Behind the Best of Jax

For years, I have watched Folio Weekly’s Best of Jax issue hit the streets, and flipped through the long list of winners. But I never fully appreciated the phenomenon until I saw the process from the inside.

Best of Jax is a BIG DEAL. Not just to the people at Folio Weekly, where we spend months planning the issue, but also to a lot of people in Northeast Florida. After 21 years, it has become an institution — a kitschy, crazy, alt-style institution, but an institution nonetheless.

You can tell how much it means to the people, venues, stores, restaurants and bars by seeing how they proudly display their plaques each year. And it holds meaning for their customers who are devoted to these places; many first decided to try a place after reading it won a Best of Jax category.

Because it is an open-ended survey, and readers can enter literally anything they choose in more than 150 categories, the results can be curious and comical.

Shad Khan won three of our biggest categories — Best Thing to Happen to Northeast Florida in 2012, Local Hero and Best Local News Story of 2012. But despite Northeast Florida’s love of Khan (whose full first name is Shahid) and his mustache, few of you know how to spell his name. Here are a few examples:

Shad Kahn (like the hot dog!)

Saad Kh

Shadd Kh

Sahid Kh

Shad K

Shad Kah

Ditto goes for Sam Kouvaris. Fans have been trying to stump the WJXT sports anchor for more than 30 years, but it turns out he stumps most of Northeast Florida when it comes to spelling his last name. There were at least 28 different versions entered by readers.

Some folks seemed to have trouble understanding a few categories. When it came to voting for Best Slow Food Restaurant, a lot of people apparently translated that to “slow service” (as opposed to the movement to use locally grown food). A good number of readers entered the names of eateries not known for their speediness. I won’t mention them here, but you probably know which ones I’m talking about.

For the Best B&B categories, a lot of people chose Mojo, Bono’s, Woody’s or Sonny’s. Apparently, they thought they were voting for Best BBQ, not Best Bed & Breakfast. However, that would be an awesome business plan — a B&B with homemade BBQ. I’m going to go ahead and trademark that idea right now.

Even though we stress that this is a local poll, many readers chose chain restaurants and stores for several categories. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the Best of Jax should be the best of what’s here, not the Best of Anywhere.

Readers sure do know what they like, though. Several winners are repeats, and once you’re known for doing something well, it’s hard for a new guy to break in.

As I was culling through more than 140,000 votes, I learned a lot about the tastes of Jacksonville and beyond. I have a lot of new restaurants on my list to try in Jacksonville, Orange Park, St. Augustine and Amelia Island. Thanks for the good advice!

Although I’m not yet a Best of Jax expert, I have learned a lot through this year’s ordeal — I mean, challenge. With that in mind, here are my tips for next year:

It’s OK to campaign. If you’re a shop or a restaurant or an individual, let people know you want them to vote for you. Many people posted signs on their doors and used social media to get out the vote. But it’s not OK to turn in sham ballots. We noticed more than a few with the exact same handwriting, with only the name and contact info changed. This is supposed to be fun; we don’t want another Strategic Allied Consulting voter registration scandal on our hands.

Is there a category that you feel is missing? Are there categories you feel are a waste of space? Now’s the time to let us know so that we can start preparing the 2013 ballot.

Use the online ballot. We received fewer paper ballots than we used to, but there are still plenty that come our way. For your piece of mind, I want you to know that we do count them. In fact, I tortured friends and family members for the entire Labor Day weekend by asking them to input hundreds of paper ballots into our Web voting system. I realize many of you are not on the computer, so we’ll keep counting the paper ballots — as long as my friends and family are still talking to me.

Follow the directions. We had to throw out dozens of ballots sent in by readers who didn’t follow directions, such as including contact information or voting in at least 30 categories. That’s a bummer.

Now it’s time to flip through this issue, find out who won, rejoice in your favorites and maybe discover a few new gems. When you go to visit a Best of Jax winner, tell them congratulations. It will mean a lot.