Cooperative cuisine

HIGH HOPES: Residents of the High Vista golf-course community pooled their resources to turn their neighborhood restaurant into a cooperative. Courtesy of John Denison
HIGH HOPES: Residents of the High Vista golf-course community pooled their resources to turn their neighborhood restaurant into a cooperative. Courtesy of John Denison

Neighbors may share greetings and laughs, and they may share stories. More concretely, they may even share a sidewalk, shrubbery or a fence. However, neighbors don’t often share ownership of a community restaurant. But those are not the neighbors of High Vista, a golf-course community on the border of Buncombe and Haywood counties.

From pub pleasantries like burgers and fries to special-occasion fine dining for refined palates, the menu at High Vista’s community restaurant is expected to fire up all burners with help from Facility Manager James Smoke, chefs Ken Swan, Steven Hensen and Eric Porter, A-B Tech culinary program graduates, instructor Walter Rapetski and Mark Schmitt from Food Club Enterprises and his staff. Not to mention the support and input of more than 200 community property owners.

“We’re officially a cooperative restaurant,” says John Denison, Food & Beverage board member at High Vista. “A big part of the story is that I went to A-B Tech and shared with them some of what we’re doing, and they thought it was fascinating. They have an excellent attitude about giving back to the community and being loyal to their graduates, and they put us in touch with their graduates operating here in the Asheville area.

“Asheville is a really food-centric town right now,” Denison explains, mentioning the growing food culture in the area was, in part, the community’s inspiration for this project. “Over the last 20 years, crazy things have happened from a food standpoint [in both] the quality of restaurants and the number, and A-B Tech culinary program is fueling the demand with their talent.”

The Robinson Pub and Laurel Room at High Vista, the community’s 9,600-square-foot former clubhouse and 3,100-square-foot banquet room respectively, are in the process of being tested out and will undergo major renovations within the first few months of the new year.

“We brought [A-B Tech graduates] in and had a fine-dining event at our location,” Denison explains. “A-B Tech kind of put together and helped us coordinate along with Vesta [a property and resort management company], the board and Mark Schmitt at Food [Club] Enterprises. We had a really outstanding event and got to roll out our new giant toy we’ve got here.”

But, Denison explains, the process for gaining ownership of the former clubhouse and banquet hall was not easy.

“Over the last few years, the community has been negotiating with the owner of the golf club to buy from him everything but the golf course, which would be the pool, the tennis courts, the restaurant and the banquet hall,” Denison says. “This has honestly been a multiyear negotiation, and we closed just before Thanksgiving.

“We branded ourselves the High Vista Amenity Association,” Denison says. “Technically, that’s like a property owners association — or similar to a home owners association — but it’s completely voluntary. So we got 200 households or lot owners in the community, which is the vast majority of households in High Vista, to join the High Vista Amenity Association.

“With that, we are now owners of the pool and the tennis courts, which is very common for people in a community,” he continues. “But at the same time we are also all co-owners of the Robinson Pub and the Laurel Room.”

Big renovations are in store for the kitchen that keep the menu in mind because, as Denison explains, “in conversations with A-B Tech, we learned before you build your kitchen, you design your menu. You want to make sure that you have your kitchen laid out in a way that is functional — the most efficient way to push out the food on the menu.”

Though ownership of Robinson Pub and the Laurel Room at High Vista may be limited to members of the Amenities Association, High Vista offers nonresident memberships for access to the community’s features as the ideas and innovations of the neighborhood continue to expand.

“At this point it’s open to the members and their guests,” Denison says. “And because of our relationships with the golf course, it’s open to golfers. We might consider opening it to the public eventually, but right now … we are just out of the gate on this.”

High Vista’s commitment to taking charge of its neighborhood serves as a reminder that Western North Carolina is full of innovative individuals that continuously strive to put Asheville and the surrounding area on the map as an oasis of cultured cuisine in the South.

“So now here we are,” Denison says. “We own this restaurant.”

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