There’s a cool little eatery in Chimney Rock called Medina’s Village Bistro that’s top-rated on TripAdvisor (and has been for years). What’s even cooler is how owners John and Megan Medina found the place back in 2010. It was pure happenstance.
Mountain Xpress: How did you find your way to Asheville from Decatur, Ill.?
Megan Medina: We were ready for a change. We had picked out several states, and I said to John, ‘Take out a map and pick the cities in those states that you might want to move to.’ John said, ‘Are you serious?’ I said, ‘Yes. Next weekend we’re going to drive around and find out where we’re going to move.’ We decided on Asheville. As we were leaving the city to go back to Illinois, John said, ‘Didn’t you want to see the Bat Cave area?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and he turned around and we went back. We drove back here and got lost.
John Medina: It was February, and there was no one around. We parked in a parking lot across from the park entrance, and there was a building with a “For Rent” sign. On the way out of here, we called the number and asked about the rent. We thought it would work, so we rented it without even stepping foot into it — just from peeking in the windows.
Megan: We stood in the middle of the road and said, ‘Someone wants our menu. Let’s do this.’ The original plan was to start a restaurant two years from this time. But, we went home, sold our house and were back here in six weeks with our 1-year-old. We opened in the worst economy since the Great Depression. I did wake up in the middle of the night before we opened and thought we had made a mistake. I said to John, ‘It’s only $1 to park in the lot next door. What kind of a place is this? Why so cheap?’ I was used to big cities where it was $10 an hour or more.
What did you do prior to this?
Megan: I worked in newspapers for about 10 years but worked in restaurants all the time since I was about 18. I opened a 400-seat restaurant where John was the chef. I almost went to the Culinary Institute of America.
John: I grew up cooking in Florida, and my best friends were Greek, and they took me under their wing, and I worked for many of them in the food business. I went to Manatee Vocational Culinary for two years but by then had already been cooking for about six years. It was just a natural progression. I worked for several places in Orlando, and then I moved up north to Illinois to open a restaurant with my sister, and that’s when I met Megan.
What’s it like working together?
Megan: They say there are only about 10 percent of married couples who can really work together. We try to keep our personal business out of work. We try to keep work out of the home. There will be new servers who don’t know we’re married, and when we close for two weeks, we don’t tell anyone what we’re doing. For us, it’s natural. We actually don’t see each other a lot.
How do you divide duties?
Megan: I do breakfast and lunch, and he [John] does dinner.
How have you seen the town evolve since you opened in 2010?
John: It’s definitely had a growth spurt. The restaurant across the way has had about four or five different owners, and there’s been a lot of businesses change hands. There’s a brewery, and a wine bar is coming in. People are investing in Chimney Rock right now. We got in at the right time.
How does the seasonality work for you?
John: The number of residents in Lake Lure drops from 12,000 in the summer to 1,200 in the winter, but year-round we get tourists from Asheville, Charlotte — all over. We have a good reputation with the locals year-round. We’ve become friends with many of them.
Megan: [A recent] market study showed tourists from 40 different countries. We also dedicate a lot of our winter nights to special events — wine dinners, etc. We just added a big patio around the side and back and plan to do a lot with that.
How would you describe the menu?
John: I’m Puerto Rican and Spanish on my Dad’s side, and we grew up eating and cooking with olive oil, cilantro, fresh herbs and slow-cooked meats. Our big sellers are hand-cut steaks, seafood dishes and pastas. We sell a lot of fish and have a lot of the local farmers bring us stuff. We don’t have a fryer, so we stay away from the fried stuff.
Megan: We call ourselves a bistro so we can do anything — all sorts of international food. I try to stay with seasonal themes, too. Right now we’re doing a lot of stuff with apples.
Plans for the future?
John: We’re planning to put in a wood-burning oven, so we can plank fish, do pizzas, bake our own breads, calzones — whatever we can throw in there.