Have a chat with Dripolator owner Jay Weatherly and it's easy to forget you're talking with a successful businessman. Part urban planner, part philosopher, part community organizer, part sustainability advocate — in many ways, he epitomizes a new breed of Asheville entrepreneurs who refuse to let a recession slow them down.
Weatherly, 34, had always wanted to own his own coffee shop, having worked as a barista in Greensboro before moving to Asheville in 2000. But instead of starting from scratch, he jumped on the opportunity when the Dripolator's Asheville location came up for sale in December 2007. The budding businessman turned to Mountain BizWorks and SCORE for help with developing a business plan. "I started with a strong idea. … No one in town was really doing what I wanted to do," says Weatherly. "And BizWorks helped me refine and re-refine it."
"The Drip," as his customers call it, was originally on Biltmore Avenue, just south of downtown. Weatherly didn't particularly like the spot but bided his time till he could move to his current digs at 190 Broadway. He chose the new spot for several reasons — not the least of them the fact that he lives just a few blocks away.
But Weatherly also saw the up-and-coming neighborhood's potential: "I can see bike lanes, I can see a completed [Reed Creek] greenway going down to the new Health Adventure. … Greenlife is already here, and we're just a few blocks from UNCA," he says. The Dripolator's been at the new location for going on a year now, and business is booming.
About a third of his customers followed Weatherly to Broadway, but he credits much of his newfound success to his initial vision for the shop, which the move allowed him to realize fully. The funky, well-appointed space features a highly trained barista staff and top-notch customer service: "Nowhere else in town has the same standards that I do," he maintains — and all in an atmosphere that seems as much community center as coffee shop.
Those standards include relying as much as possible on a local supply chain, extending to the local craftspeople and artists who help provide his shop's signature look. "Everything I'm focusing on is supporting the local community," he notes, adding, "That, in and of itself, is the recession-proof model."
But Weatherly seems most proud of the diverse clientele his shop attracts. "I have a range of people from the community that think and believe differently, but they share the same space," he explains. The concept has attracted him since college, when he studied religion and philosophy. Weatherly has also done stints in the Peace Corps and as a wilderness-therapy counselor.
"I've always been fascinated by the idea of places bringing a community together — both secular and nonsecular — to create social change," he reflects. "When you have a Presbyterian minister and a drag queen sitting next to one another in what amounts to the same living room, something happens in what I believe is a very profound way. It strengthens, it tightens the idea of what community means."
Open every day, the Dripolator is at 190 Broadway St. in Asheville. For more information, call 398-0209 or visit http://dripasheville.com.
Linking investors and entrepreneurs
Carolina Connect, among the Southeast's most anticipated avenues for bringing together entrepreneurs, investors and industry leaders, comes to the Renaissance Asheville Hotel Thursday, May 13.
Now in its seventh year, the annual event is presented by AdvantageWest Economic Development Group and the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council. This year's edition will feature the highest number of private investors and industry leaders ever, organizers say, offering entrepreneurs unprecedented opportunity to forge high-level connections.
The program will focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. Kicking off with a networking breakfast (7:30 to 8:30 a.m.) and ending with a 5:30 p.m. reception, the full day of connecting, idea-sharing and professional development will include keynote speakers, breakout sessions and an awards luncheon recognizing innovation and achievement in entrepreneurship across the region.
Registration ($95 through May 7, $125 after that) covers all conference sessions, a continental breakfast, lunch and the closing reception. For more information or to register online, go to http://advantagewest.com.