Kate Bannasch, co-owner of the Copper Crown in East Asheville, has a background that may surprise some: She graduated college with a major in biology and a minor in women’s studies. But when she started her family, she ventured into the restaurant industry in a somewhat roundabout way.
Mountain Xpress: How did you get into the business?
Kate Bannasch: I met my now-husband, Adam, at a late-night bar in New Orleans. Yes — exactly how you’re not supposed to meet someone. When I learned I was pregnant, I knew I wanted a job that was flexible, and Adam worked in the business, so I figured we could do something together one day. When we moved to Asheville, Adam became part owner and executive chef at Zambra, and I worked at a few places, including Zambra, Cucina 24 and Seven Sows. I helped to open Seven Sows, and it was a great learning experience that gave me the confidence to know I could accomplish it on my own. I also met many other restaurant-working Asheville moms, most notably, Carolyn Roy, co-owner of Biscuit Head, and Julie Stehling, co-owner of Early Girl Eatery. They quickly became my mentors and continue to be an integral part of my support system. They work with their husbands, too. In October 2015, Adam and I opened Copper Crown. It’s been a dream of ours for some time. And, our two boys, ages 11 and 9, can often be found hanging around. I’m not going to lie — trying to maintain a happy home life and the same level of involvement we had with our kids and their school before opening the restaurant has been a challenge, but we’re balancing it.
What was the transition from server to owner like?
It was pretty easy. Having worked as a server, I knew what it took, physically and mentally. I have sympathy, but I’m demanding, too. I’ve worked at a real mix of places — slow-paced, fast-paced, fine dining and bistro — so I had developed different skill sets, too. I know that details count and that you have to appeal to a wide array of people across the board. You have to know how to read people. Do they want to interact with you? Do they just want you take their order and leave them alone? I like to think that I can share these acquired skills. No one cares if you’re having a bad day. You still have to smile. It’s part of the job.
You were recently appointed to the AIR (Asheville Independent Restaurant Association) board. How’s that going?
So far, I’ve only been to one meeting. They seem like a supportive group. We create educational opportunities and work on community outreach. Some goals are to grow the educational component and to address issues such as driving away business from downtown, and transportation and housing for hospitality workers.
How do you and Adam divide the duties at the restaurant? What makes it all work?
It’s cut-and-dried: Adam is back of the house and I’m front of the house. The kitchen is his terrain, and the rest of it is mine. It’s important for me to remain in a general manager role and to maintain connections with staff and guests alike. As far as how we make it work, making each other laugh and having a mutual respect are key. You have to appreciate what the other person does.
Do you ever regret not having pursued what you studied in school?
No. My dad once said, “You’re so smart, you can do anything you want.” I told him I wanted to be just as happy flipping pancakes as being an environmental lawyer.
Being environmentally conscience is important to you, right? What are you doing with your business to meet that end?
We have a relationship with Arcadia Power, which allows us to source all of our electricity needs from 100 percent renewable sources. We also partner with Blue Ridge Biofuels to recycle all of our used cooking oil. And Danny’s Dumpster allows us to compost as much food and packaging waste as possible.
Why did you choose East Asheville to open Copper Crown?
We live here, and the area is kind of ripe for the picking. There’s a natural movement occurring away from downtown, and there’s a group of underserved diners here. We are near neighborhoods like Haw Creek, Beverly Hills and Oteen, and these people need a place to go. I know Michel Baudouin from Bouchon is opening a place in Haw Creek, and Post 70 has been doing well, too. I’m not aware of anything else right now, but it’s an area that needs more options. Unlike downtown and West Asheville, there are no sidewalks or a central hub, but there is parking! We want people to pop in when they go to the mall or stop by and grab lunch on the way to the parkway.