Most businesses celebrate their first anniversary by throwing a party. Asheville beer bar The Whale did just that in December, but added a rare layer of commemoration by announcing a forthcoming second location in downtown Greenville, S.C.
Construction on the West End Historic District establishment is now underway at 1108 S. Main St., a block away from the Greenville Drive’s popular Fluor Field baseball stadium and the acclaimed restaurant Husk.
Co-owners Andrew Ross and Jesse Van Note anticipate a late spring or early summer opening for the 2,400-square-foot space, which is over twice as large as their West Asheville bar. It’s also part of the new 260-unit housing complex called The Greene, which Van Note describes as “gorgeous, modern apartments with giant windows and a rooftop bar.”
“I think it’s genius. It’s definitely the growing area of town,” says Shawn Johnson, owner/brewer of Greenville’s Birds Fly South Ale Project. “In Asheville terms, it’s the Arts District of Greenville.”
Van Note has made regular trips to Greenville in the six years he’s lived in Asheville, playing music and meeting friends. Over that time, his fondness for the city deepened, and Greenville’s potential for growth, thanks to a strong infrastructure, robust economy fueled by sustainable jobs and a young-skewing demographic, made it even more appealing.
Likewise attractive is the city’s growing beer scene, including stalwarts Thomas Creek Brewing and Quest Brewing Co., the widely revered Birds Fly South and newer breweries such as Eighth State Brewing Co. and Fireforge Crafted Beer. But expanding The Whale beyond Asheville wasn’t part of the original business plan, especially with Ross’ and Van Note’s somewhat unconventional approach to beer.
“When we looked at how the first year in Asheville went, we started examining what the future of this business looks like,” Ross says. “We like emerging markets and spreading high-end beer to an emerging beer market is exactly what we like to do. With Asheville, the approach was always to stay away from local beer and serve old-school beer and beer from around the country that doesn’t have great representation. It’s something the Asheville market needed, and Greenville is very much the same.”
The seed for expansion planted, Van Note was driving through Greenville’s West Village, which he says resembles West Asheville 10 years ago, when he saw an old building that interested him. Pursuing the property brought him in touch with commercial broker Rakan Draz, and when the opportunity didn’t work out, Draz continued looking for suitable options. Word quickly got around that The Whale was eyeing Greenville, and the business partners were soon receiving invitations at least twice a week for showings.
“When we went to look at the spot that we’re in, I don’t think either one of us thought we would like it because it’s a new building,” Van Note says. Ross concurs, admitting he was fairly tired going into their fifth showing of the day, but upon entering the space with its 30-foot ceiling and copious sunlight, he and Van Note both knew they’d found the right spot.
The Greenville bar will feature turn-of-the-20th-century decor as it seeks to capture the feeling of being in the Southwest or Colorado during the Gold Rush. The plan is to stick with 20 taps, a number Ross and Van Note say has proved manageable in Asheville. There will also be two reach-in beer coolers with 150-200 bottles and high-end bottle service in line with The Whale’s name’s nod to rare and hard-to-find brews.
The big difference is that food will be offered at the new location. An Old World deli-style menu will feature a build-your-own charcuterie board, a few sandwiches and an all-inclusive option for 10 people — an offering the owners see as consistent with the room’s over-the-top nature.
On the move
Van Note will move closer to Greenville, likely Travelers Rest, so that his Asheville-native wife, Lia Van Note, an experienced restaurant manager, will have a shorter commute to work as the general manager of the new Whale. Ross will remain in Asheville, where Melissa Adamo will continue as general manager of the original location.
Effective management at both spaces will free up Ross and Van Note to overlap in person a few days a week and bring a distinct beer experience to each bar, a prospect their Greenville peers are looking forward to with great anticipation.
“Them coming in is a major step toward showing that the Greenville scene is progressive and progressing and there’s a thirst for some other style of beers here — and they’re going to do a great job bringing that here,” says Johnson.
Conversations with Asheville friends who run Biscuit Head and White Duck Taco Shop, both of which have opened Greenville locations in recent years, likewise bolster Ross’ and Van Note’s confidence in finding success in the new market. The same goes for the response the Asheville Whale has received, a reception which still leaves them in awe.
“There’s something to be said about the fact that now we know this works,” Van Note says. “When we originally had the idea, Ross and I knew it’s what we wanted to do, but we didn’t know how Asheville was going to be about us not serving Asheville beer.”
Ross adds, “We were basically counting how many pints we had to sell to keep the lights on that first week, and then we were like, ‘Oh, people like hanging out here.’”
“And then everybody said, ‘Hey, this is what Asheville was missing,’” Van Note says. “Which, now, it gives us a higher confidence rate opening a new location, knowing that worked.”