25-Year-Old Launches Two Thriving Businesses in Hickory, NC

Fresh out of college, a young man with big ideas saw an opportunity. For the first time since the 1920s’ Prohibition, North Carolina was going to allow people to buy liquor directly from distilleries.

A window had opened, and opportunity beckoned.

N.C. State graduate Zackary Cranford knew he needed to “make hay while the sun rises,” as they say — only in this case, he’d be making bourbon.

His whiskey distillery was to become North Carolina’s first distillery to produce Bourbon (an American spirit by law) in the post-Capone era, so Cranford wanted to set up shop in just the right place. After some soul searching and keen business analysis, he found it.

That place was Hickory, North Carolina. And Cranford was only 23 years old.

Surprised? Youthful entrepreneurship hasn’t always been Hickory’s calling card. But as Cranford demonstrates, with one business booming and another on the way, all that’s changing.

Building a Business in Hickory: The Millennials’ Approach

Cranford — now 25 — grew up in Hickory, later enrolling at N.C. State University and graduating with a double major in entrepreneurship and accounting. It’s safe to say he’s making good on both degrees now.

His first business, Foothills Distillery, ultimately opened just outside of Hickory’s borders, in neighboring Conover.

The business bottles two of its very own liquor brands: Seventeen Twelve and Old Nick Williams. Both have already left the distillery’s walls and hit the wider market. You can find them at ABC Stores, still the state’s biggest supplier of spirits.

Up next on the young man’s entrepreneurial docket: Standard Oyster Company, an oyster bar that he opened on Highway 127 in the Viewmont Business District. It will be the latest entry in Hickory’s maturing dining market.

In both efforts, Cranford has shown a remarkable ability to market his Hickory businesses online. Like many in his generation, he’s well aware of the web as a conversion tool. Seventeen Twelve enjoys an active life on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more.

Word of mouth has made the Foothills Distillery something of a buzz builder (in more than one sense, perhaps) for Hickory’s of-age, under-30 set.

It’s the kind of youth-driven, youth-oriented entrepreneurship experience that Hickory expects to see much more of as its economy continues to climb.

Hickory for Young People: New Business & Fresh Faces Come to Catawba

Young Hickory businesses like Cranford’s are taking off as the metro enters something of a new renaissance. The city has recently made ardent strides toward a Hickory-wide facelift.

All across town, renovated buildings have welcomed new restaurants, shops, offices, and innovative endeavors to their sterling sales floors. One of those factories-turned-flagships became the corporate campus for Transportation Insight, a national corporation that dubbed its new Hickory headquarters a “lifestyle business complex” in 2014.

Meanwhile, plans for a new riverwalk and amphitheater promise measurable growth in the residential quality of life.

Those efforts aren’t lost on Hickory’s young people, nor on the city’s leaders.

The Catawba County Chamber of Commerce now sponsors Hickory’s Edison Project, which helps entrepreneurs get new businesses off the ground with invaluable grant funding.

Similarly, the Center for Commercial and Social Entrepreneurship (CCSE) at Lenoir-Rhyne University helps young business ventures get off the ground with strategy, networking, resource pooling, business planning, and more.

The CCSE is directed by Lenoir-Rhyne professor Dr. Ralph Griffith, himself a successful businessman with an MBA and an eye-popping record of success in business development.

In fact, Dr. Griffith’s story calls Cranford’s to mind. He’d started several companies and sold at least one of them by the time he was 25. Griffith later moved to Hickory to work with Lenoir-Rhyne University in fostering entrepreneurship within the Hickory metro.

Griffith’s talents have helped to set a new tone for the future of Hickory, where “life well crafted” has become as much a mission statement as a motto.

“Hickory and Conover have always been great places for families,” Cranford says. “Now people are seeing that it’s a great place for new businesses, new generations, and modern living too. We’re proud that our Foothills Distillery is a part of that.”


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