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Features Venture Local series ‘hangs out’ in Franklin

Have a coffee, a scone or a walk on the Greenway

As part of the Venture Local Franklin (VLF) initiative, Macon County News is teaming up with VLF to highlight local businesses throughout Franklin. Each week, MCN selects locally owned and operated businesses in a different category. It is our goal at MCN to work with VLF to encourage residents to shop locally and utilize the resources Franklin has to offer. For more information on Venture Local Franklin, join their next community hang out on Thursday, July 26, at 5:30 p.m. at the Frogtown Market and Deli.

After closing their business, 50 Minute Photo, Sandy and Tom Pantaleo began working on a way to incorporate Sandy's passion for coffee and Tom's passion for art and photography. After brainstorming, the duo, along with their son Cole, opened the community hang out Main Street Coffee & Tea in downtown Franklin in September 2005.

“I have an extensive background in health and nutrition, and actually owned a health food store in New Jersey,” said Sandy Pantaleo. “I knew that if we were to open a coffee shop, that I would want the coffee to be as organic and unique as Tom's photography, which is displayed in our store.”

In order to offer customers the best products possible, the baked goods are fresh, homemade and delicious.“All of our coffee is organic, fair-trade, shade-grown and is roasted and shipped the same day that we order it,” explained Pantaleo. “This helps to ensure the quality, and freshness of each cup of coffee.”

Main Street Coffee & Tea in downtown Franklin has the perfect atmosphere for hanging out. With colorful decor and photography showing off the natural beauty of Franklin, the fresh organic coffee and handmade pastries provide an overall satisfying experience.Always considering customer input, the Pantaleos have grown their business around providing the utmost satisfactory experience for anyone who walks through their doors. “We strive to accommodate our customers preferences, and believe that commitment is shown through the quality of our coffee and photography,” she said.

“Our drinks go beyond the menu board - for the most part, if you can think it we can create it. The goal of the store, was to create a comfortable atmosphere, with a lot of good conversation, fantastic art, and amazing drinks. We offer free WiFi, which helps to make this a place where you can meet friends, host parties, or simply sit down and read a book.”

“Unfortunately, the economy has affected a number of businesses over the years,” said Pantaleo. “We didn't feel the economy change much until 2008. Fortunately, we also had our photography business to keep us busy. We are blessed to have dedicated customers that have helped to carry us through some of the harder times. We are proud to say that business is still doing well, and has been steadily increasing over the years. We hope to see these numbers continue to rise.”

Like so many other small businesses, Main Street Coffee & Tea has begun turning to social media to promote the store and keep customers updated on specials and events.

“At the moment, we do have a Facebook page, to help keep our customers updated/ informed of any new drinks, specials, or events,” said Pantaleo. “However, we feel that it is what we haven't changed, that has helped keep us ahead of the game, or at least in the race. We have kept our prices very low - it's not only about what it costs us, but how much it costs our customer.”

Despite the demands of the economy and businesses being forced to change or even shut down, the Pantaleos have worked to keep their business the same as the day they first opened.

“We're all about local, fresh, and organic products - that is something that we will never want to change. We strive to offer something different than the average corporate coffee / fast food franchises,” said Pantaleo. “Our goals are all customer related - if it's something that will benefit the customer, we generally try to implement these changes.”

As advocates of the local economy, Main Street Coffee & Tea utilize organizations that are geared toward promoting the resources in Franklin.

“We are active within the Venture Local Community and participate in the MainStreet Program,” she said. “The ‘mom and pop’ shops are often times the backbone of small towns. I have always liked shopping at a store where I know the person - not just the products. I always want to be treated like an individual person when I'm shopping, not just a number walking through the door. Here at Main Street, we do just that. Whether they've been here once, or 100 times, we treat all customers like family. It's not about selling photography, or a cup of coffee - it's about establishing a relationship within the community.”

With a steady stream of customers all year long, Main Street Coffee & Tea works to provide seasonal goodies that everyone can enjoy.

“We have enjoyed getting to know not only our regular customers, but the visitors who come in year after year,” said Pantaleo. “We love meeting knew faces, making new drinks, and sharing a conversation over a cup of coffee. Let us get to know you, and your ‘usual’ drink. Whether you're new to Franklin, or lived here your whole life, come in to Main Street Coffee & Tea, and make it your home away from home.”

The Rathskeller located just off of Main Street has been serving as an eclectic community hangout since 2000. Catering to coffee, beer and wine drinkers alike, The Rathskeller even features live music to entertain guests. Picture at right provided by Macon County EDCIn 2000, a Franklin husband and wife team, George Hasara and Heidi Hunter began exploring business ideas that would allow them “to blur the lines between work and play while earning a living,” leading the two to open The Rathskeller Coffee Haus & Pub. “One of the initial factors in choosing this business was to be more resilient in a bad economy,” said Hasara. “Even (or especially) in tough times, people still need an affordable place to go and relax.”

Located in the basement of one of Franklin's oldest buildings, the Rathskeller is nestled away just off of Main Street on Stewart Street. The Rathskeller is a popular community hang-out with something for everyone. It is a coffee shop, beer/wine bar and bakeshop with a "home away from home" atmosphere for the entire family. Within easy walking distance of uptown shops and with ample parking available, the Rathskeller is the perfect destination for a quick trip in for an excellent refreshment. They offer a broad selection of coffee and espresso-based beverages as well as baked goods that are hand-made on the premises and include cookies, cakes, brownies, cheesecakes, pretzels, cheese bread and other daily specials. They also offer a light meal solution called "The Rathskeller Wrap," which is an original baked sandwich creation made with their yeast bread. The ’Skeller's beer and wine selection is both varied and reasonably priced. Hasara and Hunter also work to schedule musicians to perform for their. From bongos and harmonicas to local musician Tom Quigly, the Rathskeller's entertainment is as diverse and pleasant as their beverage selection.

Looking on the brighter side of things, Hasara views the recession as a motivator that has allowed his business to adapt and grow.

“The ‘good’ part of the recession is that it has helped us focus on both saving money and being more innovative,” he said. “On the flip side – the recession creates an atmosphere of uncertainty. However, as most small business people realize, that is always going to exist no matter what the general business climate is.”

Despite a few rocky years, Hasara is confident that he is beginning to see improvement.

“Business is steady and has gradually increased since the economic downturn of 2008, but has not yet matched the pre-recession sales,” he said. “We have expanded the role of our establishment to serve as a meeting place for various groups as well as a venue for private parties.” In addition to expanding the role of the Rathskeller, Hasara said that other business changes have been necessary to keep up with the change in technology.

“The Rathskeller has gone from cash only, to accepting selected credit and debit cards,” said Hasara. “We are upgrading our wi-fi connectivity and we have a web presence.”

With summer and “leaf season” being their busiest time of year, Hasara said that his goal for his store is to “thrive and not merely survive.” In order to do so, he and his wife are looking at options for ways of incorporating a more varied retail offering for customers.

Advertising and networking are crucial ingredients for small businesses and according to Hasara, he depends heavily on other local businesses and organizations to work together to build up each other.

“We have benefited from Venture Local and the Main Street Program,” he said. “We network one on one with our business neighbors, provide referrals and participate in promotions such as the current Where's Waldo and the recent StreetFest. One of the factors that makes this a great area is the sense of community that people share. Buying local has an obvious financial impact but it also helps to bring folks together using the original form of ‘social networking.’”

Keeping with the “it takes a village” mentality, Hasara believes that the success of the Rathskeller is dependent on the success of downtown Franklin, which is dependent on the success of his neighbors.

“There is a growing number of downtown establishments that are enhancing the ‘vibrancy’ of the area and we like to think we are part of that trend,” he said.

Just a month after opening, Nantahala Baking and Coffee Co. has quickly picked up momentum as one of Franklin’s newest hangouts. With the addition of live music coming at the end of August, it is certain more Franklin residents will begin finding their way into the store’s relaxing sunroom to hang out.While other community hang outs have been a integral part of Franklin's identity for years, others are just getting their feet wet. One of the newest local hang outs is Nantahala Baking and Coffee Co. located on East Main Street opened just last month by Jen Fox and Jeff Southerland.

Since they first opened, Fox noted that business has been better than expected. “Business has been amazing,” said Fox. “We have been baking more and more everyday. Our breads are selling out daily.”

Each morning, everything in the bakery is made from scratch and the coffee they serve up is brewed fresh daily. Their new location, which is open Wednesday-Friday, features a relaxing sunroom perfect for hanging out or grabbing some bread and coffee to go. In addition to the new store, Nantahala Baking and Coffee Co. can be found at the local Franklin and Highlands farmers markets on Saturday mornings.

According to Fox, the decision to not open the store on Saturdays but instead visit local markets was intended to help support other local merchants. “We have decided to not open our shop on Saturdays and only do two local farmers markets, in hopes of bringing more folks out to the market to support our local farmers,” she said.

In the future, Fox said that as the business continues to grow, Nantahala Baking and Coffee Co. plans to expand their hours of operation as well as the selection they offer customers. “Our goals are to keep growing, adding hours, espresso, coffee roasting, and expanding all of our product lines,” said Fox. “We will be adding a live music event once a month starting Aug. 25 at 9 p.m. We plan to have a place people can come to enjoy great local music and delicious local food.”

Fox said that through the business, she hopes to set an example to her kids that can carry over to the next generation. “As a business and as a family we choose to shop locally, we want to keep our money in Franklin, not in Arkansas or China,” said Fox. “We love being able to tell our customers and our children that what they are eating is local.”

One of Franklin's largest and most popular hang outs is 100 percent free. On any given day, folks can walk outside all around of Franklin and enjoy a pleasant afternoon hanging out on Franklin's Greenway.

The Greenway is a public/private collaboration between Macon County, The Town of Franklin, North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, NC Clean Water Trust Fund, Friends of the Greenway, and countless citizens and community organizations that started about 14 years ago.

It offers a nearly five-mile-long walking trail that meanders along side the Little Tennessee River, a mountain bike trail, several picnic shelters and playgrounds for families, a disc golf course, a boat ramp and canoe put-in area, several fishing spots, a dog park, historic bridges that have been salvaged and put back to work, and, of course, beautiful flora and fauna throughout the trail. With a variety of free resources to the public, the Greenway stands as Macon County's largest and most popular attraction.

In 2001, Friends of the Greenway, Inc., or FROGs, was organized and the non-profit group took over operation of the Greenway. The group of volunteers began working to build the Greenway to become the pride of Macon County.

About 10 years ago, the FROGquarters was built to be "the Gateway to the Greenway," for residents and visitors to Franklin.

"We have been here more than 10 years," said Rose Goode, manager of the FROGquarters. "Our goal is to support the Greenway and work as a non-profit to better it."

The Greenway FROGquarters offers free internet service to customers while they refuel with a cup of coffee and a pastry.The FROGquarters not only has all the information you need to enjoy the facilities and points of interests along the Greenway, but it also has gourmet coffee, a snack bar with cold drinks and pastries, and a gift shop that features arts and crafts from more than 60 local artists. The Greenway headquarters also features free wireless internet. The internet cafe offers an inviting atmosphere, with proceeds going toward keeping the Greenway beautiful for everyone who enjoys it.

According to Goode, business at the FROGquarters has increased this year, but not because of the recession, but because of continued improvements to the Greenway.

"Business is much better this year," said Goode. "Due to the sewer project being complete [at the south end of the Greenway] it was down last year."

With the opportunity to take home unique gifts from the stores gift shop, Goode said that people coming into the store are in search of items that are $10 or less, which she believes to be about the average total of a sale in the store.

Despite the recession, Goode said that the store has continued to operate and provide service to everyone visiting the Greenway.

"We have improved our website and included more information which has helped over the years," she said. "but we haven't had to really change anything over the years."

Working primarily on volunteers, Goode said one goal of the store is to increase the membership of those active in FROGs as well as those who volunteer in the store.

"Our future depends on the people who enjoy the Greenway and who use it," said Goode. "We hope they will continue to support us."

With their busiest time of year being any time weather permits people to use the Greenway, Goode explained that FROGquarters fully understands the importance of supporting the local economy.

"It is important to shop locally to support the local merchants which in turn provides more jobs and helps the economy here."

See next week’s issue for the continuation of the Venture Local series


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