When Local Provisions opened in November 2015, there was much fanfare. Founding chef Justin Burdett launched the place hot on the heels of the sudden closure of Ruka’s Table in Highlands, where he’d worked as head chef since his departure from Miller Union in Atlanta after appearing on the 2011 television series “Chopped.” What followed was nearly constant praise from myriad publications. Just last week, Local Provisions was featured in Garden & Gun, and it seemed as if every month the restaurant has garnered some kind of national attention.
So it came as a shock when he suddenly announced his departure from the eatery with a Sept. 12 Facebook post that simply read: “I am no longer with Local Provisions. If anyone in Asheville is looking for a chef, any leads you could send my way would be great. Thanks.” Nearly 70 people left comments and condolences on his Facebook wall in response.
When Xpress contacted Burdett that morning, his statement was a simple, “Just a business partner split. No bad blood.” The response from Local Provisions was roughly the same. Burdett had worked with Atlanta developer Perry King, who was a majority shareholder in the restaurant.
Asheville is a strange city in that chefs can sometimes get more of a media spotlight than successful musicians or local politicians. This tends to make the food scene — despite the unusual camaraderie of competing chefs — oddly political and a place where business decisions can be misconstrued as personal, with the gray-scale of many complex issues reduced to absolute black or white.
With a talented chef like Burdett suddenly a free agent, one can’t help but think of chefs like Elliot Moss and Steven Goff. Both endured very public and premature departures under different but ambiguous circumstances from restaurants they helped construct. And they both went on to build stellar careers — Moss at the James Beard-nominated Buxton Hall Barbecue following a spree of pop-ups and guest chef appearances, and Goff with the opening of BrineHaus Meat + Provisions food truck after a long stint of short-term kitchen takeovers and a butchery position in Raleigh.
In Burdett’s stead, his former sous chef, Joe Fahey, will take the helm of Local Provisions. “The understanding is that this has to keep going and continue to grow, and fortunately, or unfortunately — however you want to look at that — I’m in a position to look at this as an opportunity. We’re not going to just sit around and reap the benefits of someone else’s achievements, so there will be changes,” says Fahey.
Much of the business will remain the same, including the restaurant’s name and its focus on locally sourced food. But there will be changes to the menu, says Fahey, as well as some front-of-house updates. “Just enough to make sure that we are taking proper ownership of this and to not ride the coattails of what we were and what someone else had achieved,” he explains.
Restaurants break like waves. Sometimes they crash on the beach and retreat as quickly as they crested, and other times they land and linger, supported by the breakers that follow pushing them farther up the shore.
Fahey moved to Western North Carolina in 2008 from the small farming town of Northfield, Minn., to pursue a job in graphic design before realizing kitchen work might be a calling rather than just a way to pay the bills. He went on to work under Burdett at Ruka’s Table before following him to Asheville to open Local Provisions after a stint at Gan Shan Station.
In addition to getting a face-lift, Local Provisions will begin hosting more events, including a Tuesday family-style dinner. “Think large, braised meats, big salads, charcuterie plates, and we’re going to try to keep it under $35 per head,” says Zoe Dadian, who has stepped in to manage the restaurant. Dadian cut her teeth at Table before being called to Cucina 24 and Tod’s Tasties, helping to overhaul their systems and create new and sustainable programs after significant departures from long-term management, often developing roles that others could easily slip into and understand how to take the reins after she finished.
Dadian also plans to put more of a focus on the restaurant’s wine program. “With this incredible wine list we have, we’ll be featuring it Coravin-style,” she says, referring to the new Coravin wine tool that inserts a thin needle through the cork to pour glasses of high-end wines while preserving the remainder of the bottle from spoilage.
“People who may want to try these crazy wines, but don’t want to buy a $200 bottle, can come in here and have a glass,” she says. “The first three bottles we pour will go up on the chalkboard and will be what we are pouring that night. When one of them is gone, we open up a different one.” She also plans on featuring half-priced bottle wine nights.
The overall ethos of the restaurant is intended to stay consistent, and the staff is mostly unchanged. And with Fahey as chef, it is clear that the style of the restaurant won’t change drastically, so don’t expect a sudden shift to pub food or anything. Fahey is currently talking to his local farmers as the seasons start to shift.
“We are right in that awkward part of the season where you get a call from a farmer and they say that they have some awesome squash, but that they still have tomatoes available,” he says. “It’s a challenge because you don’t want to say no to local tomatoes, but it’s hard to run a fall squash soup and tomatoes on a salad because it doesn’t make sense. But we are smack dab in the middle of a season where transition is naturally occurring, and I think that is going to naturally coincide in a very good way with what we are doing.”
And that might also perfectly coincide with what Local Provisions is going through at the moment.