The award was presented Tuesday during a special luncheon at West Jefferson United Methodist Church. Accepting was River House Inkeeper Gayle Winston and General Manager Sherman Lyle.
Winston thanked all those who have supported the business and her staff including Chef George Gambill. Lyle thanked Winston for bringing him into the business four years ago to “help move the dream forward.” He noted special events being planned this year including a women’s seminar in April and a Celtic festival in the spring.
Lyle thanked those who had nominated River House for this award, and his wife for her support.
In their nomination of River House, Ashe residents Andy and Pam Guion praised the business for providing a holiday dinner to 50 Ashe County people in need last year along with gifts of warm clothing. River House was also a major sponsor of the Junior Appalachian Musicians program in the schools by providing complimentary food and service at their benefit concerts, and provides gift certificates to various local organizations. Other notations in the nomination include recognition for the warm and hospitable service of this fine dining establishment, providing a venue for musicians and artists through the Sunday Salon Series, annual Wine Fest and Blues Festival, promoting other businesses throughout the county, and supporting the chamber of commerce. “As a business, River House is committed to supporting the other businesses in Ashe County by bringing multiple visitors to support and enjoy all that this great county has to offer,” states the nomination.
Gayle Winston, a native of Ashe County, bought the 46-acre property in 1988 She acquired additional property to expand the holdings to 180 acres. She renovated the main house and many of the other buildings to create the historic facility and property now enjoyed by thousands of visitors. In 2009, Winston was honored with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of North Carolina’s highest civilian awards. Read about the fascinating history of River House at www.riverhousenc.com.
In the nomination of River House for the 2011 Small Business of the Year,
As last year’s winner, Ken Sevensky of Gum Ridge Mill and Flying Pig Furniture, presented the award to Winston and Lyle. He spoke of how visitors to Ashe County appreciate the warm welcome they receive from businesspeople and the diversity of small business in the county. He also praised the chamber’s handmade plaque presented to the Small Business of the Year with a design by Raney Rogers and framing by Ashe Woodworking.
Attendees at the luncheon were also treated to an address by Wilkes Community College President Dr. Gordon Burns, celebrating his 15th year with the college. He commended the county’s small business community and recognized the college’s partnership with business through job development and worker training. He encouraged the chamber members and business leaders to petition the General Assembly to continue to support community college funding in order to maintain their important place in the community, and to ask support from Sen. Dan Soucek and Rep. Jonathan Jordan to “fund growth and minimize cuts” in the budget.
WCC saw a 25 percent growth over the past year, Burns said, and the Ashe campus with 40 percent growth outpaced the main campus in Wilkesboro. Even with its new expansion, the Ashe campus has outgrown its space, he said, and there are plans in the works for more educational and parking space. That growth, he said, is a credit to Campus Director Chris Robinson, his staff, and the local business people who support the campus.
Burns said the Ashe campus will have its largest graduating class ever (over 90) this May, and Ashe County resident James Drake has been awarded the WCC Academic Excellence Award.
Burns encouraged business owners to check out the JobLinks center at the college to find help in paying employee wages while they are being trained, and to check with the Rural Center for start-up capital for small business, available through the Federal Small Business Jobs Act of 2010.
Chamber Board President Ed Rodgers told those gathered about statistics released in Asheville that week noting $17 billion in tourism revenue in 2009, up from $16.8 billion in 2008. North Carolina is the sixth most visited state in the union, he said, and Ashe County relies heavily on visitors to the state.