For those who might not be familiar with Cherokee, North Carolina, we have the largest employer in the western part of the state, but it is slim when it comes to food choices. We have just a few fast-food restaurants and your basic standard sit-down restaurants. Nothing higher-end unless you eat in the casino.
A few years ago, A new eatery popped up in town. It was called “Grounded.” With the excitement of the prospect of a new restaurant, we all could not wait to see what they had to offer.
Today I am interviewing the Owner and Operator of Grounded, Corey Coggins. He is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a Native of the area.
Here is a little back story on Mr. Coggins. Corey was born in raised in Cherokee, NC. His parents are downtown entrepreneurs as well, and they own and operate a very successful business. Mr. Coggins graduated from Swain County High School and went on to Mars Hill University to obtain his degree in the business industry. After completing his degree, he opened his first business, a clothing boutique with a hair salon combo.
Mr. Coggins has an excellent eye for finding a business that we lack here in Cherokee. Like most WNC, we have to drive over an hour to shop at something other than Walmart. At Mr. Coggin’s boutique, called the Mansion, he was offering affordable fashion as well as the chance to change your look. It was a one-stop-shop for fashion overall.
After years of success, he decided his time with that business had run out, and he was ready to sell and move on to the next project. That is when he had the idea for Grounded. He wanted to offer a high-end coffee shop and eatery. Offering things that we are not able to get anywhere here in Cherokee. Opening Grounded was a challenging undertaking for Mr. Coggins. He had never been in the restaurant business before but was determined to learn and achieve his goal.
Mr. Coggins knew that the likely hood of failure was high, but he used those odds to drive him to success. Here are a few questions I asked. Mr. Coggins in our interview:
Corey, what does it mean to you being a successful business owner in Cherokee?
Growing up, the majority of businesses were based on the tourist industry, including my parents. I wanted to bring something in that was different. I frequently visit more prominent cities, and I love having a wider variety of options. We need that here in Cherokee. We need to keep up with what’s going on outside our borders. With that being said, I decided that opening a higher-end coffee/eatery was the direction I needed to go. Most businesses once were mostly non-native operated, and the building was leased from an EBCI member. We are seeing a shift in that now. For example, my property is leased from an EBCI member, and the business is owned and operated by an EBCI member. I try to keep my staff as much EBCI as possible. That is helping the community from every angle. I love my community, and I genuinely believe that my success is my nation/community success. I am proud to be Cherokee and proud to help diversify my community.
Why shift into a new type of business when what you were doing was so successful?
In the small business world, I have found my area of expertise is a start-up, from idea to gaining actual profit. I have become very good at planning, researching, implementing, and sustaining a business. Though I have only completed this once on my own, I have partnered in several other business ventures. With the boutique at the point where it was no longer breaking even, I had built up the clients and reputation in the community. I took that as my cue to start something new. Before COVID, I was reaching that point with Grounded, but now a lot has changed. With the setbacks, I am currently reworking the menu and overhauling the space. The costs of my products have increased exponentially, and now is the time to make a shift. It will take me several years to get back where we were, but I feel blessed to open my doors still.
What advice would you give someone wanting to open a small business in Cherokee?
Reserch, reserch, reserch. The laws can be different here, and knowing those will help you get your foot in the door. Also, take the time to get to know your community. As EBCI members, we are very proud of what we have and how far we have come. The more people learn about us and how they know and incorporate our culture into their business, the better received. For example, some of our road names are in Cherokee, I appreciate it when I walk into a business, and the non-native worker knows how to say it correctly. They took five minutes outs of their day to learn something as simple as that. Way to go! I have seen several businesses go as quickly as they came due to the locals’ lack of support. We are seasonal, and we need locals to help us stay afloat in the off months. Also, make sure you are sending the correct message to your customers. My prices tend to be much higher than others due to the higher quality of products. I have always made that very clear. When you come to Grounded, you reach for the quality, allowing my customers to know what to expect. I also put a lot of time into the look of my building. I wanted you to feel like you were in a larger city when you walked in my doors.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself passing on the restaurant to its new owners and starting my next venture. At this time, I am not sure what that will be. I am very involved in the family business, and as it grows, I might be pulled more in that direction. We just opened a Brewery and Grill on the other side of town. There is a lot of growth we still have there. Covid slowed our opening, but we have hit the ground running with that, and I can not wait to see how our first summer season works out. I do not see myself much out of Cherokee. I like being involved here. As a business owner, I feel connected with my community, and I enjoy that. I also want to continue to grow. The sky is the limit, and I am a sponge to advise and knowledge. I love collaborating with other people and listening to their counsel on the current market and where they think it’s headed.
I had a great time talking with Mr. Coggins. He is an excellent asset to our community, and we are lucky to have him. I can not wait to see what new ideas he brings our way. I love the idea of growth for our little town. It keeps people like me here versus always having to run out of town for those goods we desire.
With working with Cherokee Central Schools, I am always seeking mentors or examples for our youth. The casino has brought many blessings, and I hope that our young EBCI members can have the courage and drive to go after their dreams. Mr. Coggins is someone who I would consider bringing in to speak with our students. Often words of wisdom are received better from our involved and successful community members. We are all here to our youth make a better future.