Despite nearly two years of booming business, Asheville eatery King James Public House is closing. Employees were notified last week that in 30 days the Charlotte Street restaurant would no longer be open. Investors are buying out part owner and Zambra co-owner Peter Slamp, King James Public House chef Nohe Weir-Villatoro told Xpress on Saturday. The last day will be Sunday, Jan. 10.
The investors include the building’s owner, Kirk Boone, the developer behind North Asheville’s Reynolds Village. With Slamp’s exit, Boone and the other partners brought onboard Jon Dressler, owner of Charlotte’s Dressler’s Restaurant and Dogwood Southern Table & Bar, to act as a consultant and operator in the launch of a new enterprise to open in the space pending two to three months of extensive renovations of the kitchen and dining area.
Dressler says that although a name hasn’t yet been decided for the new restaurant, the concept will be similar to what he and his wife, Kim Dressler, have already established with their two Dressler’s Restaurant locations in the Charlotte area. The menu, he says, will focus on steaks and seafood with an extensive wine list and a full bar.
“We’re not a sports bar,” he says, referring to an earlier report that King James staff had heard the new venture may have a sports bar theme. “We’re a sit-down, white-tablecloth [restaurant].”
Slamp says his decision to give up ownership of the business “is 100 percent mine. I really want to simplify things in my life a little bit. I have two kids and two restaurants; I don’t need to complicate my life anymore.
“Two and a half years ago, I feel like we hit a home run with the vision we had for King James,” he continues. “I love everything about it; I love my staff; I love the people that come in there,” he says. “This has nothing to do with business. The business has been great … we are busier than we’ve ever been.”
As for Boone and the other investors, Slamp observes that they have long wanted to expand the business into a space within the building that is currently unused. “But my idea of the place was for it to always be a small, intimate place,” says Slamp. “But in a lot of ways, that is something that probably needs to happen because we were certainly busy enough. They have great ideas about what to do with [the] space, but my heart is just not in an expansion. My partners have been totally supportive. They have not pressured me, and it was my decision one way or the other.”
“With Peter opting out, [the owners] wanted an operator with a different direction,” explains Dressler. “And I feel more comfortable operating under one of our concepts.”
The decision to close King James Public House leaves over 20 front and back-of-house employees without work at a very difficult time of the year to find employment. But Slamp clarifies that great efforts were made to give employees as much notice as possible. “If we didn’t care about the staff, they would have come into work one day with the doors locked,” he says — a good point considering other local restaurant closings in recent years where staff discovered the news when they showed up to work to find a sign hanging on the door. “I was very adamant with my partners that I wanted to give these guys an adequate warning. I love these people, and they are my family.
“No one is fired,” he continues. “They are all welcome to come back, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to wait two months for the renovations to be over.” Slamp adds that he’s already managed to find new jobs for more than half of the staff.
Dressler is in agreement that King James Public House staff will be welcome at the new eatery. “We always prefer for people who know the lay of the land to stay,” he says. “We’re a family-owned operation — just my wife and I — and we treat everyone like family. But I also understand that there will be a 60 to 90-day lag in between [the closing of King James Public House and the opening of the new venture], and I don’t know if it’s in everyone’s best interest to sit around and wait for two or three months. I understand that people have to do what’s best for their families. … We always find it a privilege to work with great people, and I understand there are a lot of great people that work there.”
The popular neighborhood bar and grill has been known for its quirky twists on pub food that keep one foot solidly planted in culinary haute cuisine. The pub even offered free duck wings for life for patrons who emblazoned the company’s lightning bolt logo in a tattoo anywhere on their body — a decision some folks may be regretting about now.
But Dressler assures that the new restaurant will make good on that offer. “I found out there are two people who have that tattoo,” says Dressler. “We’ll find out who those two people are and offer them a free appetizer for life on each of their visits [to the new restaurant]. They don’t need to change the tattoo — we’ll certainly honor that.”
In April, the King James Public House’s founding chef, Steven Goff, left the restaurant suddenly under controversial circumstances involving an ownership dispute. Weir-Villatoro then stepped in as executive chef. Goff now serves as head butcher at Standard Foods in Raleigh.
Weir-Villatoro says local restaurants looking for help can contact him directly at email@example.com to find out about hiring King James employees.
Note: Xpress Food editor Gina Smith contributed to updates on this story.