Quick dish: A Q+A with Lorin Knouse of Newbridge Café

GOOD TIMES:  After a career as a theater technician, Lorin Knouse decided to try out the restaurant business when he purchased the  Newbridge Café in 2004. He considers the new direction a good fit. "There are times when it’s tough, and there are times when it’s so good that it hurts.," he says.
GOOD TIMES: After a career as a theater technician, Lorin Knouse decided to try out the restaurant business when he purchased the Newbridge Café in 2004. He considers the new direction a good fit. "There are times when it’s tough, and there are times when it’s so good that it hurts.," he says. Photo by Liisa Andreassen

The Newbridge Café is one of those places you randomly happen upon, or maybe you go because someone told you about it. Otherwise, it’s easy to pass it by without giving it a second look. Tucked away between K-9 Clips and Kaleidoscope in an unassuming strip mall in Woodfin, this unusual local joint has an eclectic atmosphere and musical roots.

Xpress recently spoke with owner Lorin Knouse to find out what’s going on at the Newbridge Café.

Mountain Xpress: How long have you owned the restaurant business?
Lorin Knouse: I bought it in 2004. It was already a restaurant — Sisters Café. Some friends owned it. They were only doing lunch. I added breakfast the first year. Now we do breakfast all day long.

You only accept cash or check. Is that going to change?
We’re looking into credit cards. We have a couple of irons in the fire, but it’s kind of cost-prohibitive for a small business like this one.

Tell me about your clientele.
When I first started, it was really a place for tradespeople. It still is, but now, people come from all over. We have about 500 regulars and serve anywhere from 50 to 80 people a day. Sunday brunch is popular, and we always run specials during the week — things like fried chicken, fish tacos, meatloaf and barbecue. Everything is done in-house. We give a lot of attention to detail. We love what we do, and it’s fun to turn people on to good food.

What’s your professional background?
I was born in Rocky Mount, N.C., and learned how to do barbecue there. I was actually a theater major, so I have no formal restaurant experience. While I would not recommend buying a restaurant with no formal training, it’s worked out well for me. It’s taken 10-12 years to figure it out. Prior to buying this place, I worked in theater in San Francisco but was ready to head back to the East Coast. My family was in Asheville. I moved back in 1988. I worked as a housing inspector in Asheville for about six years and also did some carpentry work. Now, I’m here every day. I cook one day a week, but when I’m not cooking, I’m doing prep, washing dishes, paperwork, etc. It’s very hands-on.

Do you still dabble in the theater here?
No, I’m done with that.

Do you use local products?
Yes. We carry local products such as hot sauce and jams. We also get our eggs from Farside Farms. Sausage is local, too. We do what we can.

What are your top sellers?
The fried chicken special. In fact, we just got picked up by Garden and Gun magazine as being one of the top 20 in the state for fried chicken. Two years ago, they voted us one of the top burgers.

The atmosphere is very eclectic. Tell me about all the stuff.
Well, it’s a combination of many things — families dividing up, passing away, passing on stuff, and people bring us stuff all the time. There was nothing in here when I bought the place — it looked like the place had been robbed. If you spend 12 hours a day in a place, you’ll make it your own. I’m a theater person — a technician — so staging stuff is pretty natural for me. I have an art background, too.

Do you have a favorite item in here?
The piano is 101 years old. It still works. A lot of us are musicians here, so we keep instruments around to pick up and play. We have a lot of traveling musicians coming through here, too. We’ll set up a small venue when we have musician friends passing by — a lot of older musicians who don’t play the big halls anymore like to play here. I play guitar, a little mandolin and dobro.

Do you do any advertising?
Not really. It’s mostly word-of-mouth. We have a Facebook page and do a little social media. Folks will come off the highway and be like, “Where did we end up?” The place doesn’t show well from the outside, so when they come inside they’re like, “Cool!” Also, the buzz gets around in the circle of old-timey musicians. We do these jam sessions about once a quarter — invitation only. We pack the house. We’ve got a reputation for that. Sometimes we do put something eye-catching on the sign out front like, “Goats eat for free on Tuesday nights.” Two people showed up with their goats. We let them graze in the back – the goats, that is.

What do you like most about running the business?
Being in the restaurant business will put you in the mainstream of society. I’m enjoying it. There are times when it’s tough, and there are times when it’s so good that it hurts. Our customers have made this place stick and stay. Since we don’t advertise, it keeps us honest.

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