BOONE, NC – The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce announced its winners of the 2017 Watauga County Business of the Year Awards during the High Country Economic Kickoff Breakfast Tuesday morning at Appalachian Ski Mountain.
The awards were sponsored by the Watauga County Economic Development Commission. Nominations were submitted by chamber members seeking to reward businesses who exhibited staying power, growth in sales and/or workforce, innovative products and services, strong response to adversity, contributions to community-oriented projects, and use of local resources.
The 2017 Watauga County Business of the Year Award winners are:
Small Business: Vidalia Restaurant and Wine Bar
A fixture on King Street for over a decade, Alyce and Sam Ratchford offer a unique blend of culinary art and High Country atmosphere at Vidalia Restaurant & Wine Bar. Just over three years ago the restaurant shut its doors to embark on a major renovation project. Upon completion, they more than doubled seating capacity and constructed a screened outdoor patio. Now an audience of over 120 customers can enjoy an array of seating options from intimate tables and seating at their copper bar to group dining. Many of Vidalia’s menu items are locally sourced throughout the year. The Ratchford’s have been strong supporters of community farm-to-table efforts like Dig Into Local and Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. In the summer of 2017, Vidalia hosted a fundraising dinner to benefit F.A.R.M. Café, serving a five-course meal along with wine pairings, with a portion of the proceeds going directly to F.A.R.M. Café’s operating budget.
Large Business: Charles Eyler Agency – Nationwide Insurance and Investment
Five years after taking over a legacy insurance agency in the Boone community, Chuck Eyler merged three additional agencies into his business and grew his staff from six to 32 in less than a year. The mergers grew the company’s annual sales premiums from $3.6 million to $21 million while annual company revenue grew from $450,000 to $2.5 million. Eyler created a “One Nationwide,” business model to ensure a team approach to the rapidly-expanded business. He worked with other regional agents to create a brokerage group to help to bring more locally purchasable options to commercial and private insurance customers. The Charles Eyler Agency took on this growth amid a challenging national insurance landscape due to natural disasters and associated rising premium costs to all customers. Eyler encourages all employees to attend Certified Insurance Service Representative accreditation through the State of North Carolina. The company provides both volunteer and financial support to various community non-profit businesses and sports programs.
Startup Business: Hatchet Coffee
An idea started by two Stick Boy bread bakers has risen into a multi-faceted coffee empire. Hatchet Coffee started 2017 as a small coffee bar operated by Jeremy Bollman and Jeremy Parnell inside Center 45 Climbing Gym. By year’s end, a total of seven staffers were needed after a café renovation and series of new product launches propelled Hatchet Coffee into a rapidly growing market. Their basic coffee bar was transformed into a full production bar, complete with espresso drinks and a draft system for nitro coffees. The business saw equal growth in its wholesale operation, jumping from a handful of accounts to 40 clients by year’s end. The business earned nearly $400,000 in revenue in 2017, or about 22% higher than projections. Citing pay-it-forward help from Center 45 and Stick Boy as key ingredients to their own success, Hatchet staff oversaw equipment installation, training, provided some entrepreneurial expertise, and now wholesales coffee to Ransom in Downtown Boone.
Nearly 150 attendees celebrated the honors during the 2018 High Country Economic Kickoff Breakfast. The event was co-hosted by the Boone Area and Blowing Rock Chambers of Commerce.
Economist Dr. Harry Davis, Professor of Banking and Economist for Appalachian State University and the North Carolina Bankers Association, delivered is 2018 economic forecast as the keynote address. Erich Schlenker, Executive Director of the Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship at Appalachian State, delivered a presentation on Boone’s Entrepreneurial Eco System.