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“Totally hands on”: As the new owner of Café Azalea, chef Kris Dietrick looks forward to engaging with the east Asheville community. Max Cooper

Whereas some first-time restaurant owners might welcome a high-profile opportunity, Kris Dietrick, the new owner of Café Azalea, is relieved to work with the small and simple.

He spent most of his career preparing elaborate dinners at River Run Country Club in Charlotte, so the 50-seat eatery offers a welcome change of pace. “My kitchen was larger than this whole restaurant,” he says.

At Café Azalea, he'll focus on refining an East Asheville favorite, creating an intimate setting with approachable, practical fare. “My style is glorified comfort food,” he says. “I'm totally hands on. I'll be on the floor talking to people.”

Dietrick bought the restaurant in February. Since then, it's been closed for upkeep. A more subdued color palette has replaced the walls' floral-oranges and pinks. “It's simple upscale,” Dietrick says. “The place, it's got a casual feel.”

He's reigned in the menu, too. The new offerings incorporate fewer ingredients than their predecessors, but for a neighborhood eatery, that's a good thing, as Dietrick sees it.

At dinner, the eight entrees draw on Southern and Mediterranean influences. There's tortellini with goat cheese and wild mushrooms, along with rainbow trout from Sunburst Farms and veal and mushroom meatloaf with pan gravy. In addition to the larger dishes, the menu offers burgers, wraps and sandwiches at lunch and dinner.

Dietrick describes himself as “big into wine.” Accordingly, Café Azalea will sell about 30 wines by the glass with prices beginning at $5. Dietrick hopes to host wine dinners and wine-centric specials.

On Sundays, brunch includes French toast, pancakes and omelets as well as a pasta dish, soup, salads and sandwiches. During the rest of the week, the restaurant opens at 9 a.m., and while it doesn't serve a full breakfast menu, it will offer coffee and baked goods.

Mornings are a good time to hang out with the locals, Dietrick explains. He hopes they'll come in for weekly wine tastings, as well. “That's where the boat was being missed before,” he says. “The locals weren't being taken care of. It was pricey to come here and eat.”

Café Azalea is slated to open Wednesday, May 8. It offers dinner from $9 to $19 as well as patio seating, wine and beer. The restaurant opens Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday for brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1011 Tunnel Road. For more information, visit


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