UNG graduates take on entrepreneurship in downtown Dahlonega

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Dahlonega, Georgia is known for its golden historic roots and opportunity for breathtaking outdoor adventures. However, an important piece of Dahlonega’s appeal can be found in the historic square downtown, which is filled with one-of-a-kind local shops and businesses. Interestingly, a number of these local businesses are currently owned and run by former graduates of the University of North Georgia who decided to take on their entrepreneurial dreams and make this small mountain town their home. Together, these local entrepreneurs have helped preserve Dahlonega’s small town charm, but also bring an irreplaceable sense of community. These individuals are an inspiration to both local residents and the growing student population in town, their stories shining beacons of hope, because here in the small town of Dahlonega, entrepreneurial dreams really can come true.

Owner of Fudge Factory, Tony Owens with his oldest daughter. (Photo by Jane O’Gorman)

Who Knew Following Your Dreams Could Be This Sweet?

Local business owner and entrepreneur Tony Owens graduated from the University of North Georgia in 1997 with a major in marketing and a minor in business management. During his first few semesters at UNG, Owens thought he wanted to be a physical therapist and was on a pre-med track. However, he decided that wasn’t the direction he wanted to go, and made the switch to business his sophomore year. “I knew I may eventually want to own my own business,” said Owens. Yet, little did Owens know that many years down the road, he would be living in his college town as the successful owner of well-known candy store, The Fudge Factory, in the Dahlonega square.

The beginnings of The Fudge Factory came into sight in 1973 when the Owens family moved to Dahlonega. Tony’s mother, Debbie Owens, always loved visiting a small chocolate shop in the town where they lived previously. So, in 1980, when Tony’s dad took a position change at the post office and moved to Gainesville, the opportunity to explore other possibilities presented itself. Soon after, Debbie began working at Hansel & Gretel, a candy store in Helen, Georgia where she learned about making candy. At last her dream of starting a candy store in Dahlonega became a real possibility, and so the sweet inspiration for The Fudge Factory began.

In 1982 The Fudge Factory was opened in Dahlonega by John and Debbie Owens at its original location, where the Gold City Growlers, owned by Chad Wimpy is currently located. However, the store didn’t stay there long as in 1983 The Fudge Factory moved into the space that is now J.R. Crider’s until finally moving to its current location in the square in 1984. For Tony Owens, the journey began in 2006 when his parents called and said they couldn’t keep up with the business anymore. They offered him first right of refusal, and in 2007, Tony began his transition into being sole owner of The Fudge Factory.

Tony Owens making sandwich at Corner Kitchen. (Photo by Lauren Porter)

Although Tony found his efforts at The Fudge Factory to be fruitful, his entrepreneurial dreams led him to take a risk on beginning a second business. In 2013, Baked on Main opened for business in downtown Dahlonega, but unfortunately, the bakery’s business was not strong enough to keep it afloat longer than 6 months. “It was bleeding money so I had to make the very difficult decision to close it,” said Owens.

Despite closing Baked on Main and leasing the space out, Tony’s dreams of starting up his own bakery weren’t smothered. The concept of The Corner Kitchen was born, and now, a year and a half later, the shop is starting to pay for itself. Tony’s businesses allow him to make sandwiches, chocolates and baked goods. “As an entrepreneur you can’t let failure stop you,” Tony said. Without taking risks there is no way to know how you can succeed.
Making people happy and seeing the joy that his businesses bring people is Tony’s favorite part of owning The Fudge Factory as well as The Corner Kitchen. “Food makes everyone happy, especially good food,” said Owens.

Father and Son Tag Team Entrepreneurial Dreams

Father and son Alumni, Derrell and David West, both graduated from UNG and are current entrepreneurs in Dahlonega. Derrell graduated in 1964, and currently owns West Cleaners and Carpet Store in downtown Dahlonega. His son, David, graduated from UNG in 1997 with a Bachelors of Science degree. After teaching for a few years, working at Home Depot, and taking a stab at running his father’s carpet store, David decided to change direction again. He is currently a Lumpkin County Building Inspector, and in his spare time, uses the basement of his father’s carpet store as a workshop for his own woodworking business. David is currently making uniquely designed wine bottle holders as well as various types of furniture, and is in the process of designing a website to showcase his work.

An Entrepreneur’s Love Story

Chad and Nicole Wimpy, high school sweethearts, current entrepreneurs and co-owners of several local businesses including Jolie Day Spa, The Marketplace, and Gold City Growlers, graduated from UNG in 1995. While attending UNG, Chad was an accounting major who dreamed of opening his own accounting business downtown. Both Chad and Nicole were born and raised in Dahlonega, and chose to stay in Dahlonega post graduation due to the connection they felt to the town. Having grown up in Dahlonega, all of the couple’s family and friends were in town. “Dahlonega is a really special place for us, and to be able to do what we do in the town where we both grew up has made it all even more special,” said Chad.

Following graduation, Nicole found work as an accountant while Chad worked for a trucking company as a dispatcher. However, when the economy crashed they both needed to make some life changes, and decided to test their entrepreneurial skills. “We are both entrepreneurs at heart,” said Nicole. Jolie Day Spa came first in 2009, offering everything from manicures and hairstyles to eyelash extensions, nails and more. However, the spa faced serious challenges as it was opened in a less than ideal economy. Yet, the duo was able to make it through these economic challenges successfully. Chad said “we persevered, worked really hard, and only a few years later we were looking towards opening our second business.”

When the opportunity presented itself, Chad and Nicole bought The Dahlonega Marketplace, a special events venue located in the Dahlonega square, which mainly hosts various local business and UNG greek life events. However, taking over the Marketplace did not come without its own set of challenges, and as Chad said, “working with the city took a lot of time and patience.” Since the city of Dahlonega wouldn’t let The Marketplace to sell alcohol during events, allowing people to bring their own alcohol into the Marketplace was a lot of risk with no revenue for Chad and Nicole.

Pear Cider at Gold City Growler. (Photo by Lauren Porter)

Ironically, working to remedy to this problem was how the idea for the Growler was born. In 2014 Gold City Growler, a local destination to purchase craft beer and cider, was opened and the couple quickly found that combining the businesses was actually a great way to cross market. Now, if drinking is desired during Marketplace events, guests are able to purchase alcohol packages through the Growler. This past year, the city has allowed the Growler to sell flights, which are beer and cider tastings for $6. “The Gold City Growler is a relaxed environment and fun place to hangout with friends or even study,” said Nicole.

Both Nicole and Chad’s favorite part about being entrepreneurs are the relationships they’re able to make with customers and clients, but they also value keeping their familial relationships close. The couple’s parents help them in their entrepreneurial endeavors considerably as they handle repairs, maintenance, catering and keeping the two in prayer. “We couldn’t do it without our tribe,” said Nicole.

Working together, Chad and Nicole are a great team, the dynamic duo that does it all. Even though it can sometimes be tricky both living and working together, the two compliment each other well. Nicole is all about brainstorming for ideas and Chad is more of a “doer.” Though the two have weathered several entrepreneurial storms together, they have come out the other side successful by remaining open to the opportunities and possibilities. Looking forward, Chad and Nicole have plans to continue expanding their current businesses in downtown Dahlonega, their treasured college town and forever home.

1 Comment on UNG graduates take on entrepreneurship in downtown Dahlonega

  1. RP Alpharetta, GA // November 15, 2017 at 5:17 pm // Reply

    I love this article and way Lauren describes the connection between the community and local small business owners. It’s important that small business owners follow their dreams and that local communities support the local businesses that work so hard to support their wants and needs.

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