I knew I had found a local gem when a regular customer cruised up to our high-top table at Foggy Mountain Brew Pub and said, “Hey, anyone have an Allen wrench?” As it turned out, someone did.
Tucked away on Church Street downtown, the eatery has a warm atmosphere and cold beer. Run by partners Chris Kronberg, Rachel Goodman and Samantha Rink, Foggy Mountain has carved out a niche for itself in a city that loves trends by developing a reputation for late-night music and eats, working lunches and a laid-back happy hour. Guests can make themselves at home in the dining room and bar or on the airy back patio.
Xpress recently sat down with Kronberg and Rink to talk about partnerships, staffing and their award-winning wings and macaroni and cheese.
Mountain Xpress: I understand you won both the judges’ and people’s choice awards for the 2016 Carolina Mountain Cheese Fest’s macaroni and cheese sMacDown. What do you attribute that to?
Chris Kronberg: It’s my grandmother’s recipe. I’ve tweaked it a bit to be able to serve a crowd, but it’s still pretty much like she used to make. It’s stirring-intensive – about 90 minutes of stirring to be exact. (Note: Rink, his fiancée, attests to the stirring and cautions people not to approach while he’s in the zone.) It’s a mix of white cheddar, smoked Gouda, Asiago and Parmesan. There’s some cayenne pepper and a creamy roux, too.
You also won the first-place judge’s award in the Traditional Wings category at the Asheville Wing War in February. What makes them so good?
Kronberg: We make our own hot sauce, grill and then fry them. The grilling really adds that extra flame flavor. Oh, and we roast our habanero peppers that go into the hot sauce, too.
How did the partnership among the three of you come about?
Samantha Rink: Well, Chris and I have been friends since we were 11 years old. We grew up together in Wisconsin, and I guess you could say bars are in our blood. We’re both very comfortable around and in them. When Chris told me he was moving to Asheville, I thought I’d go along for the ride. Little did we know, we’d end up engaged. That’s where Rachel [Goodman] comes in. She helps us to create a balance in our working relationship. It’s not easy working together and living together. I swear, if a therapist opened a business in town strictly for couples who work together, they’d make a ton of money! After we hired Rachel, we just knew she’d go far with us. She was proactive, hands-on and knew how to keep us straight. We trust her implicitly. And, she’s masterful about booking our music.
What are some of your rotating cocktail specials?
Rink: We really try to give our bartending staff lots of freedom when it comes to mixing cocktails. We want them to be creative and natural. Some popular specials are the spicy cucumber lemonade, which has vodka, cucumbers, jalapeño simple syrup and lemon juice, and the Strawbreezy, which has gin, fresh strawberries, basil, soda, simple syrup and lemon juice.
What’s important to you in hiring staff?
Rink: We actually do a week trial run with anyone we are considering for a job. This helps both parties involved to make the best decision. The potential employee gets to see if they are a good fit, and we do too. This friendly, casual culture isn’t for everyone. Some people are used to fine dining or to putting on more of a show. We’re all about being yourself. We have no uniforms and just let people do what they do best. A while back we had an applicant who had more of a high-end background and thought he might be too formal. After a week, we were happy and saw he could adjust his style and he called us and said, “I’m in!”
What are your plans for the future?
Kronberg: We continue to focus on being that neighborhood place — a place where you can feel comfortable bringing your 5-year-old nephew or grandma. Word-of-mouth advertising continues to bring people through our doors, and we hope that trend will continue. Come back again. I’ll pour you a cold one.