Year in review: Asheville food scene flashbacks

SALAD DAYS: With his Build a Better Salad food truck, chef Gene Ettison, center, helped reboot the Ujamaa Freedom Market mobile food initiative, which brought fresh produce, cooking education and employment opportunities to Asheville's underserved communities. Since Ujamaa’s relaunch in August, the effort has flourished, with Ettison reporting plans to add new routes in 2019. Also pictured are BABS workers Jerome, left, and Tremaine Williams. Photo by Cindy Kunst

Asheville’s culinary scene was in almost constant motion throughout 2018. The year, of course, saw the launch of scads of new restaurants offering everything from poke to poutine, plus a host of new wine and cocktail bars, coffee shops, distilleries, an urban winery and specialty food shops. But plenty of other developments have also impacted the city’s culinary landscape in the last 12 months.

Food festival fluctuations: In 2018, for the first time in a decade, the Asheville Wine & Food Festival failed to make its annual summer appearance. Founder and director Bob Bowles told Xpress for a September story that the event was not dead, just taking a break. But in the meantime, a group of Asheville restaurateurs, farmers and other food scene movers and shakers, bolstered by a $75,000 grant from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, rolled out a brand-new, experiential food festival for the city called Chow Chow: An Asheville Culinary Event. Scheduled for Sept. 12-15, 2019, Chow Chow will be directed by Angel Postell, founder of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival.

Passing the torch: A number of landmark local food businesses found new owners in 2018, including downtown diner The Mediterranean, which opened on College Street in 1975. Founder Pete Apostolopoulos sold the business in September to Foggy Mountain Brew Pub owners Samantha Kronberg, Chris Kronberg, Rachel Goodman and Eli Scott. In May, Biltmore Coffee Roasters owner Laura Telford bought the two-decades-old Trout Lily Market & Deli in Fairview from Susan Bost. Also in May, Celeste and Chris King sold River Arts District institution the Burger Bar to employee Crystal Cappetini.

Hello, goodbye: Downtown staple the Early Girl Eatery also changed hands this year. In March, Texas transplants Cristina and Jesson Gil, who purchased The Blackbird Restaurant in 2016, bought the 17-year-old Wall Street farm-to-table spot from founders John and Julie Stehling. In September, the Gils also bought the Stehlings’ West Asheville restaurant, King Daddy’s Chicken & Waffle, which they soon closed in order to open a second Early Girl location in the Haywood Road space.

On the road again: In August, chef and entrepreneur Gene Ettison partnered with Patchwork Urban Farms owner Sunil Patel to resurrect the Ujamaa Freedom Market, a mobile food market aimed at bringing healthy meals, fresh produce, cooking classes and employment opportunities to Asheville’s underserved, food-insecure communities. Ujamaa was originally launched in 2014 by Calvin Allen and Olufemi Lewis.

Fresh concepts: In 2018, a number of established Asheville chefs branched out, launching new businesses with fresh concepts. Among them, John Fleer, chef and owner of Rhubarb and The Rhu, worked with renowned Asheville soul food chef Hanan Shabazz to open a soul food restaurant, Benne on Eagle, at The Foundry Hotel in late November. Earlier in the fall, celebrity chef Katie Button ventured away from Spanish tapas and molecular gastronomy to open Button & Co. Bagels in the South Lexington Avenue space downstairs from her Nightbell restaurant and cocktail bar. In August, A.J. Gregson, who has gained a loyal following with his creative tacos, sandwiches and wings at Mojo Kitchen, bought Webo’s BBQ in East Asheville. Gregson’s new spot, renamed Black Bear BBQ, offers not only the expected smoked meats but also vegetarian and vegan fare and chef-driven specials and sides. In July, Cucina 24 chef and owner Brian Canipelli opened a burger and sandwich eatery in the old Salt & Smoke kitchen at Burial Beer Co. and is also developing a restaurant for Burial’s Forestry Camp production facility near Biltmore Village.


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