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From college to table: How Tri-County Community College supported a restaurant beyond the kitchen

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  • Jump in your car and take a drive to The Crown, a restaurant in Clay County. Along the way, read this story about small businesses, community colleges, investing in community, and why saying things out loud matters. #Impact58

There is a restaurant in Brasstown in Clay County called The Crown. It is 432 miles from Wilmington, 357 miles from Raleigh, 240 miles from Charlotte, and 113 miles west of even Asheville.

It is worth the drive.

Donna and Robert Forsyth are the owners. Robert grew up here, and his best friend’s grandmother owned the property.

“My life purpose is building community,” he said.

When the property became available, the Forsyths bought it, and even though they say they aren’t restaurant people, they built this beautiful space for people to gather.

The pavilion regularly hosts music and dancing.
Chef de partie Parker Adamovich attended the early college at Tri-County Community College.

Tri-County Community College partners with small businesses, like The Crown

Tri-County Community College — which serves Cherokee, Clay, and Graham counties — has an annual economic impact of $49.2 million on the region.

This report finds:

TCCC is a vital asset to regional employers. Specifically, the college adds highly-trained human capital to the regional workforce and provides training for local businesses at the Small Business Center. TCCC’s Small Business Center is designed to increase the success of the small businesses in the region. The Center provides quality assistance to businesses in the form of workshops, seminars, confidential counseling sessions, information resources, and more. In turn, this helps strengthen the regional labor market through increased job creation and retention.

“Let me tell you an interesting story,” said Paul Worley, the executive director for workforce and government relations at Tri-County Community College, on the night he and I are meeting at The Crown.

He first met Donna five years ago, when a Clay County commissioner had suggested that Donna reach out to him.

The first time Worley visited the property, it was to talk about how to get a right-of-way from the road up to the restaurant. The access road needed to be wider, and it needed to be paved.

On the evening we visited The Crown, the pavers had just finished up.

The Crown first opened in September 2019 and then re-opened during COVID-19 in 2021.

The community college helps small businesses with everything, the Forsyths said. Worley and his team help with things like right-of-ways and septic systems. The small business center helps with business plans and budgets, market research, and hiring.

“It’s been a great partnership,” Donna said. “As somebody who doesn’t know anything about business to be able to get that help that you need.”

Paul Worley, Robert and Donna Forsyth, and Aaron Patton, director of customized training at the community college.

Why it is important to say things out loud

“We’re a little bit of a unicorn,” Robert said. “The idea of a restaurant in the middle of nowhere.”

Locals come from the neighboring counties, but many of those who frequent The Crown drive from north Georgia. Being in the mountains brings visitors in for the summer.

While The Crown is known for craft cocktails as well as its regional and international cuisine, it is not just a restaurant. There is a wellness center with yoga classes and a massage therapist. There are Airbnbs on the property, and Donna has an art studio called Souldance.

The building that is the restaurant now was a wood shop, and the Tri-County team helped the Forsyths envision how to make use of the existing infrastructure on the property.

Robert Forsyth grew up and moved away from Clay County.

He said it was coming back to this place that he learned who he is and why he is like everyone else in Clay County he grew up with. He learned “the importance of being connected to myself and my roots.”

“I wanted to create more meaning in my life,” Robert said. “And one way of doing that is saying out loud: ‘This is my life’s purpose.'”

Saying things out loud, Robert said, starts making things happening in your life, moving you in the direction you want to go.

For the Forsyths, that looks like investing in this place they both love to co-create community.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.