“Our favorite times at White Moon are when the community is gathering around and having conversations at our bar and enjoying their morning or afternoon coffee,” said Cecelia White, who co-owns the shop with her fiancé, Don Panicko. “Environment is really important for us here. We wanted to create a space that was welcoming and comfortable for people to gather in. Coffee is the one thing that most people start their day with, and we get to be a part of that.”
Growing up in Charlotte, White attended the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. From there, she worked in retail and hospitality before deciding to put roots back down in her native North Carolina, this time in the western part of the state.
Originally from California, Panicko skipped college and headed for New York City at age 19, where he navigated his way through the hustle and bustle of the service industry. After a while, he wanted a simpler life and hit the open road on a motorcycle trip, ultimately finding himself in Asheville.
And it was in Asheville that the young couple first met in a coffee shop. At that time, White was focusing on apothecary goods, while Panicko was immersing himself in woodworking. Eventually, they secured a small business loan through Mountain Bizworks to combine their passions and open a shop.
“After some time together, we decided to buy a house and looked at towns surrounding Asheville that fit our ideal location,” White said. “We both knew that we wanted to open a spot of some sort [in Sylva], but, honestly, we signed the lease with zero idea of what was going to fill that space and with zero funding.”
Six months after moving into their home in Balsam, they opened White Moon in 2018. Part coffee shop, part small plate gourmet restaurant, the independent business has quickly become a beehive of activity, hosting an array of social events, artisan collectives and live music.
“When Don and I met, I was in the process of branding apothecary goods that I was making in my free time. I was studying herbalism and working on a line of all natural, plant-based soaps, tea blends and syrups,” White noted. “And White Moon was the original name for that product line, so we took on the mindset in starting White Moon the coffee shop. We wanted to continue to bring herbalism and plant-based goodness to our products while sourcing farm fresh veggies from our local community — having a wellness section to our beverage menu and healthy, clean food options is important to us.”
When one steps into White Moon, the space is meant to be as inviting as it is inspirational, a room filled with natural light, shadows and friendly faces, where conversation between friends and strangers alike could be sparked in an instant.
“We opened a business that was simply an extension of ourselves and all of the things that we care about. It was a very honest organic development into what it is now and we had high hopes that the town would be supportive of us,” Panicko said. “Sylva’s landscape offers a lot of opportunity and growth. We feel that in the next few years it has the potential to achieve next level greatness. We hope that future business owners see the gaps in types of businesses and open up shops that are unique and will further strengthen our great town.”
White Moon is located on Mill Street in downtown Sylva. (photo: Keiti Robertson)
Want to go?
White Moon will be launching its new menu and fall hours with a special event at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, at the shop on Mill Street in Sylva.
Alongside the usual wine and craft beer selections, there will be a coffee and dessert menu. Influenced by Israelis and Mediterranean cuisines, the small plate food menu will be vegetarian heavy with spices and fresh herbs incorporated.
There will also be a solo piano performance by Steve Okonsky, keyboardist for Durand Jones & The Indications.
For more information, call 828.331.0111 or find the business on Facebook by searching “White Moon Sylva.”