Motorists and pedestrians have long had good reason to avert their eyes when passing by 395 Haywood Road. Though situated next to the clean blue walls of West Asheville Lounge & Kitchen, and catty-corner from the shabby chic exteriors of The Admiral, the rugged grounds didn’t exactly encourage sustained attention during the McKnight Tire era, nor in its vacated aftermath once the business closed in August 2019.
But for the better part of 2020, heads have been turning while passing that same lot, attracted by the beautification of the property as Cellarest Beer Project takes shape. The brewery is the realization of co-founder and director of fermentation Mark Goodwin’s long-held dream to have his own craft beer establishment and has a targeted opening date of February 2021.
The vision for Cellarest has its roots in Goodwin’s days as a brewer at Cascade Brewing in Portland, Ore. During his off hours, he frequented Apex, a bar with a large outdoor patio, beer garden tables and minimal indoor seating. The atmosphere got him envisioning his own similar venue for a farmhouse-inspired brewery, and he began working on business plans.
In 2016, after a decade in Portland, Goodwin was hired as the head blender for Burial Beer Co., whose co-owner Doug Reiser — in his side work as an attorney — actually handled the trademark for the brewery Goodwin was going to start in Portland. As such, Goodwin says the Burial owners knew his “wheels were turning” from the get-go and have been immensely supportive of his small-business goals.
The Asheville version of that dream gained traction during a summer 2018 camping trip with a small group of friends, including Charlotte-based Harrison Fahrer, with whom Goodwin had stayed close since their days at Appalachian State University. On their way out of Pisgah National Forest, they stopped at Ecusta Brewing and began formulating a plan that would bring in Fahrer as general manager. In yet another fortuitous turn, the visit was also where they met Ecusta co-founder Bill Zimmer, who soon became their business partner in Cellarest. Thus began the search for viable real estate, which yielded contenders on Charlotte Street and in Candler before the unlikely former automotive garage emerged.
“When I saw this property, at first I thought, ‘There’s no way this is going to work. This is a garbage dump.’ The before and after pictures are going to be pretty amazing,” Goodwin says. “But I saw the benefit of having probably one of the largest patios on Haywood.”
The original goal was to open at the start of summer 2020, but that timeline was delayed by the lease not being signed until February, at which point all the equipment was ordered and Fahrer moved to Asheville. A month later, the COVID-19 pandemic threw the entire craft beverage industry into disarray — a mixed blessing for the Cellarest team.
“People kept saying to me, ‘Aren’t you glad you didn’t open in June?’ I’m personally like, ‘No. I would have loved it. Let’s open — let’s just do this.’ But we didn’t have to deal with that constant changing of what’s allowed,” Goodwin says.
Adds Fahrer, “We’ve been able to design the space with COVID in mind, and we’re confident that when we open, people will have a better handle on things.”
Aiming to be a hub for the surrounding neighborhoods, Cellarest will operate with a 4-barrel system, on which Goodwin will make regionally influenced, small-batch beers, incorporating seasonal, locally grown ingredients whenever possible. He’ll also use three different types of wood for fermentation, lagering and aging, and pour the beer from European-style serving tanks that utilize a liner and compressed air for dispensing instead of CO2, thereby encouraging fresher beer served at its proper temperature.
Goodwin plans to offer a variety of styles, including new takes on sours that earned him acclaim at Burial, with a focus on medium/low-ABV “table” ales and lagers to encourage longer visits. Unless otherwise noted, every Cellarest creation will have less than 20 parts per million of gluten — the international threshold for beer to be considered “gluten-free.”
Cans and growler fills will be available for to-go service, and visitors will get to enjoy draft pours in the spacious outdoor setting, amid an original mural by local artist Gus Cutty and eventually a small stage for local bands to perform and a drop-down projection screen for film showings. Cellarest is also partnering with the WALK for food delivery and will have scannable codes on each table that will connect to the restaurant’s online ordering system.
To help foster a true neighborhood vibe, Goodwin and Fahrer are hoping that customers who live nearby will walk or bike to Cellarest whenever possible. They’re also are working with Asheville on Bikes Executive Director Mike Sule to potentially lower the speed limit at the Haywood Avenue/Michigan Avenue intersection and are exploring closing off the single block that runs between Cellarest and the WALK to further reduce the presence of automobiles — all to enhance the overall experience and encourage Goodwin’s humble core mission.
“I want people to just have fun and drink beer, honestly,” he says. “I feel like beer’s gotten a little out of hand in some places. It’s not meant to be that way. People want simplicity.” cellarestbeer.com