All roads lead home to Beattyville, Lee County for young entrepreneur
BEATTYVILLE, Ky. – When Dustin Cornett left Beattyville in the early 2000s to attend Western Kentucky University, he thought he would never return. His journey took him as far away as Japan.
But home is where your heart is, and Cornett’s heart is in Beattyville.
Dustin and his wife, Mai, who he met and married while working in Japan, are the proud owners of the Chocolat Inn and Café in Beattyville, which opened in September.
“We have had an awesome start,” said Dustin, 34. “We have been welcomed by the community, and the word is getting out about the uniqueness of our Inn and Café.”
So, what is unique about the Chocolat Inn and Café?
It starts with the name. Dustin’s mother, Donna Cornett, who passed away in 2009 to cancer, was affectionately known as the Purple Lady around Beattyville. He named his chocolate company, Purple Lady Confections, in honor of his mother. Dustin’s grandmother, Rosemary Chandler, was an expert at making vanilla cream and butter cream recipes, and learned to make candy when she lived in West Virginia. He honors her with a rose in the logo.
“Cornett is French, and I have taken what I have learned from my mother and grandmother and incorporated that with my love for chocolate, and that was how the name Chocolat was formed,” said Dustin. “I wanted to do something to remember my mother and grandmother and their influence they had in my life.”
“Why not,” said Dustin.
It wasn’t exactly an easy road when Dustin and Mai returned from Japan in 2014. Their stay in Beattyville was supposed to be temporary.
“We actually thought we wanted to move out west where there were more opportunities and more of an Asian community,” recalled Dustin. “When Mai came to Beattyville, she fell in love with the place, and we wanted to make this our home.”
Dustin started making his chocolate, which he makes from the cocoa bean, in 2014 and selling it at festivals and other events. Like most aspiring entrepreneurs, he didn’t know exactly how to turn his passion into a thriving business.
Opportunity knocked, and Dustin and Mai answered later that year when a local building owner allowed them to start a co-op in a building they called the Art Factory. Dustin and Mai renovated the building and were able to operate the building rent free for three years.
“The building was much more than we needed for our coffee shop and café, so we adopted a co-op model,” said Dustin. “This allowed us to reach out to other aspiring entrepreneurs. We had a tattoo artist, an artist and photographer, and a person that did audio recordings. It suddenly became a thriving part downtown, and it opened the door for those who had ideas to turn them into a reality.”
A chance encounter
Dustin felt some resistance when he identified the old Tincher Motel in Beattyville as a place to house an inn and café.
“Sometimes it feels that everybody wants something, but there are just a few people to take the risk,” he explained.
In 2014, Dustin and Mai were selling their gourmet chocolates at the Woolly Worm when they met a local banker.
“I guess I just unloaded on him,” Dustin laughed. “I had this dream of the Chocolat Inn and Café, but I needed to find someone that was willing to take a risk on me. Many looked at the idea as one with too many uncertainties.”
One of the uncertainties was that the old Tincher Motel was run down. It had also been home to some apartments and had a reputation of being in a shady part of the town.
“Perception is reality, and it was my intention from day one to turn that perception around and house a world-class inn and café on this property,” said Dustin.
Dustin remembers the day he met a bank president. His decision turned Dustin’s dream into a reality.
“I was nervous, but I was certain that my passion would be displayed,” said Dustin. “This is something I wanted to do not only for us, but for the people of Beattyville and Lee County and all of those who visit the area for its natural beauty.”
It worked. The bank financed the project. Dustin and Mai worked with contractors to gut the building from top to bottom.
Dustin and Mai personally designed the rooms, which are themed from cities they have visited across the globe. Room themes include Paris, London, East Berlin, West Berlin, New York City, and Osaka (Japan). They are currently renovating the final two rooms at the inn.
Another benefit is access to high-speed broadband. Thanks to the investments of Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative (PRTC), the Chocolat Inn and Café has access to 1 giga-byte speed.
“This is a great benefit to our business and our guests,” said Dustin. “The investments made by PRTC have allowed us to promote Beattyville and our inn and café to a global clientele.”
The future of Appalachia Kentucky
Dustin believes the answer to the problems facing Appalachia Kentucky are multi-faceted, but entrepreneurship is a big piece to the complex puzzle.
“That’s one of the things I like about what SOAR is doing,” said Dustin. “They are shedding a light on the entrepreneurs and the possibilities for entrepreneurship across the region.”
Several of the goals outlined in SOAR’s Regional Blueprint involve entrepreneurship. They include:
- To create more and expand small businesses within the region by taking full advantage of the digital economy; and
- Establish Kentucky’s Appalachian region as a tourist destination.
Dustin firmly believes that he is a part of something special in Beattyville.
“Our proximity to the Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge is a tremendous asset,” he said. “On top of that, Lee County is home to some world-class rock climbing and mountain bike trails. I think a big part of our future hinges on us working together to be a true tourist destination.”
Dustin has created a new hashtag for his efforts #letsgotoBeattyville.
“I’m vested in Beattyville and Lee County,” he added. “Through the help of organizations like SOAR, people are getting connected to the resources to build a brighter future for Appalachia.”
For more information on the Chocolat Inn and Café, call (606) 260-0918 or visit www.chocolat-inn.com.