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2012 North Carolina Small Business Person of the Year
Oscar Wong, President
Highland Brewing Co., Asheville NC
Oscar Wong, President of Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, NC has been named the 2012 North Carolina Small Business Person of the Year. After selling his engineering business and retiring to the North Carolina Mountains, he opened the first brewery in the Asheville, NC area in 1994. Highland Brewing Company now employs 34 people. Wong recently built a new state of the art production facility and tasting room. With the help of an SBA 504 loan of $813,000, from Avista Business Development Corporation, Oscar was able to get needed equipment including giant stainless steel tanks. Combined with a loan from BB&T, the finance package total was $1.9 million.
Wong grew up in a family business in Jamaica. His parents emigrated from China and started a mom and pop grocery store.
With his engineering background, he recognized that commercial dairy tanks would be excellent for the fermentation and storage of his ales. These could be acquired cheaply and re-designed for beer production.
Wong started the brewery with three employees in 4,000 sq. ft. of leased space in the basement of a tavern. Highland then could produce up to 6,500 barrels of beer per year. At that time, the beer was sold in kegs only. The basement had no room for a bottling line.
In their current location, they now can brew over 35,000 barrels annually. Highland offers ten varieties of Ales, Porters, Stouts, Lager and Wheat beers which are sold in seven Southeastern states.
Oscar is exploring new markets for his product. His plans have evolved to offering beer as a component of other products made by small local independent manufacturers. These include mustards, ice cream and shampoo.
Wong has had a tremendous impact on the region. Eight other local breweries have opened in the area. This led to Asheville’s being recognized in 2011 as “Beer City USA” by the National Beer Examiner for the third year in a row. Competing cities for this honor include Milwaukee, San Diego and Portland.
In 2011, The Asheville Chamber of Commerce awarded him the William A.V. Cecil Tourism Leadership Award.
This award recognizes a leader in the hospitality industry who has helped guide the tourism industry for Western North Carolina. The Cecil award named after the owner of the Biltmore Estate and Winery, the largest privately owned residence in the U.S. that brings a million visitors a year to Asheville.
Oscar routinely gives back to his community. He supports organizations like the local ARC (previously the Association of Retarded Citizens and the Manna Food Bank. Oscar is also active in the Rotary Club and the Asheville Chamber of Commerce.
Highland offers tours of the brewery complete with a tasting for a donation to the food bank or a contribution of non-perishable food as the price of admission. Highland provides a venue for several non-profit fundraisers and also actively supports the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, The Blue Ridge Parkway, Trout Unlimited and more. Oscar and his wife Anna have two daughters.