The opening of the third Green Sage location in Westgate Shopping Center brings co-owners Randy Talley and Roger Derrough full circle: The pair established the first Earth Fare store in that same plaza 20 years ago.
But with this newest manifestation of their healthy, fast-casual café concept, Talley and Derrough clearly have their sights set on the bigger picture. A rebranding effort, the addition of sake cocktails and, most notably, an aspiration toward national expansion mark the Westgate store as something of a watershed for Green Sage.
With the scheduled Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 11) launch of the new store, which takes over the corner spot next to Earth Fare previously occupied by Tomato Cocina Latina, The Green Sage Coffeehouse & Café will shorten its name to Green Sage Café. The simplified moniker will be accompanied by a fresh, food-focused color scheme of spinach green with grilled orange as well as a new interactive website (greensagecafe.com).
The Westgate location will still offer health-conscious, organic food; fair-trade coffee and an impressive selection of tea, along with beer and wine, but Talley says there will be a few changes. Guests can expect a “refreshed menu” of nutrient-dense dishes, including some plated offerings, and — brunch fans will rejoice — a large and creative selection of mimosas and sake cocktails.
The cocktail menu, designed by Green Sage marketing partner and erstwhile bartender Noreen Sullivan, offers sake-based twists on classics, like the bloody geisha and the honey sour, all made with fresh-pressed, organic juice from the juice bar. The signature drink is a green-colored basil mojito, made with sake, freshly muddled basil leaves, lime, cucumber juice, agave and soda water. Mocktail versions of most cocktails will be available for the non-tipplers. Plans are in the works to partner exclusively with Blue Kudzu for the sake once the River Arts District brewery begins marketing its wares in late May.
Like its two Green Restaurant Association certified sister locations downtown and in South Asheville, the Westgate Green Sage will focus on environmentally friendly practices and sustainability. After a “total gut and renovation” of the space, Talley says, they updated the kitchen with the most energy-efficient equipment available. Highlights include a dishwasher that reclaims its own heat output to warm the dishwater, an awning made of photovoltaic panels and a compressor system that heats the water tank using heat harvested from the refrigeration system’s motor.
The Westgate location is about double the size of the other two stores, with 110 seats indoors and 38 on an outdoor patio that replaces what used to be a rather complicated and inefficient walkway area. The spacious back-of-house area, which will be used as a commissary kitchen and bakery for prepping specific items for all three locations, will include a dedicated juicing spot. “We’re bringing the juice bar behind the scenes because it makes a lot of racket with the big juicers and blenders,” says Talley.
Indoor renovations revealed a large, previously hidden window that provides a view of downtown Asheville and the surrounding mountains. Décor will feature indoor lighting designed by Spruce Pine ceramicist Ross Edwards and outdoor steel planters created by Tina Councell of Iron Maiden Studios. “We are definitely dressing up this store,” says Talley. “We have put a lot of attention on making this look beautiful.”
Talley aims to create a homey atmosphere and offer evening hours, possibly with some plated dinner options. The goal is to appeal to environmentally conscious diners looking for a comfortable hangout spot. “We’re creating a healthy restaurant for the Earth Fare shopper who doesn’t have that proverbial third place they can call their own,” Talley says. “There is home, there is work, then there is the ‘third place.’ Green Sage wants to be Asheville’s third place for the health-conscious.”
And with the new store’s larger seating and parking capacity, easy accessibility, visibility and proximity to a natural food market, Talley says Green Sage will be able to examine possibilities for future growth.
“Our aspiration is to create America’s healthiest restaurant,” says Talley. “Green Sage Café is a prototype for what we hope will be a national model like Whole Foods.”
Talley says he and Derrough currently have no timeline or firm plans in place for expansion beyond Asheville, but adding the new location will allow them to lay tangible groundwork with suppliers for regional growth.
“Expansion helps us with our buying power,” Talley explains. “Our biggest supplier is U.S. Foods. … There are some [who] think that’s not very local of us to buy from U.S. Foods, but what we’re doing is influencing U.S. Foods to be a greener, more sustainable supplier.”
According to Talley, U.S. Foods has added numerous local producers to its catalog, including Smiling Hara Tempeh and Hickory Nut Gap Farms, at the recommendation of Green Sage. “Our goal is to bring in a new item to U.S. Foods every week until they carry the lion’s share of our items. … and when we bring in a new thing … it becomes available to all the other restaurants in the area.”
But, for all these goals, does Talley have any reservations about opening a restaurant in a location that has seen several other eateries come and go? It seems that he doesn’t. He points out that other businesses that occupied that corner over the years were all a little fancier than Green Sage Café and were more geared toward evening dining. Plus, he says, he has a bit of experience in this area. “I’ve made a career out of being successful where other businesses have failed,” he says.
Green Sage Café opens on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 11, in Westgate Shopping Center next to Earth Fare. Hours will be 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, possibly extending to 9 p.m. if evening business is good. greensagecafe.com