Fourth-generation Nebraskan Gary Grobeck and his team work primarily in pre-World War II neighborhoods where “character and craftsmanship” still count, he says, and “tear-down” isn't in the vocabulary. His projects entail challenges from restoring walnut entryways to crafting telescoping French pocket doors, while also transforming the dubious charms of, for instance, simple “water closets” into luxurious bathrooms.

In 2002, an illness got Grobeck thinking about his company's future. He sharpened his estimating, hired a business consultant, and launched an effort to develop company culture and systems. He weeded out change-resistant employees and built a smaller team of new hires and a few “true-blue” long-timers, including his wife Diane, a project manager.

Grobeck also consciously carved out two more significant niches. His company is certified green by the Nebraska State Home Builders Association, making it a leader in the state's nascent embrace of green remodeling. It also holds the maintenance contract for local Starbucks stores, providing steady work year-round.