by Gene Ettison

Being an Asheville native, I remember the somewhat bustling African American economic scene that once dwelled here. From Mr. Miller’s cab stand on Montford Ave, to Chef Hanan Shabazz’s baking and pastry shop on Biltmore Ave., to being able to get a nice fried chicken lunch with baked mac & cheese and fried okra as sides from Green’s Mini Mart on Depot Street. Even though I wasn’t born when these areas had multiple minority-owned businesses, I was still able to be touched by the pride that these people made me feel as a youth and the dignity that these establishments brought to an entire community and race of people.

But for so many years thereafter, I felt hollow and empty as I matured because I knew a void had begun to build as I looked around for mentors and programs that could help me reflect those images of my childhood; they simply no longer existed! Things like that store credit from corner store owners that understood a single mother’s plight when my mom couldn’t afford the loaf of bread and the eggs all in one trip, the neighborhood candy trucks that started to disappear, and my neighbors no longer having the same skin hue as me. Please don’t misunderstand my statement. Diversity is an amazing thing and fully supported when consideration for ALL is the conversation. The same programs that caused these small businesses in low-income communities to dry up or these properties in black communities to be acquired should have somehow come with components to teach business accruement and business structure for long sustainability to a community that needed it most, people in poverty!

It was those humble beginnings and the need to help my community garnish that feeling of dignity I once felt that fueled my drive to become an entrepreneur. I know it sounds insane, but for me the money was secondary to creating an enterprise that could provide a service or product that the African American community was lacking here in Buncombe County. But more specifically, to help curb the astronomical joblessness rate that faces us here in the city of Asheville. It was Ms. Stephanie Twitty and the Eagle Market Street Organization that gave me a renewed sense of hope and belief that had been lost for us in this region.

The financial literacy partnerships through Mountain Biz Works and AB-Tech Community College gave the core competencies of accounting and basic business structuring, and the one-on-one business and life coaching with private business owners walking you through every step from concept to reality were priceless. Someone asked me just the other day was the IDA program real? I told them, “The IDA is the flour, butter and milk. You have to make the biscuits but all the ingredients are provided!” I’m grateful for my time spent with Eagle Market Street, and I’m happy to be a champion for that program and cause. But more than anything, I’m grateful for being an advocate for the revitalization of black entrepreneurship and asset acquirements for
African Americans once again here in Asheville.

Gene Ettison

Chef, Business Owner

Chef Gene Ettison is the founder of The Ettison Group and a rising Chef and Garagistes from the craft-beer capital of the world, Asheville, North Carolina. Chef Ettison is an Alumni of Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College’s Culinary Program. His goal is to expand the palate of all people, both young and old. His concentration for his brand is to provide a five-star dining experience to an audience that may be unable to afford an expensive bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a perfectly aged filet.

Find out more about our IDA program

Eagle Market Streets’ IDA Program is a Matched Savings Program that provides capital for microenterprise businesses and higher education. Let us help you make a difference in your life and business.