Quick dish: Q+A with Pat and Emily Abernathy of Chupacabra Latin Café

Chupacabra Latin Cafe owners Pat and Emily Abernathy pride themselves on having a diverse menu at their Latin-themed North Asheville eatery. "We don’t want to pigeon-hole ourselves into being a taco place — Asheville has plenty of those already," says Emily. Photo by Liisa Andreassen

When asked why they decided to open a Latin restaurant, this North Carolina-born-and-raised couple reply, “Why not?” Pat and Emily Abernathy, the husband-and-wife team who run Chupacabra Latin Café in Reynolds Village, explain that they were lucky enough to have opportunity knock, and they answered.

“Our good friend Dave Snyder, said he had some money to spend and asked us what we thought about opening a restaurant,” Pat says. “Well, I guess you know how that turned out.”

The entrepreneurial trio opened Chupacabra in July 2015 and are working to make it a neighborhood spot. Right now, Emily says the restaurant is a destination for people, with about 40 percent of its business coming from outside the Reynolds Village area.

Xpress recently talked with the Abernathys about Chupacabra and how things are going after more than a year in business.

Mountain Xpress: Why the name Chupacabra?
Pat: It’s kind of a joke. We wanted something different. Having worked in restaurants for many years, the chupacabra is kind of like a scapegoat — when you need to blame something on someone like misplacing a knife or forgetting to place an order — blame it on the chupacabra.

What sets you apart from other Latin-themed cafes?
Emily: We’re not just another taco joint. We have a cozy bar and table service at night. Our menu is more diverse, too. We have items such as mussels, fish and chips, and ceviche. We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into being a taco place — Asheville has plenty of those already. People can come here, get a drink at the bar, a $5 lunch or enjoy a more fine-dining experience at dinner. We’re a café. We’ve also got two young kids, and it’s important to us for people to know that kids are welcomed. Our kids are here all the time. It’s not unusual to find my daughter helping to make the quesadilla or to see me carrying around my son while greeting guests. Hey, it’s Asheville.

Where did you meet? Where are you from?
Emily: There used to be a restaurant called Savoy [in the space that is now Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian] — we met there. We’re both from the area. I’m from Ridgecrest, and Pat is from Morganton.

What’s the secret to working together and staying together?
Emily: We’re both high-energy but not high-drama. We have respect for each other.
Pat: We complement each other. She has her strengths, and I have mine.

How do you divide your duties?
Pat: Emily focuses on the front of the house and handles things like marketing but jumps in the kitchen if needed. I cook.

Where do you get inspiration for your menu items?
Pat: From years of working in the industry and being around food and people who are interested in food. I kind of just put it all together. It works.

Do you have a favorite menu item?
Pat: The mussels.
Emily: The Chang Bowl. It’s got pickled purple cabbage and toasted nori.

What’s one of your top sellers?
Emily: The Chupacabra. Its base is coconut and lime leaf-braised pulled pork with bacon, pinto beans, rice and lots of other great stuff. We love the pig!

The interior here is very inviting. Tell me about that.
Emily: The place used to be a home décor store. We did a lot of repainting, redid the floors and divided up areas to make it work for us. Pat can do just about anything — he even built the tables. Construction took about nine months.

Is there an ingredient that you’d really like to get your hands on?
Pat: Fresh sea urchin.

If you could have dinner with anyone in the business, who would it be?
Pat: Anthony Bourdain. I think that would be an interesting evening.
Emily: Eric Ripert.

What’s your favorite kitchen tool?
Emily: Potato masher — hands down. I use it for so many things.
Pat: Japanese chef knife.

Plans for the future?
Emily: To succeed, you either have to sell or franchise. Right now, we’re focused on doing a great job and being the most efficiently run operation we can be. We have the best regulars, great employees and pay a living wage. It’s all good.
Pat: To have a day off. (laughs)

 

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