It was a fascinating and very impressionable time during my last semester in the Haslam College of Business
Mark Oldham aims to share the best of Tennessee with the world at Dancing Bear Lodge and Appalachian Bistro. He and his wife, Sharon, lead a team managing the 37-acre mini-resort that boasts two restaurants, 25 accommodations, an event center and two retail stores.
“I’m also a proponent of Townsend, and work to promote the community,” said Oldham. He co- chairs the Townsend/Cades Cove Gateway Alliance which supports positive development of the area. Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro helped recovery efforts for the recent wildfire recoveries in adjacent Sevier County by holding several fund raising dinners in December.
The Oldham’s bought Dancing Bear in 2014 after a fire devastated the main lodge of the property. He acquired the Apply Valley Country Store & Café the following year, renovating and updating them for a more upscale resort experience.
“I want it to be an authentically Tennessean experience- for visitors to taste traditional recipes, visit the Smokey Mountains and have accommodations that reflect the heritage of the area, but still feel luxurious,” says Oldham. “Our Executive Chef, Shelley Cooper, is steeped in the Appalachian traditions, and heightens our guest’s dining experience by elevating our cuisine to the heritage of the area.”
Oldham points to his father’s experience as the Commissioner General of the 1982 World’s Fair, held in Knoxville, as the root of his passion for sharing the region. “My father was the most important role model for me,” he said.
Oldham lived with his parents during the epic six-month event when he was a senior at the University of Tennessee. As the highest-ranking U.S. official at the World’s Fair, his father entertained dignitaries from all over the world.
“It was a fascinating and very impressionable time during my last semester in the Haslam College of Business,” said Oldham. “I would bring stories to class and share insider tips on the World’s Fair.”
Oldham came into resort ownership after an extensive career in hospitality. He founded U.S. Hospitality, which was one of the largest publishers of hotel guest directories in the country, serving more than 2000 hotels in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean.
“As print ad sales peaked, we diverted into hotel lobby business centers and kiosks for boarding pass printing,” he said. This led U.S. Hospitality to merge into a new company called Uniguest, which Oldham sold to a private equity firm in December of 2013.
The timing was right. After taking six months to travel with his wife, Oldham embarked on a five-year plan to transform Dancing Bear. The plan continues to this day, with a larger event pavilion and additional accommodations on the horizon this year. Longer term, they wish to build a spa and a microbrewery. When not growing and expanding his business, Oldham and his wife can be found hiking or biking in the Smoky Mountains, or traveling to exotic locations.
“I loved UT so much that after graduating, I immediately became involved in the alumni association.”