Women in Business

Women in Business: Profiles

wib jeanetteJeanette Evans, owner of Mad Batter Food and Film, Sylva

What came first: your culinary talent or entrepreneurial spirit? 

“Culinary. That’s what still keeps me in the game. The love of cooking. But the cooking is maybe half of it. The other half is management and finances and hiring contractors, how to fix something when it breaks down, how to staff.”

When your immensely popular café in Cullowhee burned down, you faced the classic conundrum: stay in your safe zone or take a risk by reaching for something bigger. What convinced you to take the leap and break into the Sylva restaurant scene?

“Knowing that I wouldn’t be going it alone. We were sitting around in my living room with a core group of staff, and it was them talking about the energy that had been put into it all those years and saying they didn’t want it to die. But I think it is more than we have all expected. We were the go-to place in Cullowhee. We have to reestablish ourselves and build the local clientele and earn the trust of the community.”

What is your secret weapon?

“There is a whole crew of people working really hard to make the business successful, and I am just the leader in a sense. They are contributing their energy and effort and love and passion, too. You need good people that are interchangeable and flexible.”

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wib bernadetteBernadette Peters, owner of City Lights Café and Perk and Pasty, both in downtown Sylva

What did you want to be when you grew up?

“It was never a business owner. I wanted to be a tennis instructor. Then you realize you can’t do that your whole life without being in a lot of pain.”

Was your path as a business owner intentional, accidental or both?

“It was almost by default I started my first business. I worked in business on a corporate level for quite some time in Atlanta. Then I found myself laid off and I started a small business marketing agency. 

As you start getting older you start to think about what the future holds for you. We had a cabin up here and started thinking about what we could do to put us in this area. I had helped some friends with their marketing when they were opening a coffee shop and I noticed the smile they put on people’s faces and how you could make one latte and make someone really happy. In the marketing business, you had to work really hard on one contract to make somebody happy.”

What has been the biggest learning curve for you as a woman in the business world?

“In Atlanta, there is a good old boys club that does business together, so basically, I had to learn how to be a good old boy to hang with them. But you don’t have that issue here. It is more progressive.”




wib marycokerMary Coker, Cataloochee Guest Ranch, Maggie Valley

Smoky Mountain News: The ranch has always had strong female leadership in its workforce and also within your family. What does it mean to you to have all of these women as the face of the business?

Mary Coker: It’s definitely matriarchal. We’re all hard workers. We love these mountains and this area. We want to bring this hospitality and share it with everybody, and we just happen to have a lot of strong women heeding the call here. Not just the people who run the ranch, but also all those who work here. It takes a strong woman to work up here. We love them all because they’re our mothers, grandmothers, sisters and friends. We all work together really well.

SMN: Western North Carolina has a growing female-run business sector. What are you thoughts on that? Have you come across any challenges yourself?

MC: I’m proud that all of these women are coming up and stepping forward, and really shining as business owners and managers. The tide is turning. There were times when maybe someone wouldn’t take you seriously, but it all depends on if you take yourself seriously. As long as you feel good about yourself and your product, we’ll all be here right with you — stick by your guns and stick with it. Be strong and keep with your passion.




wib shelleyallenShelli Allen, Happy Daze Donuts, Franklin

“I always wanted to open a donut shop, my whole life,” Shelli Allen said when asked where the idea for Happy Daze Donuts came from. “It’s just one of those things, because I love donuts.”

When the recession hit, Allen was working for a real estate attorney but soon got laid off as the real estate market crashed. She and her husband James — who also lost his job — went back to school and then began making donuts for the Franklin Farmers Market. In 2013, they opened their shop with just $35 in the till. 

Allen said having the shop is “really fun,” but hard work. She and James get there at 2:30 or 3 a.m. and stay till 5:30 or 6 p.m. But it’s worth it, and she’s learned a lot. 

“I just started with donuts, but they [the customers] are like, ‘Do you make birthday cakes or bread, or can you make me a pie?’” Allen said. “I’ve learned that it’s just good to be able to diversify and grow.”




wib amberslagleAmber Slagle, Village Florist and Gifts, Bryson City

Amber Slagle enjoys her work. She works with flowers, and also atmosphere and mood. 

“Making it look good,” Slagle said. “Making everybody happy.”

Slagle has worked with floral arrangements for quite  while — “Me and my mom have done weddings since I was 16” — and spent the past few years working as a florist at Ingles supermarket. In June, she decided to take a leap and purchased Village Florist and Gifts in Bryson City. 

Running her own business, working with her mom, is an adventure. Maybe more so because she’s a woman. 

“Oh, Lord, yeah,” Slagle laughed. 

Even the small stuff — like dealing with the electric company — can be difficult as woman. 

“Just because your female, when you get on the phone with somebody they think they’re gonna screw you,” Slagle said. “They think you’re a woman, you don’t know what you’re doing, they’re going to pull one over on you.”

And then there’s the routines that traditionally fall to women — taking care of the kids, cooking meals. Throw those in the mix with running a newly launched business and things get really interesting. 

“The woman is supposed to do the cooking, take care of the house,” Slagle said. “I’m here a lot of days until 7 or 8 o’clock at night.”

But the business owner also sees some advantages to being a woman in business. For starters, she tends to handle the more stressful moments with a bit more grace than her husband.

“I have an easier time staying calm,” Slagle laughed. 




wib monicabrownMonica Brown, Fryemont Inn, Bryson City

Monica Brown didn’t set out to run a historic inn. 

“It was really not our plan,” Brown said. 

After meeting her husband while at college, Brown ventured to Bryson City to spend some time with the in-laws, Sue and George Brown, who had purchased the Fryemont Inn shortly before their son went away to school. 

“To just kind of help out,” Brown recalled. “It was really busy, business was booming in the 90s.”

But the young couple ended up liking the area and decided to stick around.

“It just kind of took hold,” Brown said. “We fell in love with the area and the people.”

Brown and her husband now run the Fryemont. Over the years, she has also chaired the Swain County Tourism Development Authority and currently chairs Smoky Mountain Host, which promotes tourism in Western North Carolina.  

Brown doesn’t spend too much time thinking about how being a woman plays into any of these roles. She’s come of age post women-lib, and thankfully always considered her horizons pretty much open. 

“Our world now is more concerned about a person’s merit,” Brown said. “I’ve found that for the most part, if you’re confident in your decision making it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman.”

In some ways, she said, it might be more advantageous to be a woman. Society tends to want to see you succeed. There’s not as much competiveness in interactions, like she has seen amongst men. 

“You can always get someone to carry something for you,” Brown joked. 

But Brown said she understands women do still face an uphill struggle in today’s world — “I’m sure there are some challenges in the corporate structure” — and offered some advice for young women heading into business.

“Learn as much about every aspect of the business as you can,” Brown said. “Learn the business from the ground up, know what everyone else does around you.”




wib marthaholbrookMartha Holbrook, Rosebud Cottage and Mossy Rock, Franklin

Martha Holbrook opened Rosebud Cottage in Franklin in 2007, just as the economy teetered on the edge of collapse. But despite challenging economic times, Holbrook was able not only to upgrade her location from her original shop on Highlands Road — now Rosebud Cottage is a Main Street business — but to open a second business, Mossy Rock, in April 2013. 

“They always say if you own your own business, you work 100 hours a week, and you do,” Holbrook said when asked the secret to her success. “Hard work.”

Holbrook is far from being the only female business owner in Franklin, and she sees that as a good thing. 

“I think women have a sense of being a little more sensitive to people’s needs,” she said. “Not that men aren’t sensitive, but I think that women have a sense of a little broader view of customer’s needs.”




wib copperpotJessica DeMarco, Chef/owner of Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon, Waynesville

Smoky Mountain News: What do you see as the current business climate for women in Western North Carolina?

Jessica Demarco: There's certainly a wide array of resources available in our community to support individuals and women looking to start small businesses. A strong network of “buy local” campaigns exist to aid in marketing and assist in building awareness of new businesses. The economic environment still seems to be an uphill battle. Funding is hard to secure, and it can be challenging to market non-essential products to people who still lack confidence in the strength of our current economy. There are some good programs out there to assist with business funding, although without personal collateral it still may be a challenge to secure sufficient money to start a viable business.

SMN: What are some of the advantages you see in having a female-run business? Are there any challenges or obstacles you've come across?

JD: Personally, the biggest challenge I face as a woman owning a small business is finding a balance between personal and business demands. When we started the business almost four years ago, one of the most appealing aspects of running my own business was having the flexibility in my schedule to work and also care for our three little boys.  While some aspects of having a business can be more on your own terms, overall it’s actually more demanding than working for someone else. While technically Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon is a woman-owned business, it could never be possible without the support of all my family. My brother Dan is our production manager and brand designer.  Our parents help out with the kids, and my husband is beyond understanding of long hours and our ongoing juggle of business and family needs.

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