UPDATED: King James Public House to close in January

Charlotte Street restaurant King James Public House will close in January. Xpress file photo

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 villacocina@gmail.com to find out about hiring King James employees.

Note: Xpress Food editor Gina Smith contributed to updates on this story. 

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About Jonathan Ammons
Native Asheville writer, eater, drinker, bartender and musician. Proprietor of www.dirty-spoon.com Follow me @jonathanammons

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16 thoughts on “UPDATED: King James Public House to close in January

  1. Jason

    NEVER GO INTO THE RESTAURANT BIZ!

    This is terribly sad, but why r they closing? They should just set up a “GO FUND ME” account; seems to be the new option for Ashevilles ever expanding failing restaurant scene

    • Tim

      never be a troll on the Internet just because you are not smart enough to run your own restaurant. it just makes you look like jerk.

    • Tim

      the article explains why they are closing.. it’s sad that you can type but can’t read

  2. Jason

    I’m certainly smart enough to NOT go into the Restaurant biz.

    TROLL “In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement.”

    My comment had no deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response even though this was the end result and if giving my opinion makes TROLL; then “Please do not feed the trolls.”

    • Tim

      you diverted the original article which touched base on people loosing their jobs when it is hard to find a job to saying you should never go into the restaurant buisness. So the point has been proven. you are by definition a troll….kindly redirect your hateful attitude towards a more positive outlet. have you ever considered yoga?

      • Tim

        your lack of empathy towards people who work so hard to please their community is repulsive. I have worked in kitchens for over 13 years now and understand the passion that drives that industry. I also understand that some things are out of your control. But my love for what I do and what you pay for when you go out drives me day by day. It’s why I wake up in the morning and smile. We hold strong as small knit community of service industry workers. When you say you are SMART enough to stay out of the restaurant business, it is a direct attack on all restaurant workers. It insinuates that we are stupid for even involving ourselves in restaurant work. Do you feel you are better than us for the way we love and choose to make a living??? I think I’ve said enough to prove what a troll you actually are. I hope one day you do grow up sir.

      • Jason

        Take things too personal much? Do what others say bother you so much you lose control? Try Al-Anon!

  3. Jessika

    I hope all those cold hearted people who fired 20 people during the holidays get seriously scary visits from the ghost of winter past. Bunch of rich old scrooges. We all know how hard it is to find a job in Asheville in general but especially in the dead of winter. My thoughts go out to all the good folks affected.

    • Gigi

      Rich scrooges? It must be nice to know everything, all the time, about everyone’s business.
      Actually I would think that is a horrible burden.
      Thanks for schooling me on what a troll is.
      Have some faith people…and it’s not a sports bar, lol…..not even close.

      • Jessika

        some people are on the people’s side… Some people are on the man’s side. I just can’t help but feel for the 20 plus people who have thirty days to find a new job in the dead of winter and not the investors who are doing the firing. Just my two cents, I don’t know what a troll is but I’ve never been referred to as that so.. Whatever.

        • Bryan

          That is the most clean I’ve ever seen a restraunt leave their employees after closing, just saying sucks it’s happening, but good for them.

          I’ve seen/heard/experienced many instances of, don’t come in tomorrow cause we are closing, or showing up with a note on the door.

  4. JD

    Kirk Boone: three weeks before Christmas? True sign of your character, this. I will be speaking with my wallet, I am done patronizing The Chop Shop and will be informing everyone who does exactly what kind of cold-hearted slug they are supporting.

    To quote the cop at the end of Christmas Vacation:
    “If I had a rubber hose, I would beat you!!!”

    • Jonathan Ammons

      3 weeks is a lot more notice than most restaurant workers get. Considering that most employees don’t even get a weeks notice when a restaurant closes, a month is pretty good.

    • T. James

      JD, really??? Did you read the article? From the way I took it, this wasn’t Kirk Boone’s decision to close it and when a tenant decides to move out, he would be foolish not to find another alternative to fill the space. Why is it that the people who take the risks with an investment become the bad guys even when they didn’t do anything wrong. why don’t you hire some of these employees or just pay their bills for a few months. That’s sounds like the same request you have for Mr Boone! It seems as if you have all the answers.

  5. Sarah

    Personally I’m not very excited about a Dresslers themed restaurant taking King James place. Been to Dresslers in Charlotte and my impression was that it was an over priced wanna be. It won’t compete with the amazing restaurants we already have here.

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