local truck that serves only local brews, teas and coffees. The company also has a fried-food wagon.

McDonald and Lathrop grew up working in their parents’ concession truck, which traveled from small-town festival to small-town festival.

“We know the other four nominees in our tier and their companies,” Lathrop said. “We think they were all just as deserving, if not more.

“We weren’t expecting this.”

The company, which was founded in 2007, specializes in wedding receptions, corporate functions and “any event where booze is needed,” Lathrop said.

According to Lathrop, achieving success in the small business realm is about hard work and being willing to try new things.

“We weren’t afraid to fail,” Lathrop said. “When something didn’t work, we wrote it off but kept moving on.

“Part of it is about determination, but we also got the right crew to work with us. Once you get motivated people that want to be in the business, it spreads like wildfire.”

Comfort Care Homes

In the large business tier, dementia-care company Comfort Care Homes earned the top spot.

The business features specialized homes and environments for those with memory impairment issues, including Alzheimer’s patients.

Comfort Care Homes owner Doug Stark talks about being named the top small business in Wichita with 26 to 100 employees (Bryan Horwath/Wichita Eagle).

After the ceremony, owner Doug Stark said it was nice that his line of work, often not the most glamorous, was recognized.

“What we do is not for the faint of heart,” Stark said. “It’s a taxing situation for people, and we work 24/7, 365 days out of the year. We always kind of fly under the radar.

“Nobody really cares about Alzheimer’s care unless they’re in the middle of having a family member with Alzheimer’s. To be publicly recognized, it’s just incredible.”

Doug’s father, Charles Stark, and mother, Mary Lou, had the idea for the company after Charles’ parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the 1980s. The first Comfort Care unit opened in 1993.

To be publicly recognized, it’s just incredible.

Doug Stark, Comfort Care Homes owner

Charles Stark was recognized during the ceremony, though Mary Lou was unable to attend for health reasons.

“It’s thrilling to win,” said Charles Stark, who remains involved in the business in an advisory role. “I didn’t think we were going to win, but it’s a wonderful feeling.”

Doug Stark said his company couldn’t have grown to what it is today without its dedicated team of close to 80 employees.

“Our goal when we started was to be the premier dementia care provider in Wichita,” he said. “I’m happy for our caregivers because they’re the people who smile and work through days that can be very tough.”

After nearly everyone had filed out of the hotel Wednesday afternoon, Doug Stark joked that the Comfort Care and Xclusive teams should have a neighborhood get-together. He and Crystal McDonald live just a few blocks away from each other in the Central and Woodlawn area of Wichita.

“My entire management group is coming over on Friday,” Doug Stark told McDonald. “If you hear noise from my backyard from about 4:30 until 9, you’ll know why.”

After all, when it comes to celebrating, McDonald and Lathrop are the people to call.

Small Business Awards

Other Tier I finalists

Patton Termite and Pest Control

Specs Eyewear


TheraPlay Spot

Other Tier II finalists

Comfort Care Homes

Builders Plus Construction

Mahaney Roofing

Midwest Single Source

The Martens Cos.

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