It wasn’t the St. Patrick’s Day celebration breweries, bars and restaurants typically prepare for. Instead, on March 17, in response to COVID-19, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order closing all bars and restaurants to dine-in customers.
Those who had observed similar actions taken in other cities were not surprised, but few were fully prepared for such a screeching halt to an industry that is a vital component of the region’s economic engine. Suddenly, hundreds of restaurants and thousands of employees, from chefs to dishwashers, were out of work. The ripple effect is profound, affecting farmers and suppliers who rely on the restaurant trade.
Primary concerns among owners was how to keep their business afloat through an unprecedented crisis, and how to care for the employees they count as family. Many immediately pivoted to take advantage of what is permitted under the executive order: carry-out and delivery. Some restaurants’ doors remain open for take away orders; others have instituted call-ahead ordering and curbside pick-up. Many are suggesting taking advantage of food delivery services such as Uber Eats, Postmates as well as locally owned Takeout Central and KickbackAVL (which is hiring to accommodate the surge in food deliveries). Check those companies’ websites to learn what restaurants they partner with.
In addition to food, there are adult beverages available for delivery (to those 21 and older), and some local wine stores are also doing deliveries or call-ahead and curbside/parking lot pick-up.
The best resource for information on your favorite restaurant (or one you’ve been meaning to try but hadn’t gotten around to, or couldn’t get a reservation) is through social media pages and websites. There, you will find hours of operation and menus — some of which have been streamlined for the current situation — as well as new options for family-sized, heat-and-eat meals in addition to individual items.
The Ashville Independent Restaurant Association has a document listing any regional restaurant that submits information on its current operation. AIR counts 150 member restaurants (employing over 6,000 people), but the list is not limited to members. “We made the decision to include all local restaurants that contact us,” says AIR executive director Jane Anderson. “Now is not the time to be exclusive. We are all in this together.” Check the website at airasheville.org and refer to the Asheville Takeout link for a google document.
Another option to financially support local eateries (and other businesses) is through the purchase of gift cards, to be redeemed when we can all gather again. Visit ashevillestrong.com.
Not into delayed gratification? While brewery tasting rooms are closed, beer enthusiasts can purchase local canned and bottled brews sold in grocery stores and markets.
Speaking of markets, Buncombe County’s emergency preparedness coordinator Fletcher Tove reports grocery stores and pharmacies may remain open. Several individual or smaller operations, however, have adjusted their operating hours to allow for more cleaning and re-stocking time and have implemented protocols to allow a limited number of shoppers in the store at one time. Some have also launched a one-hour window for senior-only shopping prior to opening for all shoppers (early birds get the frozen pizza and toilet paper). Call ahead or check websites and social media platforms for up-to-the-minute information.
While most regional outdoor tailgate markets take a cold-weather sabbatical, the Asheville City Market-Winter operates January through March in the Masonic Temple on Broadway on Saturday mornings. Anyone who has wrestled their way through the crowds to get the last bag of arugula or loaf of bread was not surprised that, due to the ban on gatherings more than 100 people, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, which runs that market, made the tough decision to cancel it on March 14.
In response to other closures and to assist farmers, producers and customers, ASAP kicked off an interim outdoor Saturday market on the campus of A-B Tech, starting March 21. It will be set up in parking lots A2, A3 and A7, with limited access from the end of Persistence Drive off Victoria Road.
New procedures to maintain social distancing guidelines and health standards include queuing in vehicles before being permitted to park, maintaining a distance from vendors, no handling of produce and no payment transactions at the market. Payments can be made online after shopping using the honor system at asapconnections.org.
The website will have up-to-date information on how long this market will operate, as well as details on other tailgates and CSA sign-ups. According to communications coordinator Sarah Hart, ASAP expects at least 20 vendors to participate. “It will be a learning curve for all of us,” she says. “We don’t know how long we will remain there, but the good thing about the A-B Tech setup is there is plenty of room to grow as needed.”
The outdoor sheds of the WNC Farmers Market, with regional and trucked produce that services retail customers as well as a huge wholesale clientele, remain open daily, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. through the end of March, and until 6 p.m. beginning April 1.