I’ll Have the Combo!

Mixed-up businesses are straight-up fun

Sheila Whittenton enjoys an evening of painting at Wine & Design in Cary. Owner Marianne Burt says customers don’t need artistic training to have a great experience.
Sheila Whittenton enjoys an evening of painting at Wine & Design in Cary. Owner Marianne Burt says customers don’t need artistic training to have a great experience.
Claire Kane, left, and Elise Hattingh chat during a pet portrait class. Participants began the class with a photo of their pet printed on canvas — ready for them to fill in with paint.
Claire Kane, left, and Elise Hattingh chat during a pet portrait class. Participants began the class with a photo of their pet printed on canvas — ready for them to fill in with paint.
Bethany Minervino leads several painters, including Elise Hattingh, left, and Claire Kane, through steps to create a wall-worthy pet portrait. Wine & Design instructors are trained to verbally walk clients through the process and to help anyone who needs it.
Bethany Minervino leads several painters, including Elise Hattingh, left, and Claire Kane, through steps to create a wall-worthy pet portrait. Wine & Design instructors are trained to verbally walk clients through the process and to help anyone who needs it.
Kaitlin Walker of Apex laughs as a Nigerian Dwarf goat works on its baa-lance during a Saturday morning yoga class.
Kaitlin Walker of Apex laughs as a Nigerian Dwarf goat works on its baa-lance during a Saturday morning yoga class.
Elliot Worth, 14, of Raleigh, takes a break from yoga to pet a baby goat. Amanda Avery, co-owner of Hux Family Farm, says the goats are “a happy mix between a cat and a dog. They are independent, but they really love attention.”
Elliot Worth, 14, of Raleigh, takes a break from yoga to pet a baby goat. Amanda Avery, co-owner of Hux Family Farm, says the goats are “a happy mix between a cat and a dog. They are independent, but they really love attention.”
Mary Beth Walker of Boone, left, Jean Toleman of Frederick, Md., center, and Marie Walker of Apex signed up for goat yoga at the Hux Family Farm as part of a weekend celebrating Toleman’s 60th birthday. There are 26 goats on the farm as well as sheep, ducks, a pig and a couple of dogs.
Mary Beth Walker of Boone, left, Jean Toleman of Frederick, Md., center, and Marie Walker of Apex signed up for goat yoga at the Hux Family Farm as part of a weekend celebrating Toleman’s 60th birthday. There are 26 goats on the farm as well as sheep, ducks, a pig and a couple of dogs.
Urban Axes is a bar where patrons can also throw axes. “It’s definitely like darts in that you’re throwing something sharp at a target, but bigger,” says general manager Anna Clemency.
Urban Axes is a bar where patrons can also throw axes. “It’s definitely like darts in that you’re throwing something sharp at a target, but bigger,” says general manager Anna Clemency.
Urban Axes coach Zoey Best teaches Sequoia Watkins, left, proper ax-throwing technique. Coaches, or “axperts,” enforce safety rules and must be present in the arena when anyone is throwing.
Urban Axes coach Zoey Best teaches Sequoia Watkins, left, proper ax-throwing technique. Coaches, or “axperts,” enforce safety rules and must be present in the arena when anyone is throwing.
An employee of Morrisville-headquartered Lenovo prepares to throw an ax at a wooden target. Anna Clemency, general manager of the Durham Urban Axes, says the sport is suited to corporate team-building because everyone roots for each other. “I see teams come together, and they have a blast — not only about the ax-throwing, but they’re also interacting with each other.”
An employee of Morrisville-headquartered Lenovo prepares to throw an ax at a wooden target. Anna Clemency, general manager of the Durham Urban Axes, says the sport is suited to corporate team-building because everyone roots for each other. “I see teams come together, and they have a blast — not only about the ax-throwing, but they’re also interacting with each other.”

Some things were meant to be. Jake and Elwood, Anna and Elsa, pie and ice cream — it’s almost impossible to think of one without the other.

Then there are those combinations that seem to make no sense whatsoever. At first, these odd couplings generate head scratches, but acceptance grows as more people investigate, attracted by the novelty. Marianne Burt, owner of Wine & Design in Cary, is one of several area business owners who have capitalized on zany pairings.

“This concept appeals to people because it is so outside their box, outside their wheelhouse,” she said.

Participants are on a level playing field, organizers say, leaving plenty of room for fun.

Wine & Design

In January 2010, Raleigh entrepreneur Harriet Mills placed a Craigslist ad looking for artists to teach people a two-hour class while they’re drinking wine.

“How is this going to work?” Burt recalled thinking when she saw the ad. She and her husband, Craig, had both graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago, but the recession had cost them their income and their house. They needed jobs.

The couple signed on, and once Burt saw delighted customers leave with finished paintings, her misgivings fell away.

“I realized, it’s not about me and my education and my fine art skills, as much as it was about them and them having a new experience,” Burt said. “My skills were in that step-by-step, guiding them through it in a way that would make sense, and they could complete something they were happy with.

“That’s when I realized, this is a concept that is genius.”

In 2011, the couple opened the first Wine & Design franchise in Cary and soon opened a second location in Apex. Between the two studios, there are more than a dozen classes scheduled every weekend. Besides group painting classes, Wine & Design offers track-out camps for kids, off-site art events, team-building corporate events and seasonal craft projects.

Whatever the project, the focus is on the customer experience. The staff artists are trained to entertain, to verbally walk patrons through the process and to read the crowd to figure out who might be struggling.

“Generally, people come in slightly intimidated, a little nervous,” Burt said. “It’s our job to relax them, and the wine does help. I think that’s where the wine thing came in, but there are plenty of people who don’t drink wine, and that’s okay.”

Burt says she finds joy in sparking creativity in other people, especially those who don’t see themselves as artistic. She wants every client to go home saying, “I love this painting. I can’t believe I did this.”

“For me there’s a passion in this business,” she said, “and I love seeing customers satisfied and happy.”

Wine & Design Cary
483 James Jackson Ave, Cary

Wine & Design Apex
5452 Apex Peakway, Apex
wineanddesign.com/locations/

Goats + Yoga

Amanda Avery and Matthew Hux host events and grow herbs on their small livestock farm near Falls Lake, but their Nigerian Dwarf goats are the main attraction.

“That particular breed of goat is more affectionate than some of the other breeds of goats. Naturally, they are very social animals, they enjoy being around people; they enjoy being around the other goats,” said Avery. “They are very cuddly; they like to climb in people’s laps and snuggle.”

The couple bought the four-acre farm nearly five years ago so they could establish a self-sustaining homestead, and the goats were part of that plan. Because their family and friends enjoyed the animals so much, Avery and Hux started holding wellness events that featured time with the animals.

“We were offering meditation with goats when one of our attendees pointed out that goat yoga had started getting recognized in Portland and Arizona,” said Avery. “That was really easy to add in along with what we were already doing. We were able to find some yoga instructors who wanted to teach with us.”

Two or three goat yoga classes are held every weekend, and while clients typically don’t come every week, Avery says there are plenty of repeat visitors.

“We have a lot of people who come, and as soon as they have somebody in town visiting, that’s their excuse to come back and bring their friends,” she said.

In addition to goat yoga, the couple hosts birthday celebrations, bachelorette parties and summer camps for human kids.

“Our motto is bringing smiles and healing souls, and that’s really important because that’s what all the farm animals do — not just the goats,” said Avery. “You don’t have to be anything other than yourself with them, and that’s so empowering for people. I’ve never seen somebody leave without a smile on their face, and that’s a powerful thing.”

The Hux Family Farm
1923 Shaw Road, Durham
huxfamilyfarm.com

Axes + Beer

Anna Clemency, general manager of Urban Axes of Durham, is used to skeptical questions. She admits that a bar offering patrons a chance to throw an ax at a wooden target is out of the ordinary.

“It’s not unusual to be wary of mixing the throwing of sharp objects with a bar, but safety is of utmost importance,” she said. “Most people are aware that they’re throwing an ax, and they should not have too many beers.”

For safety, each player gets a tutorial from an experienced coach, or “axpert,” before any sharp objects start flying. These coaches are present in the throwing arena at all times.

While individuals can come in for a beer and a throw, the activity is most popular with groups of friends or co-workers. Urban Axes arranges competitive tournaments for as few as six people and as many as 150. The average group size is between 13 and 24 players.

The competitions consist of matches with three rounds with five throws each. After players throw their allotted 15 axes, the scores are tallied, and they are put in a seeded bracket. The winner is decided in a single-elimination playoff.

“There’s not a whole lot of things that you can do that are quite like it. It’s just fun, and what makes it so fun is that it’s a completely equal playing field for everybody,” said Clemency. “It’s not necessarily going to be the most athletic person who’s going to win the tournament. Anybody can be good at it.”

She knows this from personal experience. When Clemency answered an ad in Philadelphia a little more than two years ago, she had zero ax-throwing experience. She became one of the company’s original coaches, and moved to Durham to open the Triangle location last year.

“I didn’t know this was a thing, that this was something I could do for a job. It was crazy,” she said. “It ended up being so much more than I even imagined it would be. It’s been the greatest experience.”

Urban Axes
619 Foster St., Durham
urbanaxes.com/durham/

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