Corner Kitchen, they say, is humming along just fine; according to the numbers, the Biltmore Village eatery gets busier every year. And, even with Chestnut opening as early as this summer, Corner Kitchen shouldn't be affected one bit, Scully says. Chef Joshua Weeks has stepped in more and more over the past few years. Now, he's the executive chef, which gives Scully more time to focus on the Corner Kitchen's ever-expanding catering load as well as Gianni Panini, a related kitchen that provides sandwiches to various businesses for resale, Tressa's Jazz Club among them.
"Some people probably would have even tried to open another restaurant five or six years ago," says Westmoreland. "I think we were just being conservative and wanting to make sure that we had the right people in here."
The 48 Biltmore building is a great structure, but Scully and Westmoreland say it needs a bit of work to adapt to their vision. To that end, the two have moved the bar to the front of the building, to the right of the entrance. They'll add some booths and a family-style table and a dining bar that looks onto the street. The heart-of-pine floor will be refinished and the palette will be earthy and warm. "We want it to be brighter but feel warmer," says Westmoreland.
They'll also operate their catering business on the lower level of the building, where Highland Brewing was once located. "It has storage galore, which we've never had before," Westmoreland says.
Matt Tracy from Bluffton, S.C., has been hired on to serve as the chef. Tracy graduated from The Culinary Institute of America in 1992 and has most recently worked as the executive chef of the Colleton River Plantation Club in Bluffton. He was the executive chef for the St. Petersburg Yacht Club in Florida and the Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, N.C., worked at the American Club in Singapore and the Cherokee Town and Country Club in Atlanta.
True menu development will begin when Tracy arrives in Asheville; until then, Scully and Westmoreland are still fleshing out the concept. They'll likely offer a selection of "medium" plates — completely composed small meals with 1- to 3-ounce portions of meat with starch and vegetable accompaniments — to keep the cost down, they say, not to ride on the tapas trend. They'll have a heavy focus on seafood, and they'll keep things seasonal and local, "but we're not going to make a big deal out of it," says Scully. "It will be sensible; it won't be frivolous. It will probably feel more urban chic than the Corner Kitchen. The idea is for you to go in, have a salad, have an appetizer and have it be less than $20." There will also be seven or eight larger entrees, "because some folks like that," Scully says.
With Wicked Weed Brewing going in farther down Biltmore and the Aloft hotel nearing completion across the street (along with the ever-busy Orange Peel), the two expect to see the borders of what is considered the center of downtown activity stretching outward.
"What it will do is shift the focus of prospective guests that will be in that area," Scully says. "Right now, it's not the most popular area of town comparatively. I would say the most popular walking area of downtown is Lexington Avenue and College Street as it goes over by Tupelo [Honey Café]."
So, why the name Chestnut? "Chestnut feels warm and inviting to us — and simple," says Westmoreland.
"But it has many meanings," Scully adds. "Chestnut is a food source. You can make flour out of chestnuts. You can, of course, roast them over an open fire. You have a beautiful, endangered species in the chestnut tree — which is truly coming back now, it's really amazing. The American Chestnut Foundation is also located here in Asheville, even though we didn't know that. We also wanted it to look like a place you've been going for years. And, when you tell an old story over and over again, it's, 'oh that old chestnut.'"
Westmoreland and Scully hope to open more restaurants in the future focusing on what the different areas of Asheville seem to be lacking. Chestnut, for example, fills a niche on Biltmore Avenue, they say.
"On that street, there's no one else doing American food the way that we would do it," Scully says. "So that's why we went in this direction — to have a really nice bar, really nice food, in a comfortable space. That's very important, because a lot of what's going on downtown is very snappy and quick, and we want to offer a refuge — I think the name helps with that, too."
Chestnut will serve lunch, dinner and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, with extended nighttime hours during busier times.