Black Mountain experiences boom in local food and beverage scene

GROWTH SPURT: A town of roughly 8,500, Black Mountain has seen a series of new restaurants and breweries opening in its downtown over the past three years. Photo courtesy of Explore Asheville

Richard King had his eye on Pure Oil Co., a dilapidated former gas station on State Street in Black Mountain, for years. When it finally went on the market in 2021, he called local chef Jake Whitman about collaborating on a new project, and The Pure and Proper was born.

Heidi King, Richard’s wife and business partner, says the restaurant fills a niche as an all-day eatery with a seasonal, elevated dinner menu, offering unique options such as venison stew and bestseller okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory cabbage pancake.

According to Sharon Tabor, executive director of the Black Mountain Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce, the restaurant’s launch is one of at least nine new food and beverage openings in the town of roughly 8,500 since the beginning of 2021.

Richard King says the growth is in part due to repeat Asheville tourists seeking somewhere similar but different to explore on vacation.

“If you keep going to Manhattan, eventually you’re going to start spending time in Brooklyn,” he says. “And now that the brewery and food scene is catching up with [Black Mountain’s] local, small-town, Hallmark charm, it’s getting even more popular.”

Cautiously optimistic

While the spillover effect has helped Black Mountain continue to attract new visitors, the town’s proprietors are generally proud of its independence from Asheville, just 20 minutes to its west.

“It’s close enough, but a little more approachable,” Heidi King says. 

Richard adds that parking is free, and there are fewer bridal parties stomping around the streets. 

The arrival of new venues has local business owners excited, if not a little anxious about the future. Casey McKissick, who has owned and operated Foothills Meats in Black Mountain for more than 20 years, remains cautiously optimistic.

“I suppose as the town grows, I think we’re all wondering if there’s going to be enough visitors to do what we all need to do,” he says. “Because it does feel like a lot right now. May was a little [slow] for everybody. But it’s been getting steadily busier.”

Building community

Just a block south of The Pure and Proper, restaurateur John Richardson wants to build community rather than foster competition with the opening of his latest business, The RailYard. “Rising tide raises all the boats,” he says. “The more the merrier.” 

PARTY SPACE: RailYard Owner John Richardson envisions hosting many concerts and community events like this one April 15 at his large gathering space in downtown Black Mountain. Photo courtesy of Richardson

The RailYard — which hosted its grand opening on April 15 in a former furniture warehouse — boasts a long bar, indoor event space, outdoor stage, spacious patio, catering kitchen and the burger concept, SmashBalls, all on 1.2 acres.

No stranger to the industry, Richardson operates several other eateries in town, including Black Mountain Pizza & Ale House, Black Mountain Brewing and the barbecue food truck, Smoke Black Mountain. But unlike these additional sites, he notes that The RailYard’s indoor event space creates the opportunity to expand his latest business into something that more resembles a community center. Granted, one that serves beer.

He’s already hosted gatherings for his nonprofit PubCorps, whereby volunteers package meals for Black Mountain kids facing food insecurity. In the future, he hopes to host craft and farmers markets outside and envisions yoga classes being held inside.

“What we’re looking to do is build [community],” he says. “I realized that I wasn’t really opening a restaurant. I was opening a community center.”

Let’s work together 

Across Broadway Avenue, McKissisk is expanding Foothills Meats’ downtown footprint while building rapport with other business owners.

At the original Black Mountain Avenue location, Foothills has partnered with Joseph Morris, who now operates his 2-year-old coffee concept Cup of Jomo out of McKissick’s 107 Market & Deli. In March, Cup of Jomo moved from a previous location in the WNC Outdoor Collective, across the street.

The deli sells breakfast and lunch sandwiches featuring locally sourced meats, various provisions from area purveyors and the whole-animal butcher shop items that Foothills is known for in Black Mountain. Meanwhile, Morris offers his coffee drinks from the same register, a cooperative system that showcases both owners’ collective mindset.

“It’s definitely at the core of my business ethos and this community,” Morris says. “Community over competition.” 

The partnership came after McKissick moved Foothills’ burger-focused operation up the street to the more centrally located spot now known as Foothills Grange in September 2022. This largely outdoor space resembles a city park, anchored by its signature burgers, hot dogs and full bar.

“We built this place, specifically, because it’s what [I and wife/business partner, Amanda] wanted when our kids were little,” McKissick says of the decision to open the Grange.

“We want[ed] to sit at a table with our kids and not care if french fries fall on the ground. And it’s OK if they want to run around and get muddy and it’s relatively safe,” he adds.

The couple succeeded in that mission in part by adding a big dirt pile in the corner of the property, stocked with big yellow Tonka trucks and kid-sized shovels.

Happy hour

Similar to the McKissicks’ collaboration with Morris, other business owners are getting together to discuss issues, complaints, successes and pitfalls.

That group is exactly what makes Hunter Berry, owner of Taco Billy in West Asheville, so excited to be a part of the town’s future. Berry recently opened Taco Billy’s Black Mountain location at 117 Cherry St. The reception from his neighbors has him feeling at home.

During construction, Berry spent a lot of time at Town Hardware & General Store down the street, where he became known as “Mr. Taco Man.” And while he loves his original West Asheville community, there’s nothing there that compares with Black Mountain’s unofficial restaurant-owner happy hour, he says.

“We’ve come together to talk about our similar needs and issues and to potentially work together collectively to try to solve those problems together,” he says.

They’ve considered paying for a linen service collectively, for example, and discussed other collective options to help each other lower costs and improve contract terms, he says.

Beyond Buncombe 

FRESH FACES: Co-owners, from left, Richard King, Heidi King, Ali Whitman and Jake Whitman have seen business boom at Pure and Proper since its opening in January. Photo by Greg Parlier

Back at The Pure and Proper, Richard King says word is getting out beyond Buncombe County. He notes that seats are staying full inside his restaurant, and many visitors are coming from beyond Buncombe County.

For these reasons, King believes it would be shortsighted to complain about increasing competition. From his perspective, there are always new people discovering the town.

“As these businesses open, Black Mountain [becomes a] destination. It’s not just a stop on the way to somewhere else,” he says.

“Our hope is that we become a restaurant that draws people not just from Western North Carolina but from neighboring states, and Atlanta, Charlotte and Greenville. And we’ve seen that already,” he adds.


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4 thoughts on “Black Mountain experiences boom in local food and beverage scene

  1. Elite Lawncare and Fence

    Hey neighbors! ? Just read about the booming food scene in Black Mountain and now I’m craving some Pure and Proper goodness! ? Love the idea of The RailYard turning into a community center – events, markets, and yoga? Count me in! ? Curious if anyone’s tried Taco Billy’s new spot on Cherry St – that breakfast burrito is calling my name! ? And major props to Foothills Meats for that smart collaboration with Cup of Jomo – supporting local all the way! ? Is it just me, or does this town keep getting better with each new spot? ?? #BlackMountainEats #LocalFavorites #CommunityVibes

  2. Elite Lawncare and Fence

    Hey folks! ? Just caught wind of the food and drink boom in Black Mountain, and I’m already planning my culinary adventure! ? The idea of The RailYard turning into a community hub is brilliant – concerts, markets, and yoga sessions? Sign me up! ? Curious if anyone’s tasted Taco Billy’s new spot on Cherry St – that breakfast burrito has my name all over it! ? Big shoutout to Foothills Meats for teaming up with Cup of Jomo – supporting local in style! ? Is it just me, or does Black Mountain keep getting tastier with each new place? ??

  3. Elite Lawncare and Fence

    Hey neighbors! 😊 Just read about the booming food scene in Black Mountain, and now I’m craving some Pure and Proper goodness! 🍽️ Love the idea of The RailYard turning into a community center – events, markets, and yoga? Count me in! 🎶 Curious if anyone’s tried Taco Billy’s new spot on Cherry St – that breakfast burrito is calling my name! 🌯 And major props to Foothills Meats for that smart collaboration with Cup of Jomo – supporting local all the way! 🥩 Is it just me, or does this town keep getting better with each new spot? 🌟

  4. Elite Lawncare and Fence

    Black Mountain sounds like such a charming place to spend a day exploring! 🌄 I love how you describe the vibrant downtown area and the delightful boutique shops. The Berliner Kindl German Restaurant seems like a great spot for lunch, especially with accommodating options for food allergies. 🍽️ And browsing through Common Housefly for unique kitchen gadgets sounds like a fun adventure. 😂 I’ll have to add Black Mountain to my list of places to visit. What are some of your favorite hidden gems in town? 🛍️✨

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