BRISTOL, Tenn./Va. (WJHL)- A Hard Rock hotel and casino may still be a couple of years away from opening in Bristol, but the company is already forming vending partnerships with some local business owners.

Southern Churn owner Karen Hester has been serving up homemade fudge at her State Street shop for the past six years. Lately, she has a major new customer.

“Hard Rock Casino is actually our biggest customer that we’re packaging fudge for now. We were so excited to partner and do business with them,” said Hester.

At a vendor fair event in October 2020, Hard Rock executives told community members they wanted local vendors to supply goods and services for their planned resort in Bristol. Hester then submitted an application. She’s now selling 10 different flavors of fudge at Hard Rock’s property in Tampa.

Fudge from Karen Hester’s shop

“That goes to their facility in Florida, and they sell it like this, under the Southern Churn label, showing that it was made right here in Bristol, Virginia,” she said.

Hester said she sent an initial shipment of fudge to the Florida facility in December, and the product sold out within a week.

“We’ve shipped out product to them four times. That’s exciting news for a small business,” she said.

When visiting Bristol last year, Hard Rock executives also noticed the talents of local craftsman Fred Sexton, owner of Bristol Artisan Company.

Sexton created customized signs shaped like a poker chip and dice with ‘Bristol’ spelled out inside, and brought them to the vendor fair last October to give to Hard Rock officials.

“I think maybe that got some attention,” he said.

A ‘Bristol’ sign created by Fred Sexton

The company found a business opportunity for Sexton in the months that followed: designing a stainless steel napkin holder. He’ll craft 80 of them to be used at the soon-to-be-open Hard Rock casino in Northern Indiana.

“If I do a good enough job on this, I hope I get the opportunity to make them for Bristol,” he said.

A napkin holder created by Fred Sexton

Both Hester and Sexton hope it’s just the beginning for them and other local vendors to form partnerships with Hard Rock.

Sexton said he’s working with another local vendor in Abingdon to produce the napkin holders, giving them a business opportunity as well. He believes it’s an example of the far reach the upcoming Hard Rock Bristol property will have on the local economy.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the goal of having millions of dollars infused into our economy because of the Hard Rock Casino and Resort, it’s going to happen, very quickly,” he said.

A Hard Rock spokesperson said Monday the company still plans for the site in Bristol to open in the next two years.