When Matt Logan purchased the property at 318 Riverside Drive in 2011, he soon realized the 2-acre tract would hold more than a restaurant.
The first phase of Logan's project launches this month, when Asheville GreenWorks opens its office on the property, beginning a three-year, rent-free lease.
“It started with the restaurant,” says Logan, who also owns 5 Walnut Wine Bar downtown. “From there, we developed a plan of using the outside space, really trying to tie in community and nonprofits.”
Call it Smoky Park
Logan has settled on a name for the restaurant that will open in spring of 2014: Smoky Park Supper Club, in reference to the highway bridge that shades part of the property. From 1951 until 2012, the bridge was called Smoky Park Highway Bridge. Last year, it was renamed for firefighter Capt. Jeff Bowen, who died on duty in 2011.
Logan hopes the name will give the restaurant a sense of place. “I wanted it to have something to do with this specific location,” he says. “I think that's a great way to name places.”
It's also a reference to a past era. “I know supper club is being used now as the underground dining thing, but in the ’30s and ’40s, supper clubs were big in the Midwest,” he says. “They were really meant to be more of a restaurant and a social club, places you would go for an extended period of time. You might go for drinks and have dinner and stay for the entertainment. I think that really ties in with what we’re doing here.”
Taste smoke and fire
Smoky flavors will show up on the menu, too, Logan expects. He's in the early stages of forming a partnership with Mark Rosenstein, former owner of The Market Place and current board member of Green Opportunities. While their collaboration is still short term, Rosenstein says he's considering taking on a more permanent role at the restaurant.
Rosenstein is developing a catering company with the help of several GO: Kitchen Ready graduates. It focuses on cast-iron cookware and wood-fire heat. “The idea of cooking on iron contraptions is inspired by this guy out of Argentina, Francis Mallman,” he says. “I've been cooking on wood and having these portable contraptions for a number of years.”
Rosenstein's contraptions include an infiernillo (a three-tiered grill), a cauldron, a fire pit and an assortment of grills.
“The riverfront is the future of Asheville,” he says. “It's growing in a way that's really organic, and there's another whole mindset about it.”
Rosenstein headed The Market Place for 30 years. Since 2009, when he sold the business to chef William Dissen, he's been heavily involved in GO's job training programs. He's certainly not retired, he explains with a laugh.
The catering crew has a working title of The Iron Circus. Rosenstein and his fellows will demonstrate their techniques on Thursday, Aug. 15, at Root Ball, a fundraiser for GreenWorks that will be held on the property. (For ticket information, visit ashevillegreenworks.org/2013-root-ball.)
Even if Rosenstein doesn't sign on for the long-term at Smoky Park Supper Club, Logan says his influence will remain. When the restaurant opens in spring, its fare will focus on wood-fired eats (although not pizza, he says).
A couple of the property’s buildings have been “up-cycled,” as managing partner Kristie Quinn states it, from their former, somewhat derelict states. The GreenWorks office is among them.
But the restaurant building is conspicuously absent.
Logan says to watch for its sudden appearance by September in the corner of the property that borders the railway trestle.
If that timeline seems quick, it's because the building is already under construction in Jacksonville, Fla. Steel shipping containers will makeup the structure, so when they arrive, they'll be assembled quickly by SG Blocks, a group that builds similar structures worldwide.
Logan says finishing out the interior should take three to four months. Plus, he'll build wide, terraced decks around them. “It's all supposed to tie in with bringing this property back to life, allowing people in Asheville to enjoy the river and get outside,” he says. “Because it's such a large property, it really gives us some great opportunities for outside and outdoors.”
The grass is growing greener
Over the past two years, Logan and Quinn have focused on rehabilitating the land itself. The site used to be a cement dumping ground, so they've removed the buildup. In the process, they've been able to save a century-old Sycamore tree that shades the area. (Their efforts are part of the EPA’s Brownfields Program.)
Logan says GreenWorks is a fitting tenant for the property, since their work focuses on environmental cleanup.
Eric Bradford, GreenWorks’ clean communities coordinator, says the location will drive home the group’s message. “The eventual ability of ours to create river cleanups from this property is priceless because, right now, we're having to haul boats all over the county to put in for different river cleanups,” he says. “It's really easy to have advocacy when you can stand, and look at the river, and have a meeting staring at it, and say, 'This is what we're trying to improve.'”
GreenWorks has a new executive director, Sarah Oram, who expects the organization will experience growth in its new setting. (It has moved out of its former space around the corner on Depot Street.)
For more information about GreenWorks, visit ashevillegreenworks.org.