Mellow Mushroom celebrates #40YrsBaked

Xpress file photo.
Xpress file photo.

This year marks 40 years in business for pizza chain Mellow Mushroom, and to celebrate, management is treating customers to the best gift of all — cheap food! On Wednesday, Aug. 20 — aka Way Back Wednesday — select menu items will revert to their 1974 prices. At the Asheville Mellow Mushroom at 50 Broadway Ave., customers can snag a small cheese pizza for $2.50, Coke products for $0.30, and select domestic beers (Pabst Blue Ribbon, Budweiser and Michelob) for $0.75.

“We’re excited about it. We think it’s going to be a good day for us,” says owner Gerry Mahon. He claims the one-day promotion is a new strategy for Mellow, whose management typically doesn’t slash prices so drastically. Mahon is “hoping to garner new business from this” or perhaps prompt former customers to revisit the eatery. “It’s a really good reminder for people that we have been around for quite some time. … We pride ourselves on making quality products and a quality experience. It’s not something that we take lightly or for granted,” he shares.

Asheville has enjoyed Mellow Mushroom since 1997, but Mahon acquired the company in 2002. The Georgia native felt a desire to incorporate himself into the Asheville community and used Mellow as a vehicle to make that happen.

“If you’re going to be in an innovative community, you have a responsibility to attempt innovation in your own right,” says Mahon, whose innovations with Mellow include vigilant composting, solar hot water and regular donations to local, charitable fundraisers.

“We were composting 100 percent of our food waste before anybody else,” says Mahon, recalling the downtown food scene of the early 2000s. According to the owner, Mellow sends about four bins of waste (55 gallons each) to the landfill each week – an impressive figure considering the restaurant’s business volume. Mahon considers environmental stewardship a basic human (and business) responsibility, so he chooses not to play up greening achievements in Mellow’s public image — a move he admits may contribute to misconceptions about the chain.

Mahon also avoids publicizing the fact that his Mellow is locally owned, but the restaurant’s most surprising undersell is its beer selection. Mellow Mushroom houses 72 beers on tap — the most comprehensive catalog of draft beer in all of Beer City, U.S.A. — but that’s rarely a topic of conversation among locals or tourists questing for a pint.

Despite these local-level challenges, the Mellow chain continues to add new links. According to a company press release, the Atlanta-bred business spans 18 states and includes more than 170 locally owned branches.

And there’s actually a loyal group of Ashevilleans who can’t resist the chain — especially on Tuesdays when locals get 25 percent off food. “I can set my watch by the guys from Tops Shoes coming in on Tuesdays,” jokes Mahon.

Mellow Mushroom’s marketing team is encouraging patrons to celebrate their anniversary event by posting social media under the hashtag #40YrsBaked — a slogan that may or may not refer to the company’s stone-baked pizza. When asked about the catchphrase, Mahon laughs: “The name of the restaurant is Mellow Mushroom. What do you think it means?”

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