HIBBING — Volunteers, business owners and area leaders gathered under one roof during the 115th annual Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce dinner on Friday evening to celebrate a year of success and accomplishment.
A dressed to impress crowd filled the Crown Ballroom, listening as Hibbing native Rudy Pavich, a filmmaker, actor and radio personality, reflected on childhood memories from his hometown, and Chisholm native Kristen Vake, an anchor on Duluth-based CBS3 television, acted as guest MC.
Many recognitions were handed out until the evening culminated with Hibbing Chamber President Vicki Hagberg presenting the chamber’s biggest honor: the Business of the Year award.
“This prestigious award is given to a member of Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce which has demonstrated growth and stability, excellence and/or innovation in its fields, dedication and service to the community, longevity of business and loyalty to employees, special contributions of leadership and mentoring of others, support and promotion of the region and chamber and business community,” Hagberg said. “It’s with great pleasure that I present the 2020 Business of the Year award to L.G. Fraboni’s Sausage, Incorporated and Fraboni Wholesale Distributors, Incorporated.”
Cheers erupted throughout the room. Once the excited applause died down, Hagberg provided an overview of the company’s history, explaining that what now stands as two companies — L.G. Fraboni Sausage, Inc. and Fraboni Wholesale Distributors, Inc., both located in Hibbing — had their humble beginnings in the garage of Leo and Irene Fraboni. The couple started up the sausage-making enterprise in October 1968, and in the mid-1970s, brothers Mark and Wayne Thune came along and began working there while still in high school.
Fast-forward several decades, and the Thune brothers would move up the ranks through sales and business operations to become the owners of the Fraboni’s brand, growing their operation and reputation as they went. Today, their businesses employ more than 30 people and manufacture a variety of award-winning products. Known best for their porketta and potato sausage, their spin-off wholesale company has since transformed into a full-line food service distributor and their product is now available nationwide.
“Like all great things, Fraboni’s success is due to hard work and partnerships,” Hagberg said. “Both Wayne and Mark had worked for Gary Stark early in their careers, and credit him as a mentor and role model. Leo and Irene Fraboni were also positive influences on the Thune brothers, eventually selling them L.G. Fraboni Sausage, Inc.”
She noted that the Thunes have been staunch Chamber supporters who are active in the community. They are also quick to share credit for the success of their company with their workforce. Fraboni’s, Hagberg continued, has received numerous honors throughout the years, including Best New Taste at the 2000 Minnesota State Fair. The brothers were also honored with the Mature Entrepreneur Award at the Joel Labovitz Entrepreneurial Success Awards through the University of Minnesota — Duluth in 2006, and were named the Hibbing-Chisholm Rotary Business Persons of the Year in 2013.
“We are proud to be partners with Fraboni’s to help build a stronger and more vibrant business community that benefits all of the Hibbing area,” Hagberg said. “We are proud to be able to add to the Thune’s long list of accolades, the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Business of the Year Award to L.G. Fraboni Sausage, Inc. and Fraboni Wholesale Distributors, Inc.”
Wayne and Mark were then presented with a plaque as the crowd cheered them on.
Mark was first to step up to the microphone. “I don’t think we’d be standing up here if it wasn’t for a guy 45 years ago that hired us out of the housing projects, took us under his wing, taught us work, taught us life,” Mark said. “After that, he took us under his wing and he allowed us to expand our wings and that was Leo Fraboni.”
Mark took several moments to thank his friends and family for their support, several of whom were seated in the audience, as well as their longtime employees and customers.
Next, Wayne stepped up to share how he started working at Fraboni’s in 1974 as a 16-year-old when money was scarce. “Thank God, Leo Fraboni called,” Wayne said. He said Leo, who has since passed, assured him way back then that if he “hung with him” instead of going to work at the mines, he’d own the company one day. “And guess what, he was a man of his word.”
Wayne briefly touched on how the company expanded over the years and concluded by recognizing several of his biggest supporters, including his family who was seated nearby.
“Thank you so much to Fraboni’s for being partners with our organization, with helping to build our community, with providing great jobs to people in the Hibbing area,” Hagberg said. “It’s overwhelming when you get to work with people that care so much about their community and really give everything back in their heart and soul.” She added, “It’s an honor to be able to give you this award this year.”