Photos by Jack Sorokin. Story by Brook van der Linde of the Haywood Street Congregation.
Metaphorically, the tables were set months ago as chef John Fleer began to dream up what would become A Seat at the Table. This inaugural event was held on the evening of May 9 at Fleer’s The Rhu and Rhubarb. The event was invite-only and sold out weeks in advance.
The intention of the evening was to raise awareness and financial support for the Downtown Welcome Table, one of five core programs administered by the Haywood Street Congregation. It also provided an opportunity to acknowledge the dedication of the Welcome Table’s partners and to strengthen the connection between the program and the Asheville community.
The Downtown Welcome Table is a meal that is prepared every Wednesday and Sunday at Haywood Street Congregation. It is an invitation for the housed and the unhoused, people on all margins of society, to come together for the breaking of bread and the breaking down of barriers. Cloth napkins and fresh flowers help illustrate the inherent worth of all who come to the table. Those who prepare and serve the meals do so with grace and love, offering a gift that goes far beyond the notion of handouts and second-hand sustenance.
Haywood Street, as it is called by close friends, has its own industrial kitchen and kitchen staff led by banquet steward Dave Holland. It also has nearly 30 partner restaurants who are collectively known as the Chefs of the Downtown Welcome Table. Nearly every other week, one of these restaurants dedicates their time, talents and staff to the preparation and serving of the Welcome Table meal.
The partner restaurants behind the A Seat at the Table event were Rhubarb/The Rhu, Gan Shan Station, Table, French Broad Chocolate Lounge, Chestnut/Corner Kitchen, Chai Pani, Curate/Nightbell and Cucina 24. Wicked Weed Brewing was an event sponsor. Together, the owners/chefs of each restaurant prepared delicate hors d’oeuvres and a stunning five-course meal. The dishes were served family style, just as they are every week at the Welcome Table.
The event took place on the third floor of The Rhu. Andrew Fletcher of the Firecracker Jazz Band played piano as guests mingled, enjoyed signature cocktails and began bidding on an impressive lineup of silent auction items. Reverend Brian Combs introduced the ministry and mission of Haywood Street and board of directors chairman Ward Griffin presented the Elizabeth Button Full Plate Fund to both Elizabeth Button and Holland. This award not only signifies Button’s and Holland’s dedication to the Downtown Welcome Table, it also sets the stage for the long-term sustainability of this program.
Later, guests dined on chocolate-dipped strawberries and Champagne as they gathered for the event’s live auction. There were eight live auction items, including a 60-mile bike tour and Korean barbecue hosted by chef Patrick O’Cain of Gan Shan Station and an in-home meal prepared by chef Katie Button and Felix Meana of Curate and Nightbell. Closing remarks were provided by Combs and his mother, Louisa Combs.
To find out more about the Haywood Street Congregation and the Downtown Welcome Table, visit haywoodstreet.org, look for them on Facebook and Instagram (@haywoodstreetcongregation) or plan a visit. Meals and worship are open to everyone.