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 Food and Tourism Entrepreneurs in North Carolina

A Program of the Center for Sustainable Tourism and the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, East Carolina University

Entrepreneur Profile:Joel Friedman

Entrepreneur Organization:Zuma Coffee & Zuma Cookie Company, Owner

Joel founded Zuma Coffee in 2002 in the quiet mountain town of Marshall. Over the past decade Joel has transformed this tiny coffee shop into a 2500 square foot community space where patrons come for much more than dinner or coffee. What was once a small coffee shop, serving up muffins and cookies, is now a mecca for healthy and creative comfort food. Visitors may choose from a full menu, boasting items ranging from homemade barbeque to tempeh Rueben sandwiches, sometimes even while enjoying quality bluegrass music.

Joel's Entrepreneurial Traits

Entrepreneurship is sort of a family tradition for Joel, as he learned a lot about owning a business from his father and his grandfather. He has worked in a variety of business settings, including hardware, art, film, and restaurants. Eventually, Joel left photography to pursue his passion for entrepreneurship. Growing up in a retail background helped him make informed decisions about how to best operate his business in Marshall. He puts a lot of thought into the atmosphere of Zuma, taking care to communicate to his employees that part of their job is to facilitate a sense of community. He feels that it is easy to "hire people who learn how to make sandwiches, to make a good cup of coffee. I can't hire them to do good for people - that they have to do on their own." Like many entrepreneurs he realizes the value of ambience and appearance within his shop, so he uses the artwork on the walls, the music that is played, even the way customers are greeted to create a welcoming atmosphere. Strategic placement of the shop has also been a factor that contributes to its success, as Joel is adamant about being in a location with heavy foot traffic, lots of windows, and open space.

Joel notes the many hats that an entrepreneur must wear, functioning as an accountant, a marketer, a chef, a barista, and an organizer. He achieves this by compartmentalizing his time, saying "There's two Joel's out there. There's one behind the counter that is much more work and business. Then there's the Joel that comes out from behind the counter, sits down and talks to people and interacts a lot more."

Joel's Inspiration

Joel finds his inspiration as well as his personal success within his community. In fact, he defines his success in terms of friendships with customers, saying he feels successful when people come by to see him; he notes "I don't make a great living here, but I make a great life. To me, that's immeasurable success." He loves his community and the rich culture he experiences each day through interacting with the residents of the county. He especially enjoys reflecting on "the times where I am sitting around a campfire or on someone's porch and I'm hearing music as good as anywhere else in the world at that moment… it's unbelievable how good people are here - that are just [playing music] because that's what they do. It's not what they do for a living. It's what they do because they think it's fun or that's what their family has always done."

Positive Aspects of the Entrepreneurial Climate

Before moving to Marshall, Joel had a deep-seeded love for Western North Carolina. Having previously traveled to the area he was inspired to learn more about Western North Carolina. The first time he visited Marshall he immediately felt comfortable and at home. However, Marshall is small (pop. 873) and many small businesses find it hard to get through winter in a mountain town, but Joel has felt enormous support from residents. "They're very community oriented, the fact that they will go out of their way to support local businesses. They want us to be here. They understand their role in that. They have been supportive not only vocally, but financially in times of need. People have come through and given gifts to the business to pay taxes, to pay whatever, slow winter season. The community says I see it's a struggle for you right now. What can we do to help?"Joel has become so engaged with his community that he has come to see his business as intertwined with the community, saying "it's hard to separate the two."

As Marshall continues to gain traction as a growing art town Joel has noticed an emerging pocket of energy that he hopes will continue to sustain the area. Marshall is located only thirty minutes from Asheville, NC, a town that is known for it's thriving art culture, local food systems, exceptional music, and culture. Being so close to this mountain metropolis has been both advantageous and challenging. Joel describes the impact of this proximity, saying "In the 50s [and] 60s everything went away, so people started doing their shopping in Asheville. There was no reason to do it here, so shops did not come back at some point because there just wasn't the population. They went from a 50,000 population to 20,000 people here." As the town continues to recover from this socioeconomic shift it is more important than ever to foster the return of small businesses to the area. He hopes that in the future the town will be able to attract people interested in living and working in the community, rather than depending on day visits from Asheville residents.

Challenges

As many entrepreneurs have discovered, it can be a measure of great difficulty to secure a loan from a big bank. Opening a business in a region where it can be expensive and challenging to build has taught Joel that small or local banks are more willing to work with small businesses. The physical location of the town has also proved to be a barrier to growth. According to Joel, Marshall is somewhat dependent on the county courthouse to bring foot traffic into the area; Zuma is well located across the street from the courthouse. Discussion on moving the courthouse to another area has Joel, along with other local business owners, worried that the community will suffer without this central structure.

Key Collaborations

Networking for Joel consists of serving on the board of the local arts council, and the Downtown Marshall Association. He finds that a sense of compatibility with other local business owners invaluable, as they come together and figure out how to work towards a common goal. He also works on the Economic Development board in Marshall as a way to stay involved in the local network. Aside from the many friends Joel turns to in Marshall for business advice, he also stays in touch with friends in Atlanta who offer outside opinions and ideas for success.

Sustainability Factors of Organization

While the term sustainability might immediately bring about ideas of environmental stewardship, it is also important to focus on the socio-cultural aspects of sustainability. In this regard, Zuma plays a key role in the sustainability of its community by offering a gathering space where people can come together, becoming a "nucleus for people to [share] ideas and then take them back out and implement them." Zuma is a unique place for people to connect, have meetings, impromptu political discussions, and listen to top- notch music. The personal connection that Joel has with his customers is exemplified in the fact that many of the kids who grew up coming into Zuma's with their parents are now becoming his customers and even employees. Customers will also be happy to know that each cup of coffee they are served at Zuma is organic and fair trade. Also, in the fall and summer it wouldn't be uncommon to find local vegetables, like chard, kale, and tomatoes, on the menu.

Focuses for the Future

The recent addition of Zuma Cookies to Joel's portfolio is an exciting new opportunity for expansion. Joel has recently partnered with Ingles grocery store as well as Earth Fare (along with other smaller retailers) to provide take and bake Zuma cookies to consumers across the South. This new venture, coupled with an exciting future for the town of Marshal, has Joel focused on a bright future.

 

Tourism and Entreprenuership Friedman

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