Oscar Wong's retirement hasn't unfolded as planned. When he bought a home in Asheville in 1992, he didn't intend to create a regional beer brand, Highland Brewing, and spark a multimillion-dollar industry, but he did.
“This has gone way bigger than I ever expected,” Wong says of the brewery that started as a hobby and finally broke even after eight years of intensive quality control. This year, Asheville's oldest brewery will produce 40,000 barrels, more than any other local outfit.
Before he came to Asheville, Wong owned a Charlotte-based engineering firm that designed nuclear waste facilities. After spending so many years in a high-stakes field, he's bemused by the celebrity he's earned in beer circles. “I was rather proud of what I did and didn't get much recognition on it,” he says. “I get into beer … and people think this is pretty cool.”
Leah Wong, Oscar's daughter, is one of those admirers. After years of consideration, she joined Highland in 2011. Soon, she'll run the growing business, which recently expanded its facility with a bottling line. “With the purchase of this building and the land around it, we have beautiful dreams from the grass to the rooftop,” Leah says. “We're investing for the future.”
As Highland grows, Leah will maintain the values that inspired her father. “From the start, he established the product and the people as high quality and treated everyone with respect,” she explains. “He's worked hard to be a good citizen. We want Asheville to be proud of Highland because Highland's really proud of Asheville.”