NOTE: The following story is intended as a humor piece. All information is purely fictional.
It’s no secret that tacos have been a rising trend among Asheville’s new restaurants for several years. But a recent flood of press releases from some of Asheville’s top chefs came as quite a surprise. Cúrate, Cucina 24, AUX Bar, Copper Crown and Zambra have all announced they will close after the new year to begin rebranding as taco-themed restaurants.
“We just saw the demand for tacos more than Spanish tapas,” says chef Katie Button, who will shutter her James Beard-nominated downtown restaurant Cúrate in February. “We think, Button’s Burritos will be a perfect fit for Biltmore Avenue, and will complement Button & Co. Bagels nicely.”
“I’m just sick of cooking burgers,” says chef Steve Goff, who has announced plans to rebrand AUX Bar, the Lexington Avenue restaurant he co-owns with Mike Moore, as Stevie G’s Taco Extravaganza. The change could come as soon as March. “If all anyone wants in this town is cheap bar food, our build-your-own taco buffet line is going to be a hit,” Goff says.
Following a string of taco shop openings over the past five years, and with the conversion of these five eateries, Asheville will soon have the highest rate of taco shops per capita in North Carolina. Goff says this shouldn’t come as a surprise — as Asheville’s housing prices continue to rise, wages remain stagnant and customers become increasingly concerned about prices, businesses must inevitably curb their costs.
“It’s just so affordable,” he says. “A little bit of meat, a little bit of veg and a tortilla. We plan to make everything from scratch here, even the tortillas.”
Cucina 24 chef and owner Brian Canipelli seems a little less enthusiastic. “You pour your whole life into a place, but it never seems to change anything. No one cares about fine dining anymore. All they care about is the price point,” he says. Look for Canipelli’s new concept, Canilupe’s Taco Takedown, to open midsummer in the Cucina 24 space on Wall Street, with carryout service from the restaurant’s old deli location. “It’s fine. It’ll be fine,” he says.
“F**k it, we’re serving tacos now,” was all Copper Crown co-owner Kate Bannasch had to say before handing the phone to her husband, Adam Bannasch, executive chef of the East Asheville restaurant. “F**k it,” he echoed. Copper Crown will retain its name after rolling out its all-new menu of tacos, quesadillas and burritos in early spring.
Zambra owner Peter Slamp declined to make a statement, but staff members say they received their new El Duende uniforms at the last staff meeting.
Mandatory draft beer ordinance
After months of debate, Asheville City Council has outlined new draft beer requirements for all downtown businesses. “According to new zoning guidelines, all retail stores, galleries, clothing shops, real estate offices, even toy stores, will be required to have at least one beer tap for every 200 square feet of floor space offering locally made beers as soon as April of 2019,” said Mayor Esther Manheimer at the Council’s Dec. 11 meeting. “We hope this will be a way of sufficiently supporting our ever-growing craft brewing sector.”
“It just seemed necessary, what with 12 new breweries planning to launch before 2020,” says City Council member Vijay Kapoor. “The industry is already so saturated, we just don’t see any other way to sustain these new businesses.”
Councilman Brian Haynes voted against the initiative, noting that Asheville already has the highest drunk and disorderly arrest rate in the state. But he was interrupted mid-speech by a delivery person wheeling in a new kegerator for the council chambers in Asheville City Hall.
“I’m just concerned about the costs,” says Elizabeth Schell, co-owner of Purl’s Yarn Emporium on Wall Street. “We are essentially being required to buy the permits; we’re being strong-armed into selling booze.”
“I think it’s great,” says Kip Veno, owner of Lexington Avenue vintage clothier Hip Replacements. “We’re just going to turn the shop into a lounge, with couches and comfy chairs in the back. It kind of just turns every business in Asheville into a bar.”
High Five and Izzy’s sell to Starbucks
Both Izzy’s Coffee Den and High Five Coffee announced in late December that all locations of both shops have been sold to Starbucks Corp.
The multinational coffee chain has been trying to make inroads into the downtown and West Asheville scenes for decades, but public backlash had held them at bay. The reported multimillion-dollar offers made to the High Five and Izzy’s owners seem to have turned the tides in the corporation’s favor.
“If the breweries can do it, why can’t we?” says Izzy’s employee Chris Ballard with a sigh. “I mean, hell, this town is increasingly becoming a capitalist hellscape anyway. We may as well just give it to the tourists. At least this way, I’ll get benefits.”
When Asheville’s Charlotte Street Starbucks location opened several years ago, it was a target of rampant vandalism for its first few months, requiring police protection until passions ebbed and the people of Asheville came to accept it as part of the changing landscape of the city.
“Asheville people really don’t like Starbucks,” says Amber Arthur, owner of PennyCup Coffee Co., one of the few local coffee chains to withstand the recent corporate buyout.
“We really see no place for corporations like that in this city,” she says, adding after a pause, “I mean, I guess if the money is right. But we balked at their offer of a paltry $11 million. Surely dignity costs a little more than that, right?”
Though the sales of both Izzy’s and High Five will be final in May, the names of the coffee houses are expected to stay the same. “The only way you’ll really notice a difference is that we’ll just start pronouncing and spelling everyone’s name wrong,” says High Five barista Caroline Adams. “That’s mandatory, according to corporate.”