Knoxville Voyager Interview
We were recently recognized and interviewed by Knoxville Voyager, a magazine out of Knoxville Tennesse. We are very excited to share our journey and we hope you enjoy reading about it. The button below will take you straight to the article or you can read the article below.
Rising Stars: Meet Brett and Leslie Ellis
Today we’d like to introduce you to Brett and Leslie Ellis.
Hi Brett and Leslie, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
OG Cabins (Off-Grid Cabins) began after I was diagnosed with Colon Cancer in December 2020. Initially, there was no plan to rent out the cabin, which became The Rowdy Bear. I just needed something to focus on and look forward to while I was going through treatment. The cabin eventually became a family thing that Leslie, Gavin, and I all played a part in creating. The cabin became a labor of love, and we had many memorable weekends at the cabin while it was being built.
Initially, we looked at building a standard cabin that you will typically find in the mountains, but we decided we wanted to do something unique. We love the outdoors, hiking in the Smoky Mountains, hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, camping in North Carolina, camping in Tennessee, camping in Georgia, and camping in Virginia. We live in a great location to get to many different areas in the Southeast. While looking at the different styles of cabins and figuring out what we wanted to do, we came across Glamping in North Carolina. The uniqueness of the cabins and the fact that Glamping seemed like more of an experience, led us to build an Off-Grid Cabin in Bryson City, NC.
As you can imagine, there were many things to consider and figure out when it came to building and outfitting the cabin to make it a comfortable glamping experience while maintaining a certain basic feel that you get when camping. We wanted it to be clean, have a simple rustic feel, and have the primary things we want like a shower, a comfortable bed, quality outdoor furniture, a fire pit, and of course a big glass panel garage door that opens the cabin to the outdoors. Overall, I would describe the Rowdy Bear as falling between camping and staying at a hotel and that is Glamping. If an individual likes or wants to try camping but does not want to rough it or purchase everything that is needed to camp, Glamping is the way to go.
While building the cabin, we started sharing our pictures and journey with family and friends and everyone became more and more interested as we went. We began seeing more likes and comments on Facebook.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?There were many struggles along the way. Those struggles included working with contractors and vendors that had no sense of urgency. The contractors and vendors we worked with were not even close to meeting the deadlines they set for themselves. One of the biggest struggles was the amount of time it took the contractor we hired to build the shell of the cabin. What was projected to take approximately six weeks, took close to five months? We were not in the area to be able to stop by and check progress daily so we would ask for pictures to see progress. There were times we received pictures on Monday, and we came on the weekend, and nothing more had been completed. We also struggled with the garage door vendor. The vendor we chose did not communicate well at all and would never return phone calls. After about five weeks of trying to get the garage door installed, and having the vendor miss two appointments to install the door, we ended up calling the bank and disputing the charge. Miraculously, the garage door was installed two days later. Outside of Contractors and Vendors, our struggles centered around creating the Glamping experience. We were not sure about how big of a solar generator we needed and what kind or how powerful the solar panels need to be. We ended up finding a few websites that offer “Solar Calculators”. We entered everything that we needed to run on the solar generator and the calculator gave us a suggestion as to how big our solar generator needed to be. We took that suggestion and went up one size more, just in case. Then, we had to determine how much power the solar generator could take in from the solar panels to make sure we were able to recharge the generator fully each day. Another obstacle was the rain-captured shower. To make the rain-captured shower work we needed a gutter system, a first-flush diverter, a storage tank, a pump, and a propane water heater. The gutter system catches the rain coming from the roof and runs it to the first flush diverter, which allows any dust and dirt to be filtered from the water going to the storage tank. There were calculations that had to be done to figure out how big the first-flush diverter had to be. We found a few articles and videos on how to calculate how much water would need to go through the diverter before we would want the water to be diverted to the storage tank. Then, we made it bigger to be sure. From there, we had to find a pump that was not always running. The pump we went with pulls water from the tank and pushes it to the hot water heater, but the pump turns off when it senses the pressure between the pump and the water heater, meaning the pump turns off on its own when the shower is not being used, which saves power. We learned a great deal from the obstacles we faced and that will benefit us as we move forward and grow. One of the main things we learned is it really is all about mindset. We think that people are a lot more capable than they think they are. There were many times when we were not sure about what we needed to do and were aggravated, but we took the information we had, made decisions, and pushed forward. The other holistic thing we learned is obstacles are just obstacles, they do not stop you if you do not let them. They may slow you down or cause you to adjust a few things, but that is it. Other than that, when it comes to Contractors and Vendors, make sure you communicate, understand where the complications might be, and put things in place in the contract to help protect yourself.
Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?Some of the fondest memories we have are being at the Rowdy Bear, hanging out by the fire pit in the evenings, and sitting next to the heater on colder nights while playing board games, having drinks, and enjoying the ambiance and the relaxed feeling we have when being away from everything else. We think we have done a wonderful job with creating a beautiful space and our reviews show that our guests agree.
Can you share something surprising about yourself?Leslie and I are an entrepreneurial couple. Leslie is the Founder and CEO of Meaningful Change Consulting, LLC a boutique consulting firm that helps visionary leaders navigate the complexities of transformational change using cutting-edge approaches to achieve sustainable results while minimizing the cost of unnecessary work. She also works with mid-career change practitioners to develop their strategic change capability to facilitate change more effectively. Leslie’s passion is to support the change process that aligns organizations with more sustainable business practices. Our off-grid cabin concept is one way we can contribute by offering a more sustainable vacation option – a blend that honors our planet’s resources and offers comforts that elevate the camping experience while providing our guests with a memorable getaway. I have had an interesting career that is based on security. I have been an Intelligence Analyst in the Air Force and worked with the Drones (Predator and Reaper) at Hurlburt Field, which is an AFSOC (Air Force Special Operations Command) Base. I have also worked with banks doing Anti-Money Laundering and I currently work with Energy Companies doing Critical Infrastructure Protection. This type of work has always been appealing to me because there is a lot of job satisfaction for me. I have started one other small business that worked with homeowners who found themselves in difficult situations. Overall, I just did not enjoy that line of work. The work is necessary, but I came across people that really were in a bad place, and ultimately, that was not something I wanted to capitalize on. I want to feel good about what I do, which is why I enjoy OG Cabins, LLC, and the Rowdy Bear. Couples spend their money with us to have a great experience and our reviews show the couples that stay with us love it and there is a lot of pride in that. Some of our guests share their reels from their Instagram Posts with us and it is just a great feeling.
From there, we started sharing the small individual things we worked on for the cabin such as the rain-captured shower, and everyone showed even more interest. It was around that point we considered renting out the cabin and started looking into what it would take. When we started looking at other Bryson City cabin rentals, we saw that we would be offering something different, so we decided to rent the cabin out and see what happened.
Overall, building the Rowdy Bear, creating OG Cabins, LLC, and getting such positive feedback from our guests has been an incredibly fulfilling experience. We take great pride in the Rowdy Bear, and we built and outfitted the cabin the right way, without cutting any corners. I think the amount of thought that went into the cabin to create an experience is one of the primary things that has helped us be successful. Our focus was not money; our focus was providing a quality experience and when you read our reviews our guests often describe their experience, not just the basics of the cabin’s looks.