Doctors Robert Berkenmeier and Janice Sugiyama opened their Carpinteria dental practice in order to move their 18-month-old daughter, Erin, out of Los Angeles and into a safe, tight-knit community. Thirty years and an idyllic Carpinteria childhood later, Erin has returned to Los Angeles while her parents have become Carpinterians through and through.

The pair of trusted dentists will be honored as owners of the 2017 Small Business of the Year at the Community Awards Banquet on March 10.

Though Berkenmeier and Sugiyama are grateful for the recognition, the couple didn’t develop a trusted practice and become active members of the community in order to put awards on their wall. Working hard and giving back is simply part of their family ethos.  

After graduating from University of Southern California Dental School in 1984, the two dentists spent a few years in Los Angeles gaining experience before moving out of the big city and opening their own small town office. They purchased Dr. Earl Ness' existing practice at 1066 Eugenia Way and introduced themselves to Carpinteria

Creating a profitable small business takes time, and turning a one-dentist practice into a two-dentist practice presented an additional challenge. They worked long hours moonlighting in other dental offices, and Sugiyama, who had worked as a hygienist before dental school, continued to do so as a DDS to build relationships.

Women made up less than 10 percent of the Berkenmeier and Sugiyama’s graduating class at dental school in the early 1980s, and when they opened their Carpinteria practice, Sugiyama was sought out by patients who were more comfortable with a female dentist. Women now account for about half of the dentists coming out of dental school.

Even when Berkenmeier and Sugiyama enjoyed a full roster of patients, they continued to offer more. They added a third treatment room in their office and underwent training to provide specialty services: molar root canals, implants and Invisaline. “We tried to provide a level of service that saved (our patients) a trip out of town,” said Suguyama.

Over the years, they’ve participated in numerous dental associations and, with other local dentists, provided annual dental screenings to students in Carpinteria Unified School District.

Outside the dentist chair, Berkenmeier and Sugiyama dedicated themselves to the community—even in their earliest days in Carpinteria. Berkenmeier joined the Noon Rotary Club, serving as president in 1995-1996. Sugiyama joined the Soroptimist Club, Carpinteria Valley Republican Women Federated and later the Morning Rotary Club. They became involved in Girls Inc. of Carpinteria and the Carpinteria Valley Chamber of Commerce, where Sugiyama was board president in 1993.

The year 2017 was a particularly good one for Berkenmeier and Sugiyama. They celebrated 30 years in business together as well as the marriage of their daughter. And now they cap it off with the Small Business of the Year award from the Chamber of Commerce.

Sugiyama has reduced her work hours due to shoulder pain, but Berkenmeier still puts in 12-plus-hour days at the office. The 64-year-old, who works out regularly at Spark45, says that he’ll get to 70 before he gives serious thought to retirement.

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