Before there were breweries, cideries and wine bars in Asheville, there was Mack Kells Pub and Grill, a Cheers-like spot on Tunnel Road. For 38 years, it drew a steady crowd of customers who came for beer, chicken wings, live music and to hang out with friends.
But now Mack Kells is dark and empty. Owner Amanda Gunter reluctantly closed the place for good on Jan. 3 after the building’s owners unexpectedly canceled her lease.
The decision stunned Gunter, a single mom who poured much of her life savings into the business. She’s determined to resurrect Mack Kells in a new location, possibly in Oteen, where she’s eyeing property to lease. She’s also considering spots in Weaverville.
The building at 160 Tunnel Road once housed a Lum’s restaurant. That chain shut down in 1981, after which Mack Kells moved in. The property had been owned by the Ming Tree Restaurant but was sold in 2019 to a company called Asheville ARD GCP, with an address in Birmingham, Ala.
Birmingham-based attorney Scott Frederick, who represents the owners, says they do not want to comment on the property or what they plan to do with it.
Gunter says she received an email in late November saying that the new owners will not honor her lease agreement. “I’m devastated,” she says.
She immediately began looking for a new location for Mack Kells but claims the Tunnel Road property owners aren’t buying out her lease. “It will take money to move somewhere else,” says Gunter. “I put every penny I had into Mack Kells, getting the plumbing fixed, getting the roof fixed. I found a building in Oteen, but it’s a matter of coming up with a security deposit, and it costs money to move.” She is consulting an attorney to determine her rights.
Mack Kells came close to shutting down in 2018, but Gunter, a longtime regular customer, decided to purchase the business from previous owner Danny Eller. “That was the only place where I felt at home,” she says. “I work in account management at the [Charles George VA Medical Center] full time, and I spent my life’s savings to get into Mack Kells.”
She adds, “We’ve done so many fundraisers and benefits to give back to the community. We fed the veterans for free at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We had a coat drive for the homeless.”
The closing cost seven people their jobs, though for Gunter, the establishment was far more than just a workplace. “I didn’t consider it a job,” she says. “This was family.”