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WCU Stories

Coffee and Culture

Bobby Raines


In the heart of downtown Cherokee is a culturally-based coffee shop called Qualla Java. Qualla Java is named after the Qualla Boundary, the land trust of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  

Bobby Raines MBA ’14, the owner and operator of Qualla Java, is an enrolled member of the EBCI and an alumnus of Western Carolina University’s Master of Business Administration program.  

“I had a friend in my cohort and we had discussed going into business for many years. The program itself and a lot of the professors really encourage people to go into business while in the MBA program. We were just excited to use our new business skills,” Raines said.  



Raines wanted his coffee shop to serve as a community hub in a way that he had only experienced from other businesses before the introduction of the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort on the Qualla Boundary in 1997.  

“Growing up here, before the casino, there were a few hangout spots in town. Our favorite hangout spot was the Cherokee Putt Putt,” he said. “Those places, after the casino came, were developed and those spots kind of ceased to exist. So, one of the things I was interested in was to create a community hub utilizing the business model that we had and really try to attract tribal members and local folks.”



Raines was successful in creating a new hangout spot for his community. “People use Qualla Java for a gathering place, a social hub and another place for meetings,” said Zhana Michelle Long, enrolled member and family partnership lead teacher at New Kituwah Academy in Cherokee. “It’s a great little getaway when you just need a minute to get your mind right, with coffee.”  

Qualla Java offers a free conference room open to any community groups or individuals who want to rent the space. Raines also encourages customers to relax with their coffee in the lounge area, or on the outdoor patio overlooking the Oconaluftee River.  

Raines sourced local Cherokee artists to create cultural designs for the shop.

“We wanted to make sure that there was a cultural feel to the shop itself that would speak to our community members. When we designed our menu, our logo and all of our signs and everything, we had that in mind,” he said.  

qualla java logo


The Qualla Java logo features the Noonday Sun basket pattern. The shop is stocked with Cherokee paintings, baskets, pottery, photographs of local places and people and the outdoor furniture even resembles a Cherokee basket design. The drinks have cultural names tied to Cherokee legends and cultural elements. But perhaps the most important element of the cultural design is the inclusion of Cherokee language.  

Qualla Java displays a sign with Cherokee words for ordering your coffee in Cherokee language. Patrons who place their order in Cherokee are placed in a raffle for a prize. Kelly Murphy, enrolled member and kindergarten teacher assistant at New Kituwah Academy said that this provides a unique opportunity to use Cherokee language.  



“What I love is that it is giving the community the opportunity to use the language in a familiar place and it is also helping the baristas learn the language as well,” she said.  
Qualla Java roasts its own coffee, with its signature recipes. Raines hopes to continue investing in expanding his roasting and perhaps one day expanding locations.

“Our brand is quality products at an affordable price,” Raines said. “Right now, we are trying to focus mainly on expanding our roasting. Eventually, we do want another location, but if we do another location, it'll be to expand our roasting. We want to try to get our roast out to the region in that way.” 

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