After 15 years of serving a rock-solid menu of Southern favorites, Tupelo Honey has given its list of food offerings a major overhaul. Earlier this month, the Asheville-based regional chain introduced a new menu with a focus on small plates, seasonal specialty entrees and customizable supper plates. The restaurant is also sporting a refreshed color palette, replacing its standard yellow plates with crisp white ones.
The changes were first launched in early February at Tupelo Honey’s locations in Raleigh, Charlotte and Greenville and Knoxville, Tenn., followed by implementation at its two Asheville stores then the Chattanooga and Johnson City, Tenn., restaurants.
The spruced up menu stems not from a lack of popularity — since it opened in downtown Asheville in 2000, the restaurant has enjoyed tremendous growth. With eight stores already open throughout the Southeast U.S. and a new one set to launch in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Monday, Feb. 23, Tupelo Honey has its sights set on having 12 locations open for business by the end of 2015. (New stores are already in the works for Atlanta, Virginia Beach and Arlington, Va.) This growth, says Elizabeth Sims, Tupelo Honey’s vice president of marketing and communications, actually helped inspire the updates.
“We are looking at moving into markets further from Asheville where we have less name recognition,” says Sims, “so we invested in market research. We were wondering, who is our target audience? What do they like?” It turns out, according to the research, that millennials — the generation that entered young adulthood around the turn of the century — are a large part of that target audience. The research also revealed that millennials like to share food and they prefer to customize their meals.
Many of the new menu items, created by executive chef Brian Sonoskus, show cross-cultural flavors “embracing the fact that the South is a global place,” says Sims. Anchored by highly shareable dishes like country ham wontons, lamb meatballs with feta cheese and house-made tomato curry sauce, and goat cheese grit poppers with smoked jalapeño and apple salsa, the small plates menu, with its eight new items, is where the international focus is most apparent. But there is also evidence of global influence among the four new side dishes — such as with the edamame, pine nut and golden raisin salad — and three new supper plates, including a curried fried chicken thigh with fresh apple salsa.
Sonoskus also added a new house salad dressing — a vinaigrette that pops with mild but flavorful cherry peppers — and five new seasonal specialties, including duck breast with cherry port wine sauce, shaved Brussels sprouts salad with honey vinaigrette and root vegetable pot pie. As for beverages, locally made Blue Blaze sodas were introduced to the drinks list.
Although Sims acknowledges that old menu had plenty of devotees, she says a change was in order. “It was time for something fresh and for a slightly different thinking process about our menu,” she says.
Fans of the old menu need not worry, though: Many of the tried-and-true offerings remain, and there are still plenty of Southern comfort-food favorites to be had at Tupelo Honey.