Today we chat with Elyssa & Dave Nastalski, founders of Dogwood County Club in downtown Raleigh.
This Q&A is a part of our series called interviews with locals where we interview local Raleigh business owners and entrepreneurs to share their story with our community.
Where did you grow up and go to school? How long have you lived in Raleigh?
ELYSSA: I grew up right here in Raleigh. I went to high school at Cardinal Gibbons, then stuck around for college at N.C. State. I wasn’t born here, but it’s just about all I know. I think we’re coming up on 24 years since my family moved to North Carolina for my dad’s job.
My parents are originally from Pennsylvania and spent a good decade hopping around the country, but they say that once they found Raleigh they knew it was their forever home.
DAVE: I grew up in Baltimore and went to high school at Loyola Blakefield in Towson, MD. I began my college career at the College of Charleston. I couldn’t quite find my path there, so after a short stint, I moved to Raleigh to attend N.C. State with a focus in PGA Golf Management and a minor in journalism.
Honestly, I drove through the campus on a trip back to Baltimore and fell in love with Hillsborough Street and the Brickyard. It just felt like home and the people seemed very nice.
How did you get into the industry you are in now?
ELYSSA: The quickest, easiest answer is Dave. The longer explanation starts with the fact that I could never find a career that suited me. I wound up pursuing two college degrees after switching majors more times than I can count and interning all over the place.
Dave and I met in college and instantly clicked. He had gotten involved with a golf startup that was bringing a new product to market, so I offered to lend a hand with the marketing knowledge I had.
Anyone who’s worked in a small business/startup will tell you that it’s really more of an “all hands on deck” situation. I was in charge of marketing, but I also did any and every job that was needed until I worked my way into a position as company partner. In the process, I discovered that I absolutely love entrepreneurship and I love the game of golf.
DAVE: The Golf Management program at N.C. State had a big influence here. Although I didn’t take the traditional club professional route, my internships while in school helped unveil a passion for teaching, coaching and entrepreneurship.
Give us your 30 second elevator pitch for your business?
Dogwood Country Club is an urban golf facility in the heart of downtown Raleigh. You can play full rounds of golf indoors at over 100 championship courses and practice on the same technology the professionals use.
We offer private golf instruction, three classes of membership, hourly rentals for the public, league play, golf merchandise & accessories, private events, and more!
Most popular product you sell at your business?
The TRUE Linkswear line of golf and lifestyle shoes. With both knit and waterproof designs, they’re not only great for the golf course, but also transition seamlessly into everyday wear.
They’re designed with “zero drop,” which tends to fit the foot more comfortably and give the user a feeling of almost being barefoot. There’s a bit of a cult following within the Dogwood community.
Your favorite product you sell at your business?
ELYSSA: It fills our hearts every time we see someone making memories with us or getting excited when they experience what we’ve built for the first time.
So in that regard, I love “selling” the experience of a Dogwood bay rental. But for tangible products, I designed a Raleigh needlepoint hat with Smathers and Branson that’s one of our favorite things to wear (and see worn!).
DAVE: I love to see brand new golfers get into the game. Dogwood is a breeding ground for that sort of thing. Throughout the pandemic we saw a big spike in the number of golfers and my favorite line echoing from the bays is always, “I can’t believe how fun this is!” Elyssa also designed a needlepoint belt that shows the Raleigh skyline and all the major landmarks in the area. I wear it all the time.
If you had a friend visiting from out of town, where in Raleigh would you take them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
- For breakfast, Big Ed’s without hesitation. There’s just something about the good ole’ country cookin’ and very unassuming atmosphere that makes you feel right at home. Not to mention the family that owns it is the salt of the earth. I think that’s one of the best welcomes you could ever give to an out-of-towner.
- For lunch, I’m going with Beasley’s Chicken and Honey. I don’t know that we can leave Ashley Christensen off the list. And Beasley’s does not disappoint.
- For dinner, the Stanbury. The atmosphere is perfect in my mind. It’s very laid back, yet still feels like the vibe was very intentionally executed. The menu is phenomenal. And I love that it’s a bit lesser known.
- For breakfast it’s hard to not pick Big Ed’s, but if I had to highlight a second it would be NOFO @ the Pig. Its a cool vibe with a neat shop attached carrying all kinds of little gifts from the Oak City.
- My lunch go to is The Station at Person Street. It’s the Oakwood neighborhood dive, but there’s something about the atmosphere that I’m always drawn to.
- For dinner, if there’s a game on you gotta head to Tobacco Road Sports Cafe & Brewery – best sports bar in town with awesome American fare and some great brews. If no game and you’re looking for an experience, head to the Angus Barn and ask for the wine cellar tour after your meal. You can’t beat it.
Best thing about living in Raleigh?
ELYSSA: I always say that I love that it’s a capital city with the feel of a small town. You really get to know each street, each business, each person. I think that in big cities, everyone is hustling and bustling so much they pass each other by. And giant, corporate chains also tend to rule the roost.
Here in Raleigh, it’s different. Yes, we’re the capital of North Carolina, but our downtown is over 90% independent, local small business owners. It’s full of character you can’t find anywhere else. I adore that.
DAVE: I love the cleanliness, the friendliness and the walkability. Since moving downtown, we walk EVERYWHERE. I hope it doesn’t ever get so big that you’ve gotta take Ubers or cabs to get where you want to go.
Least favorite thing about living in Raleigh?
ELYSSA: The rapid growth we’re seeing is bittersweet. I know that in so many ways it’s a good thing. It can just come with a lot of headaches and concerns.
DAVE: Corporate business and endless skyscrapers coming in, which is altering the fabric of downtown and the culture many of our residents know and love. The culture is what built this city, and it’s very unfortunate that many small businesses are being priced out and pushed out.
Can’t miss experience or attraction in Raleigh?
ELYSSA: North Carolina Museum of Art. I’ve always been a huge fan of the arts. And long before they added that beautiful naturally lit West wing, I loved it for some of the permanent pieces as well as the grounds of the museum park.
How neat is it that they found a way to completely immerse you in art outdoors? You can bike, run, picnic. (Tip: Check out the Cloud Chamber. It’s always been a favorite of mine.) The West building is absolutely stunning. And we house an impressive collection, as well as some amazing traveling exhibits.
DAVE: Go to a Canes game. They are absolutely electric! Especially if you can catch something in the playoffs.
Your favorite business in Raleigh that you like to frequent?
ELYSSA: I get a real kick out of DECO. It’s my go-to for unique finds, thank you gifts, and greeting cards. It’s just a little shop full of fun.
What excites you about doing business in Raleigh over the next 5-10 years?
ELYSSA: Back to the bittersweet growth! While it can feel overwhelming, it’s also very invigorating. I love knowing that our city is getting incredible recognition, which could mean really amazing things for businesses.
And being established here through this population explosion, it feels like we’re all really helping to shape this city as it comes into its own.
DAVE: I think there are going to be even more people coming here from all walks of life. I really enjoy connecting with others and learning about their lives and stories.
We strive to keep our business very warm hearted and welcoming — it’s 100% part of our creed and mission. We want to help nurture this idea of community and culture and keep the small business fire burning hot in the hearts of our residents and visitors of Raleigh!
What concerns you about doing business in Raleigh over the next 5-10 years?
ELYSSA: I have a big fear that we’ll see a decline of local, independent retailers. Especially being in business around here, it feels like the little guy is getting pushed out for big corporate dollars left and right.
A lot of small businesses can’t afford this surge in demand and doubled or tripled rent rates.
Which local Raleigh entrepreneur inspires you to do better?
Patrick Shanahan, who’s part owner of Watts and Ward and the Ark Royal Tiki Bar. I’ve known him for most of my life, which makes him like a big brother to me. He’s an artist at heart, and his creativity is unrivaled, which brings so much character to his projects.
He has also a “sky is the limit” mindset. When Dave and I chat business with him, he always has 100% belief in our ability to make just about anything happen. We’re big dreamers and finding that same energy is rare and invigorating.
I really look up to Alex Amra at Tobacco Road. He’s become a brother to me and always lends a hand whenever I need it. From offering backup kegs to letting us borrow tables and linens for events, or bringing sandbags for a flooding terrace, he’s always there to help settle the chaos that is running a small business. If you get a chance, have lunch or dinner at Tobacco and meet him. He’s normally rummaging around and always with a big old smile.
Secondly, my in-laws Pam and Dean Dornic. They have an ophthalmology practice and I’ve never seen a more dedicated doctor. They always go out of their way to do what’s right. But they also just recently got into the brewery world over in five points. It’s called Nickelpoint and this place is absolutely nuts. It fits their ‘out-of-office’ vibe so well — and I really enjoy people who own their style and stay true to who they are.
Rumor has it, they’re going through a rebrand and change of location soon. But I’m sure the double decker bus and goldfish pond with the lily pads is here to stay!
What advice you would give to someone wanting to start a business in Raleigh?
ELYSSA: Be genuine. People can tell when something is coming from the heart. If you’re true to yourself, every day is more fun and things will turn out exactly how they’re supposed to.
I’m sure plenty of folks would argue with this, but I don’t believe in going into business just to make money. I think it should be about so much more than that.
DAVE: Find something on the outskirts. Downtown has become a somewhat difficult place to operate for a variety of reasons and I believe the growth will continue pushing outwards for many years to come.
There are opportunity zones if you have a vision, and the city will continue to envelop around you.
Drink of choice? Which bar, brewery, or coffee shop in Raleigh do you get it at?
ELYSSA: Great question! I’m going to say the spicy margarita from Gringo A Go Go.
DAVE: I love Watts and Ward. I’m not sure if they’re still doing it, but Thursday night was Jazz night (pre-pandemic). There’s something about sinking into those chairs with a toasted bourbon drink listening to folks’ wail on the saxophone.
Favorite getaway spot in North Carolina?
ELYSSA: That’s so tough! I feel like I’m stuck in the eternal Carolina debate between mountains and beach, but I am just such a sucker for Asheville. The mountains, the food, the culture. It’s all so good! You’re pretty much guaranteed to leave feeling completely refreshed.
DAVE: I have way too many. If in the summer, I like rolling down to Wrightsville Beach and cruising the ICW. Mason’s inlet is a fun place to hang out, and then you can grab some waterfront dinner / drinks at Bluewater.
Downtown Wilmington is also rich with culture, character and history — it’s definitely a favorite spot of mine!
When you hear the words “THIS IS RALEIGH” what comes to mind?
ELYSSA: I think each year around October, my pride for this city comes out the most. The weather is impeccable. The leaves start changing, highlighting the oak trees that gives us our nickname.
Football season is in full force at Carter Finley. The State Fair brings in folks from all over the state. The State Farmers Market is at its peak harvest. For me, that’s my “This is Raleigh” moment.
DAVE: Anytime there’s live bluegrass. Most recently, we stopped by the Pit for their weekly Beer and Banjos bluegrass series. It was after one of those weeks that just keeps kicking you in the throat.
The sun was going down, we were enjoying a local craft brew, it was just the right temp and the fiddle was rocking. I distinctly remember having the feeling “This is Raleigh,” and I was so glad to call this city home!
Go say hi to Elyssa and Dave and tell them This Is Raleigh sent you: