Few Asheville dining establishments can boast the staying power and history of the Silver Dollar Restaurant, a diner that’s been open since the 1940s in the area now known as the River Arts District. But before the neighborhood was a hot spot for arts and food, the diner was a haunt for the average blue-collar Ashevillean.
Even with the quickening transformation and gentrification of the area, the Silver Dollar has remained an anachronistic island where flapjacks, eggs, biscuits, gravy and sausage make up the typical breakfast — and there’s not a bowl of granola in sight.
On the walls of The Silver Dollar, numerous fading photographs pay homage to the restaurant's history. The diner played a part in a scene of the 1958 movie, Thunder Road, and has survived a move to make way for the Clingman Avenue bridge. The relocation placed the diner on higher ground, which spared the building from a severe flood in 2004.
As much of a constant in a sea of change as the Silver Dollar has represented over the years, a major shift is on the way for the family that owns the landmark restaurant when they close it for the last time at the end of this month. The Dotsikas family has owned and operated the Silver Dollar since 1966. The family includes son Gus Dotsikas, daughters Helen and Tula, mother and father Cathrine and Angelo Dotsikas, who’s been running the kitchen since the family took over the place, Gus says.
On Friday, Aug. 12, the Dotsikas family inked a lease for the property to The Asheville Public, or TAP. TAP is planned as a community-oriented restaurant and family-friendly pub and will be run by team of current Asheville locals that include husband and wife duo Mark and Jenny Henegan, plus executive chef John Daniel “Danny” Schwalje and his wife Dara DeBoer-Shwalje.
TAP will focus on a seasonal "new local" menu. The restaurant will showcase locally grown produce, cheese from artisan dairies, wild-caught fish and natural, farm-specific meats including heritage breeds, grass-fed beef and pastured pork. The kitchen staff will make their own sausage, ham, bacon and other charcuterie. Prices for small plates will range from $4-$10 and $9-$22 for entrees. TAP will offer a full bar of specialty cocktails, plus local brews and cask-conditioned beer and a comprehensive wine list.
Mark Henegan, originally from South Africa, and his wife, Jenny, are well-versed in the restaurant business; they own Madiba, a Brooklyn bistro named in honor of Nelson Mandela (In South Africa, Mandela is called Madiba). The menu at Madiba focuses on traditionally prepared South African specialties with an emphasis on organic and local products. Some of the yearly proceeds from the restaurant, which has been open since 1999, go to benefit South African charities. Madiba has handled catering for the South African Consulate, Nelson Mandela's family and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Chef Danny Schwalje, for his part, is no culinary slouch; the A-B Tech culinary graduate was recently featured in the pages of Xpress when the WNC Culinary Association, a team composed of students from A-B Tech, took home a silver medal from the American Culinary Federation’s Student Team Championship held in Dallas, Texas, this year. Schwalje was the team captain. His wife owns “Designs by Dara" and creates handmade jewelry and graphic designs.
The group intends to honor the Dotsikas’ wishes to keep the property as a valuable part of a growing community.
"It's such a landmark; there's such a history. I think we were at the right place at the right time. They're a really sweet family," says Mark. The group intends to start construction in September and will likely open in the late fall or early winter. In the Spring of 2012, an outdoor seating terrace will be added to the building. Plans are also in the works for a TAP garden, summer movie nights and flea markets.
Gus seems excited about the team's plans. “I think it will be good. I’ve seen photos of what they want to do, and I’ve listened to their vision, and I like it,” he says. “Several people have wanted to take this location, but we think that these people will be right for the area.” Gus says that the property will remain in the family, who will continue to monitor construction and maintenance.
Gus says that he hopes to see his hardworking parents retire and go do their own thing. Cathrine was congenial and wistful and acknowledged that she will miss the business and her customers very much.
TAP will open at 8:30 a.m. for coffee and pastries with lunch starting at 11:30 a.m. Dinner service is 4:30 until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 4:30 until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. A late-night menu will be available on weekends. For more information, visit theashevillepublic.com.