About This Episode
Melissa Blettner is the Chief Executive Officer for Ancient Lore Village, a one-of-a-kind fantasy resort right in the heart of Knoxville. On this episode of ConnectTheKnox, Melissa shares her philosophy of hospitality with purpose and how her role with Ancient Lore Village brought her from Wisconsin to Knoxville. Melissa describes some of the similarities between her hometown and Knoxville, as well as what she feels are the biggest opportunities for Knoxville to attract new businesses and residents. Melissa also reveals the plans to expand Ancient Lore Village into new locations, and some upcoming attractions and events you can expect to see at their Knoxville location.
- 00:00 Intro
- 00:44 Melissa describes how the Ancient Lore Village project brought her to Knoxville
- 03:21 Julia and Melissa discuss the magic of Ancient Lore Village, and Melissa explains how they developed such an immersive experience and her plans for the future of the resort
- 08:31 Ad - Dr. Joe Chiro
- 09:01 The long-term vision for additional developments in Ancient Lore Village
- 11:09 Melissa describes the similarities between her hometown and Knoxville
- 12:39 The ways Ancient Lore Village is working with the University of Tennessee
- 14:11 Melissa talks about the unique location of Ancient Lore Village and how it’s deceptively close to downtown Knoxville
- 17:47 Melissa explains what amenities and activities are handicap-friendly at Ancient Lore Village
Julia: Hey everybody and welcome to another episode of Connect the Knox. I’m your host, Julia Hurley, connecting Knoxville to the nation. Today’s guest is Melissa Blettner, the President and CEO of Boyd Hollow Resorts. Didn’t even know this was a company that existed until Joe and I took a weekend trip to a very special village right in the heart of Knoxville, and you would have never known was there. And Melissa runs the whole show, and some. Melissa, thank you for being a guest on today’s podcast. Can you tell us a little bit about how you ended up in Knoxville, Tennessee?
Melissa: So, I was introduced to Tom Boyd and the Ancient Lore Village project, back in June of 2019 and I was brought on as a consultant to help them at that time, and that is why I’m in Knoxville.
Julia: So, tell us a little bit about why you were brought on as a consultant. I mean, obviously, Tom Boyd doesn’t just randomly call people to consult on things. The man knows a lot, so you must be something very special for him because I know that the Ancient Lore Village in Knoxville is a special thing he has always wanted to do, so you have something to offer Knoxville, Tennessee. Tell us about that. Tell us how you ended up being a consultant for something as important as Ancient Lore Village.
Melissa: Sure. Well, I appreciate that, first off. Tom and I really hit it off. My background is hospitality. This was the first hospitality project that Tom has endeavored into. He has 17 different companies, all founded right here in East Tennessee.
And my background, I had actually never been to Knoxville before the day I came to meet with Tom. And so, that in and of itself is kind of amazing. But prior to joining Ancient Lore Village, I was with a small, startup hospitality company. And started with that company when they were just 100 employees, grew it to over 9000 employees in 17 different locations over a span of 20 years. So, at first, when it was a consultant, Tom was just getting ideas on this great hospitality product and how he could bring it to fruition.
So, I was brought on as that. And then as time progressed about a year later I came on as the CEO. And really, our vision for Ancient Lore Village and the larger company, Boyd Hollow Resorts, is to create a place of good, a place where people can come together and disconnect to reconnect, a place where we are creating what I call hospitality with purpose. And after being in the hospitality industry for many, many years, that’s really why I’m in the industry, is to bring that purposeful experience to guests, whether it be at Ancient Lore Village or with my prior company.
Julia: So, I love that you said hospitality with purpose. I would probably trademark that if I were you. That made me want to do more things with you, just that tagline right there. I personally loved Ancient Lore Village, and had found out about it obviously through the Boyds, however, I had not been able to stay there yet. So, we had come on a package deal, had never been there. And I genuinely had not a clue it was that close to downtown Knoxville.
Melissa: Oh, just 15 minutes from downtown.
Melissa: Right there.
Julia: Everything is right there that you need. The food was amazing. The hospitality was top-notch. You got employees that came from Disney. I mean, that’s one of the highest-trained places that you can come from.
We did the archery classes, we did the axe throwing, we had an outdoor movie. It was so peaceful. And the rooms themselves are all themed. And they look, if you look at them online—Ancient Lore Village—if you look at them online, it looks like a hobbit house. And they look very small and you walk through the door and you will—you feel like you’re in a castle and that you genuinely have some of the most luxurious things around you. You feel completely melted into the side of the mountain. How did you all create that? And what are you creating for the future?
Melissa: So… boy, two good questions there. So first, we’ll say how did we create it. And the village is actually based on Tom’s story. He wrote a book called Bokee’s Trek, and this is where the hospitality with purpose comes in. So, a little bit of the background of the story.
Tom was out on the campaign trail with his son Randy, when he was running for governor back in 2018, and one of the things Tom found was that people in communities right next to one another didn’t necessarily get along. And so, he found out that there was a lot of hatred when he was out talking with different people on the campaign trail. And he wanted to write a book that would bring people together, that would allow people to understand that people from all backgrounds, from all religions, from all everything could come together in one place. And that’s where the hospitality with purpose comes in, right? So, he wrote this book, and he couldn’t say, “Well, Joe in this community and Sam in this community—” so instead, he used a cast of characters that a lot of people are familiar with fairies, Orcs, Leprechauns, Gremlins, Bokee, who’s the key figurehead.
And Bokee went to all the different villages and he met people and all—or characters—in all of the villages. And what he found out was that they were all good, that they all had good qualities and something to provide and something to contribute. So, then Bokee went back to his village and he was banned. So, all of the characters from all of their independent villages were banned, and they had to go somewhere, and in their guidelines, they needed to create a village where they would live, side by side with one another, in peace. And that place is Ancient Lore Village.
So, you can come here and—so really, that’s the storyline behind it. And then after Tom wrote the book, and he had a great artist that helped capture the ideas that Tom had, he sat down with an architect, Daniel Levy, from right here in Knoxville—we use a lot of great local Knoxville companies—and Daniel took Tom’s ideas, if you look in the book, there’s the tree elf and the ground elf house that Bokee visited on his trek, and it looks just like our ground elf burrows and tree elf nest that’s here. And then we had a great interior designer, Z Creative—Zarah Bates from right here in Knoxville—and she scoured the book and she read all the little intricate details and developed the crazy luxury that we have in these dwellings. So, right now I’m sitting in the Waterfall Villa, which is one of the—it’s the Water Fairy Villa—and it’s a two-room suite, but you can see the walls behind me, you can’t even really see that the detail of it, but they’re all Venetian plaster that also was done from a local Knoxville company.
Julia: I had Eugenia on the podcast.
Melissa: Oh, yeah. I love Eugenia. Yes. So, they did all of the Venetian walls. The fireplace behind me, you might think it’s a white brick. It’s not. Actually, Eugenia’s team did that as well. And one of the great things is the wall behind right here, we’ve got real willow trees, but behind—or birch trees, rather—behind that, it looks like you’re in a birch wood forest. They did 14 different layers of Venetian plaster. So, maybe I’ll pick you up and move you at the end of the podcast and give you a little peek.
Julia: [laugh]. Let’s just keep it where it’s at.
Melissa: Right now, we’re right here. Right here.
Julia: I’ll come do an actual on-site tour. How’s that? How’s that?
Melissa: That’s great. We can do that. We do a walking tour.
Julia: So, I know that you’re building a new building, you’re doing a little construction of that way. What’s happening in the future? I know there’s a wedding venue at the top of the mountain and there’s are some signs that say ‘English Pub.’ Tell me a little bit about the long-term vision here.
Melissa: So, the long-term vision here, this property won’t get much bigger than what it is right now. We are planning on adding a few additional dwellings, so a few themed dwellings that will cater more towards families, so they can sleep up to five people. We also are planning on adding a few tree houses which will be really fun. Right as you enter in, we’re building our administrative office and gift shops. We’re really excited about that.
And then we’re pretty much it for this property here. And the vision—and this is where the great part of the larger reach of the hospitality with purpose comes in play, and also the Boyd Hollow Resorts—is that our vision is to not just have this one location here in Knoxville, but to branch out and have many locations across the United States and throughout the world.
Julia: I think that’s going to be an absolutely fantastic vision. I know there are so many people, and I know this because I always did my research on our podcast interviewees, I guess you could say, and really and truly wanted to do more research on this specific entity. And as I was talking with people throughout Knoxville and asking them, “Have you stayed there? Have you gone on a tour? Have you gone to any of the dinners that they host?” So, many people still do not know how close this is to their own backyard.
So, even Knoxvillians have not taken the opportunity. However, when we stayed, we met people from six states that were all together for one night for Halloween. So, it was very interesting to see how it is connecting the nation to Knoxville and bringing people into a smaller hometown to get that big feel. And I’ve always said if you can make it in Knoxville, you can make it anywhere, and that kind of stands true for any business, honestly. So, tell us a little bit about where you personally came from as far as place and compare that to Knoxville for us. Like, what do you feel is the biggest difference that you have experienced here?
Melissa: So, I come from Madison, Wisconsin. It’s a lot like Knoxville, actually. Madison is on an isthmus so it’s in between lakes. Knoxville has the Tennessee River running right through it. Madison has the University of Wisconsin, Badgers. Knoxville has the Tennessee Vols. The Tennessee Vols are kicking butt this year and Badgers, no so much.
Melissa: Let’s see. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, the most visited tourist attraction in the state of Wisconsin is about an hour and 15 minutes from Madison, and hour I guess. Right down the road is the Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Sevierville. So, in that respect, it’s so much. The biggest difference is the hills [laugh]. We don’t have the hills there.
So, the mountains, you know, coming through—and the weather, right? So, right now we’re sitting here, it’s end of November; it’s a great day. Wisconsin, right about this time is when it’s going to switch in the weather and it’s going to be really cold there for a really long time. And we’re going to have a great winter here in Knoxville.
Julia: And I had no idea that is a very almost line-for-line comparison. I mean, Knoxville is exactly an hour outside of the most visited national park in the country. That is almost exactly the same feel, except UT is one of the largest D-1 colleges in the country and I think that is one of the biggest draws that we have, not only for education purposes but for worker’s talent, which again, gives people experiences in Knoxville that no one else can have. So, when you go to take this all over the nation, all over the world, these students at UT can come and intern for you and learn something about the hospitality industry. Have you all been able to partner with UT on some internships like that?
Melissa: Oh, we have. We have. We’ve had quite a few people from the school of hospitality work here already. I’ve spoken to their hospitality, advanced hospitality class a few times. And UT has a lot of events out here. They have so many different departments.
And we’ve got, like, the UT Police Department coming out here for a holiday party and UT Hospice Center coming out. So, there’s just all sorts of different UT things and we love working with them. And they have a great time when they come out here. So, it’s nice. You know, we said we’re only 15—10 minutes, really—to downtown and really ten minutes to the university. So, we’re really just right there, really, really quick access.
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Julia: So, when we were on our way there, again, number one, our GPS did, but wasn’t paying attention. So, I was on the phone, I was talking to someone, telling them where we were going, I said, “I have no idea where we’re going or how far away this is going to be. I might lose cell service. Just stay on the phone with me. I’ll call you back.” And then five minutes later, I’m like, “Oh, I’m there.” [laugh]. I was like, “I’m here.” I could not believe the proximity to Knoxville and the peace and quiet that close to everything. That was just stunning.
Melissa: Well, that’s the thing. We sit on 67 acres here. We’re one of the only green spaces between downtown Knoxville and the Smoky Mountains, so we have that preserved. We’ve got miles of hiking trails, our archery and axe ranges are nestled in the foothills of the mountain here, so you’re not—and you experienced it—you’re not, like, in a caged-in indoor pole shed for archery and axe throwing. You’re, like, right, there.
So, we’re excited about that. We’ve got a lot of—one of the big things that we’re doing for this summer—you know, probably the most asked question that I get when I’m answering the phones—and I’ve been doing that a lot in the last couple of weeks because we’ve been so busy—is, “Can I just come and walk around there?” And you do need to be at an event or something going on, but we’re changing that for 2023. And starting January 1st, from 1 to 4, you’re going to be able to come out and do a Village Discovery Pass. And that’s a self-guided tour; you can hike the trails. So, you can go ahead and do that.
We do request reservations so we know who’s coming. But we also will have great self-guided tours. So, we’re in the process of developing those for next year and we’re really excited about it. We’ll have five different tours to choose from, ranging from our beautiful garden tours, where you can really get a lot of great information there, to the story tour that takes you right into, like, more about the characters and the lore of Ancient Lore, and then into, like, the building of Ancient Lore Village, like, talk about the 1400 potted plants that make Bokee’s a 1600-square-foot underground home, right? And then also we’re going to have a scavenger hunt. So, there’ll be little things throughout the 67 acres that you can go and find. Maybe there’ll be a prize at the end, too. We haven’t developed that out yet.
Julia: I will say, one of the first things I commented on, other than the absolute solitude that place offers someone, like myself, who owns, also, several companies and my—I’m just going 24/7 was the topiary. There are so many different types of plants. It took me two hours, go through just the room that we were staying in and all of the different availabilities outside. And of course, I have to touch every plant. I’m one of those people, I want to touch it and feel it and smell it.
Melissa: That’s good. Then it kind of gets—you, like, feel the vibe of it, you get the energy from the plant.
Julia: Very tactile.
Melissa: Well, the garden is in front of each of the unique dwellings. So, when you look at the village online, you can see the Gremlin Dens that are next to the Orc Home that’s next to the Fairy Cottage. So, they—all the characters do live side-by-side. And as we were thinking about, like, how do we build out the inside and decorate them, one of the things that Tom’s wife had in mind—and she’s a master gardener—is all of the gardens outside need to reflect the characters inside that would live there because it’s like they’re putting on their own garden. So, it’s great. It’s absolutely amazing. And those gardens will start to pop up, probably mid-April, we’ll start the garden tours.
Julia: So, what if I’m disabled? I can’t go hiking, I can’t go up the mountain. Tell me what we can do there.
Melissa: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Well, that’s it. You can come and do these the self-guided tours. So, you can take a garden tour and it literally meanders through the path of the village and you get to see all of the different plants and learn about those. And then you have that information too, so if you’re like me, you go home and you try and recreate it and then you’re like, “I can’t do that.”
Julia: The Orc Village is handicap friendly, correct?
Melissa: It is, yes. And if people have mobility issues, like, we’ve had assisted living houses come out for an afternoon lunch and a tour. And they love it because they’re getting out there, they’re, like, out in nature, out in the outdoors. They love it and they can come through. So, our team is really, really good. I like to call them five-star friendly because they are: they’re really friendly. They’ve got that southern hospitality and they will help. We’ve got some golf carts that if people have mobility issues, we can get you through the village to see it.
Julia: So at the end of the day, how long is it do you think? Like, what is the growth period that we’re going to see, possibly finishing out some of the product in Knoxville and then carrying this through to other locations? And will there be—I’m just asking because I am an avid vacationer—will there be a package program for all states ticketing, kind of like a Disney Experience [laugh]?
Melissa: Oh, I think there definitely will need to be, and we’ll probably have to do some type of focus group when we get to that point. But I think the vision, really, for 2023 is that we’re going to be finishing up the construction here with the office building. We’ve got some public restrooms that we’re adding and then the overnight accommodations that we’re going to be adding. And then we’re going to be pretty done here at this location. But also in 2023, that’s when we’re starting to branch out and look for additional locations.
We have three different kind of opportunities if you will, we have an Ancient Lore B&B, we have an Ancient Lore Settlement that’s a little bit smaller than what we are here. And then we have an Ancient Lore Village, that is what we have here plus more lodging accommodations. So, we’ve got three different concepts that are out there. And the big thing is the Ancient Lore brand of really being able to spread that throughout so that people can get that point across of what we’re looking for. So, we’ve got a lot of different opportunities for people to license the Ancient Lore brand.
Julia: That is absolutely fantastic. I just love to hear about any business in Knoxville that’s growing and branching out. Again, it draws attention to what Knoxville has to offer, which is the whole point of the podcast. I think there are so many people outside of this area that do not understand why Knoxville has become such an interesting area to be in.
Of course, Nashville is growing exponentially. They’re running completely out of space, which is fantastic for everybody else and everything around them, but Nashville was already on the map. Knoxville, in and of itself, is more like a hidden gem of opportunity, business growth, connections, you name it, any industry right now is Knoxville-friendly. What is it that Knoxville is lacking, possibly, to continue to talk about and attract different kinds of things from your perspective, being not from here but being here?
Melissa: Boy, I think probably the… the biggest opportunity I think for Knoxville is really their just overall growth development plan, right? And I think that that’s a challenge, especially when you look at, like, the municipal planning board, right, for Knox County, or Blount county, or all of them around here because they’re all growing so much. And there’s only so much that the officials can do that are on those committees. And they do a great job, but that’s a difficult thing is that total planning of, do we have enough infrastructure for homes and roads and all of that? So, the master plan of Knoxville as it grows is going to be, I think, a challenge.
But like you said, East Tennessee is a great place to be, Knoxville is fantastic. There’s so many great things. The downtown area is easy to get around. It’s a fun, safe area. You can walk around downtown, you’re 35 minutes from getting to Wears Valley or, you know, 40 minutes from here to Townsend, the quiet side of the Smokies. Or you can go into Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Sevierville and check out all of those tourist attractions. So there’s, like, everything that you have, right here.
Julia: Yeah, I agree. And so, many people come here from out of state and stay because they just absolutely fall in love with everything that we have to offer. And I always appreciate when people see the potential and the opportunity in Knoxville because it is an amazing place to be, as is Ancient Lore Village, by the way. So, [laugh]. Really, sum up for us everything that we can possibly do.
We want to make sure that anybody that takes notice of this podcast and is paying attention to everything around you because your surroundings at this very moment are so unbelievably detailed and gorgeous, and of course, I posted probably about 100 photos of every detail of the room we stayed in, as well as the plants, but how can people connect with Ancient Lore? How can they become part of this process? Where would they go to get the walking tour tickets, maybe like a yearly pass for 2023? And how can they be more involved in spreading the word on the book—oh I already forgot the name of the book—
Melissa: Bokee’s Trek.
Julia: Bokee’s—thank you. Yes. How—
Julia: Tell us [laugh] all of that.
Melissa: So, the best place to stay connected for the latest updates is our Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, follow us on those social medias are the ones that we are really out there. And we’ve got a great social media team that really keeps us top-of-mind there. We also post all of our events as Facebook Events, too, so that you can do that. But the tickets and everything are sold right on our website at ancientlorevillage.com.
You can check, we just revamped it too, so there’s an ‘Our Story’ page on the website now where you can learn a little bit about the book, you can download the book. You can check out our stay page and learn all about the dwellings. Coming in 2023, we’re going to have a virtual walkthrough so you can actually go through and pick different spots in the room to take your vantage point from for all of the different dwellings. Our packages, our overnight packages we have coming up in 2023, we’ve got our Ultimate Package so you can come stay overnight, have dinner and archery and axe and breakfast and everything’s all included. We have the Stay and Play package that’s just archery and axe, and you can stay overnight.
We’ve got some great special rates going on in January. It’s a little bit slower for us then, so come out and see us then. January, we’ve got—we’re loading it up. They’re not on the calendar yet, but we are going to have wine tasting, bourbon tasting, moonshine tasting dinners, all sorts of great different events on Friday and Saturday nights here. We’ve got trivia coming back in January on Wednesday nights, we’ve got our Archery, Axe, and Apps that’s going seven days a week now, starting in 2023.
We are, like, stacked up with holiday parties for December. But we still have a few spots, so if they haven’t reserved yet do that. And reserve for next year. We’re already getting bookings for next December. So, it’s good. Yeah, come on out and see us. Share—you can sign up for our newsletter—share, tell your friends, gather all your friends together, come together and have a party out at Ancient Lore Village.
Julia: I think that’s absolutely fantastic. And I’ll tell you, when Joe—it was interesting because I had no idea. Joe and I were actually checking out and literally ran into Tom. He was gardening and we ran into him leaving our room. And I was like—he goes, “What are you doing here?” I said, “What are you doing here?” He’s like, “I own the place.” [laugh]. And I said, “Well, I just stayed at your place.” [laugh].
Melissa: Undoubtedly you will see Tom here. He is a very involved chairman. He’s the chairman of our board. We’re owned by shareholders. He’s the chairman of our board. He’s been active in building out everything from the 40-foot-tall cascading waterfall to the path that meanders through. I mean, he’s very invested in this. And he will be around here. And he’ll sign a book for you, too. So.
Julia: Oh, I hope people get the opportunity to meet him. He and his wife are fantastic [people 00:26:46].
Melissa: He loves seeing all the different people and meeting everyone.
Julia: Yeah. It is so wonderful. Every employee, every person that we met, takes that place like it is theirs. And that is—it’s so special to feel that. And so, I was very pleased when I asked Tom if I could interview you or somebody that he was like, “Well, even just take my CEO.” I was like, “Wow, that is—” again, just making sure that everybody feels like they’re part of it and making Knoxville feel like they’re part of it.
So Melissa, thank you for building this, and thank you for taking the time to help us understand more about Ancient Lore Village. When this podcast airs, I will send you all the information, I post all of the links and share all the social media pages as well, and friends, if you’re out there, please visit ancientlorevillage.com. Melissa, thank you so much and I hope you have a fantastic day.
Melissa: Thank you. You too.
Julia: Thank you for tuning into the show. Make sure to like and subscribe, leave a five-star review on your podcast player of choice. And if you would like information on moving to Knoxville, send me a private message. As always, this is Julia Hurley, connecting Knoxville to the nation.