Business, nonprofit roundup: Cherokee votes to approve recreational marijuana

BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY: Qualla Enterprises LLC, the group established to manage the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ for-profit medical marijuana business, writes that legalization of recreational cannabis is expected to create 400 new and well-paying jobs. Photo from iStock

Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis Sept. 7, a move that could have big economic implications for the tribe.

In a Sept. 6 op-ed by Qualla Enterprises LLC, the group established to manage the tribe’s for-profit medical marijuana business, wrote that legalization of recreational cannabis is expected to create 400 new and well-paying jobs. 

“The demand to work with Qualla is both overwhelming and humbling; Qualla has received hundreds of job applications, and that number grows each week,” Qualla Enterprises wrote. 

The opinion piece goes on to say that if the Eastern Band chooses to distribute revenue to tribal members like the casino revenue payouts, payouts from recreational cannabis have the potential to be 50% larger than the medical cannabis-only system over five years,

The Tribal Council will need to formally write and approve legislation legalizing recreational cannabis before the change could go into effect. The measure would make the Qualla Boundary, which is about 46 miles west of Asheville, the only place in North Carolina where marijuana can legally be purchased for recreational use.

Radhakrishnan to lead Embassy Suites

Embassy Suites by Hilton Asheville Downtown named Rohit Radhakrishnan general manager. The 188-room hotel, owned and managed by Parks Hospitality Group, will open at 192 Haywood St. this winter. Radhakrishnan has been the general manager of several hotels within and outside of the Hilton family.

SBA honors Highland founder Wong

Highland Brewing founder Oscar Wong was presented with the Small Business Administration Legacy Honor as part of its 70th-anniversary celebration in Charlotte. Wong completed a master’s degree in engineering before opening Highland in the basement of Barley’s Taproom on Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville in 1994. The business expanded to its present location in East Asheville, thanks in part to SBA financing. 

Mall adds new businesses 

The Biltmore Park Town Square shopping center is preparing for several stores to open over the next few months, including Taco Boy and Dolly Llama Waffle Master, along with REEDS Jewelers and Club Champion, a golf club-fitting business. The new additions are part of a growth strategy for its developer, Biltmore Farms, as it continues to evolve Biltmore Park Town Square. 

Hotel celebrates Fitzgerald

A new boutique hotel, Zelda Dearest, is slated to open next month. The 20-room hotel, which encompasses three early 20th-century mansions in Asheville’s South Slope neighborhood, celebrates the life and aesthetic of writer Zelda Fitzgerald. Zelda Dearest is a partnership among Lark Hotels, Hatteras Sky and its capital partner, Somera Capital East. The hotel is accepting reservations for stays beginning Sunday, Oct. 8. More information at

Event focuses on businesswomen

PLR Connect Events, which specializes in creating and facilitating events for women, is hosting Expand 23 at The Cambria in downtown Asheville from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 30. The event includes a variety of workshops and opportunities for women entrepreneurs to connect. More information and tickets at

BPR names Adams to audience post

Blue Ridge Public Radio has promoted Erin Adams as its first director of audience. She will lead BPR’s audience growth and engagement strategy for digital, social and broadcast platforms, as well as in-person community events. Adams joined BPR as membership manager in January 2020 and has more than 15 years of public media experience. Adams also worked in marketing and communications at NPR in Washington, D.C., and in membership at Nashville Public Radio. The UNC Asheville graduate got her start in print journalism at the Asheville Citizen Times.

Firestorm opens new location

Firestorm Books, a self-proclaimed radical bookstore cooperative and community event space, moved from 610 Haywood Road to 1022 Haywood Road last month. The bookstore, which was founded 15 years ago, completed renovations at the former site of Dr. Dave’s Automotive over the summer, including adding sidewalks, green space and a wooden deck that spans two-thirds of the storefront. 

Givens uses grant to buy van

The Golden LEAF Foundation, a nonprofit established to receive a portion of North Carolina’s funding received from a 1998 settlement with cigarette manufacturers, has awarded $55,000 to Givens Gerber Park, a rental retirement community for adults 55 and older. Givens Gerber Park plans to use the funds to purchase a new van and upfit the van for MANNA Food Bank distribution.

Read to Succeed adds executive

Asheville-based nonprofit Read to Succeed Asheville/Buncombe hired Ashley Allen as co-executive director. Allen came to the area 15 years ago and worked for a decade in Asheville City Schools as an instructional assistant, bus driver, kindergarten and first grade teacher, grade-level chair and trainer. Allen served as the secretary to the board of directors from 2021-23 and worked with organizations such as Youthful HAND in Hillcrest, Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC and Crossroads Church. 

Rescue Ministries gains $50K grant

Western Carolina Rescue Ministries received a $50,000 grant from Truist Foundation to provide resources more efficiently in its programs that assist in economic mobility. The funding will provide education and work materials, such as laptops or clothing, that participants might not be able to purchase on their own, as well as maintain the Rescue Ministry’s multiuse vans. WCRM also plans to hire a director of mental health services to assist program participants.

Funding for outdoors businesses

Made by Mountains, a collaboration of Mountain BizWorks, Outdoor Gear Builders of WNC and the N.C. Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, announced the grant recipients of its Outdoor Equity Fund. The 20 grantees represent small businesses, sole proprietors, nonprofits and community groups across Western North Carolina’s 25 counties and the Qualla Boundary. The $125,000 in grants come from the Dogwood Health Trust as part of the three-year Accelerating Outdoors Grant. Read the full list of recipients at

Wright named Woman of Influence

Marilyn Wright, a real estate advisor at the Asheville office of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, was recognized in the Women of Influence list for 2023. The list, compiled by mortgage and housing markets analysts HousingWire, includes 100 women who have made significant contributions to shaping and advancing the housing economy. Wright has ranked in the top 10 agents of North Carolina for the last three years.

Frost to lead nature center

The board of directors of the Friends of the WNC Nature Center tapped Kate Frost as the next executive director. Frost spent 13 years working with nonprofits to serve children and their families, college students and senior adults before joining the nature center in 2019 as the development and marketing director. Frost’s tenure began July 1, following the retirement of Karen Babcock. Babcock had served in the role since September 2018. 

Student leaders honored

Bank of America Asheville Market has chosen two high school students, Barfuo Boakye-Boaten and Judy Felipe De La Cruz, as Bank of America Student Leaders. They will get eight-week paid summer internships. The students will work with local nonprofits Chow Chow Food and Culture Festival and Asheville-Buncombe Community Land Trust.


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