2005-10-07 / Business

Star Profile

Rising High
By John Temple Ligon

Knowing as much about business as could be expected from a college major in classics and history, an Orvis store employee in Jackson Hole, and a dedicated duck hunter and devoted environmentalist, Kirkman Finlay became the owner of Rising High, the three–site bakery and restaurant business begun in ’94 with partner Brian Owens. Owens left the business for Stanford University and an MBA.

The first site was in Irmo, and the second, Devine Street. The Irmo location was closed, and Devine Street moved to Five Points, across Harden Street from Eckerd’s. The Main Street address, Rising High’s largest dining area, is across from Boyd Plaza and the Columbia Museum of Art. The third location is on Beltline Boulevard and is the newest, hardly a year old. It’s just down the hill from Richland Mall, on the west side of Beltline before Falcon Drive, the access to A. C. Flora High School.

In all three locations, Rising High chases the high–end market, offering the local definitions of cafe and bakery. Not surprisingly, Rising High’s coffee is priced less than Starbucks.

In a reversal of original intentions, Rising High’s revenues are about 60% from the restaurant operation and 40% from the bakery.

Finlay farms 4,600 acres, part of a spread stretching from Heathwood Hall down to where the Congaree and Wateree Rivers converge. Parts of the property reach to Lugoff. He owns one–third and leases two–thirds of the land, and he farms all 4,600 acres for corn, wheat, and soybeans.

The other business, QuickFarm, is a website dedicated to serving farmers. Finlay went into the business with his partner and former Wall Streeter Mason Pope in 1999, and they soon became leaders in the field of simplifying the business of farming.

As the website says, “QuickFarm’s Web innovations enable its customers – typically grain elevators, cotton gins, and feedyards – to increase their profitability by reducing information costs and increasing productivity through QuickFarm’s Web management services. QuickFarm customers can easily add information to their site with extensive training, making it an invaluable marketing tool for the company.”

Born in Columbia in 1970, Finlay left Heathwood Hall School and Columbia for high school in Groton, Connecticut, at the Groton School. After another four years, he graduated with a liberal arts education from the University of Virginia, 1992.

While selling fishing goods at the Orvis Store in Jackson Hole, WY, Finlay heard from his parents. His father, former Columbia Mayor Kirkman Finlay Jr., fell ill in Turkey and immediately returned to Columbia. At the same time, Finlay also returned to Columbia.

Soon after the death of his father, Finlay moved himself into a new family and some start–up businesses. He and his wife have three children. And his businesses continue to grow and to amaze.

He was amazed at his first brush with the business world. And he has since reduced his amazement down to a three–word sentence: “It is hard.”

On the other hand, some Columbia businessmen whom he respects rate a one–word assessment: “Stunning.” Included in the group of stunning skill and accomplishment are Joe Taylor (Southwood Log Homes), Gayle Averyt (Colonial Life), Billy Cate (Cate–McLaurin), and Don Tomlin (Business with a capital “B”).

Finlay holds his language when asked about the construction timetable and business complications tied to the streetscape improvements and flood control measures still underway in Five Points. After two years, from August 2004 until August 2006, Finlay can look forward to a return to normality and reasonable business impediments. The construction has been far worse than a mere impediment. Some businesses don’t appear to be making it while the construction continues.

Finlay is offering to help. In September he declared his candidacy for Columbia City Council, for the seat held since 1990 by Hamilton Osborne. The election is this April.

Next week: The Columbia Star Business Page Profile covers Hamilton Osborne, a lawyer with Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd PA. and a member of Columbia City Council.

Kirkman Finlay III

Return to top