Asheville is a progressive city known for its rich African American history and thriving art community. We tapped local artist Bee Blanton who creates original, hand-drawn illustrations and lettering to illustrate some of the iconic Black-owned businesses and attractions in the community, to highlight their impact in Asheville and what inspired them to create their businesses:
Grind Coffee Co is Asheville’s first Black owned coffee shop and coworking space. They offer organic, high-quality coffee and locally sourced foods, as well as space for collaboration and inspiration for entrepreneurs. Their mission is to use coffee as a unifier to start, grow, and support businesses, owners, and networks to build Black Wall Street, and they provide coworking space, printers, fax machines and a bi-weekly pop up shop model where local business owners can sell their products and services within Grind Coffee Co. In a recent interview with the Citizen Times co-owner J. Hackett expressed why he’s passionate about supporting Black-owned businesses, “Entrepreneurship is one of the quickest ways a marginalized person can build wealth,” Hackett said. “Instead of working a 9-5, they can take their own ideas and build a product they can sell, and that’s how it’s been done for years.”
Located in Depot Street, Grind Coffee Co is nestled in an area of Asheville that’s historically been focused on supporting and displaying local artists called the River Arts District. In recounting why this was an ideal location for Grind Coffee Co to the Citizen Times, he noted, “People need to come together, and if we can be the glue, if people can come together and meet over coffee, folks will get to know each other more, and collaborate.”
Noir Collective AVL is a boutique and art gallery of Black entrepreneurs co-founded by Ajax Ravenel and Alexandria Monque Ravenel. Carrying t-shirts, jewelry, essential oils, and many other handmade items from Black-owned businesses, they describe themselves as a network of wellness warriors, creative activists, social justice visionaries, cultural keepers, and peace makers. The founders were motivated to create Noir Collective AVL after recognizing the need to create income opportunities for entrepreneurs and creatives impacted by the pandemic.
The shop is located in the YMI Cultural Center building, a move made by the founders in a desire to revitalize Asheville’s historic Black business district known as “The Block.” The Block was the economic center for Black Asheville for over 126 years, where dozens of Black owned businesses flourished until urban renewal pushed them out. In a recent interview with The Urban News, co-founder Alexandria Monque Ravenel explained the mission and purpose of Noir Collective, “We believe that in order to achieve collective liberation, our community needs to focus on opening greater opportunities for access that have been historically denied to African Americans.”
Sole 82 is the primary sneaker shop in Asheville, providing a combination of art and shoe drops any sneaker obsessive will love. Owner Tim Green, a native of Asheville, picked the name as a combination of the year Tim’s father graduated from high school, and to represent his own love of the game of basketball. In a recent interview with The Urban News, he shared that the pandemic as well as experiencing a traumatic robbery that almost took his life, forced him to reevaluate his business plan and move Sole 82 to the historic Black business district The Block, in Downtown Asheville. He shared in his Urban News interview that, “this is where I find my synergy. Being on the Block helps me to stay focused and bring my business back to a better place.” The retail store has beautiful interior design, and opens up to an art gallery-like shopping experience, with colorful mood lighting, touchscreen shopping, and cubbies with shoes ranging from Nikes to custom designed Sole 82 sneakers.
The bright and abstract paintings on display are also for sale, providing a unique shopping experience where art extends from the walls to your feet. Tim’s impact can be felt not only in bringing new business to The Block but through his community service, as he regularly donates shoes to those living in local public housing communities.
Wadadli Dessert Oasis is the realized vision of trained pastry chef, Chef Empress J. They provide vegan chef services, catering, and wholesale and retail products of traditional savory Caribbean entrees, artisanal CBD infused edibles, savory pastries, and tropical desserts. As a kid, Empress J spent her summers in Antigua, eating from her grandmother’s cast-iron yabba pot, which many times brought neighbors to their front yard ready to enjoy a meal. In an interview with The Mountain Xpress she recounted this memory of her family’s impact in the community, “My family, up to this day, feeds a lot of the community,” she says. “Antigua is such a great place because everybody takes care of everybody.”
Wadadli Dessert Oasis is committed to maintaining the authentic Antiguan methods of cooking and flavors, sourcing many of their ingredients locally and organically. Their products are creative and healthful and include a wide range of flavors and spices such as the Original Spice Hot Pepper Sauce, Vegan Ackee Patties, and Pineapple Hemp Mega Green Protein Bars.
A business is not just defined by what it sells, but also the stories it tells, and each Black-owned business in Asheville has a unique story of empowerment, resilience, and economic opportunity that has a ripple effect of positive impact within and outside of the community.
Christina Blacken is a writer, performer, and public speaker on the topics of inclusive leadership and culture change, and is the founder of TheNewQuo.com, a leadership development and inclusion consultancy.