Vijay Shastri has spent his entire life in the Asheville restaurant scene. His mother opened the Windmill Cafe in 1984, and he and his sister launched their first restaurant together — the Bombay Cafe — here in 1988. So it was noteworthy to Asheville’s culinary heritage when Shastri’s long-standing Flying Frog Café shuttered in 2011.
Shastri went on to dish out soul food from Mr. Frog’s Soul & Creole Kitchen on Eagle Street, but after the building was sold, it too closed less than a year later in 2012. Since then, he’s made his living as a restaurant consultant working all over the country, as well as running Ristorante Paoletti in Highlands. But a May 7 Facebook post clued the public in about a project that he’s had in the works for a while. It simply read: “Continental Lounge … Coming to downtown Asheville this summer.”
Partnering with Atlanta real estate developer Perry King, Shastri hopes to open the new venture by the end of the month in the old Local Provisions location at 77 Biltmore Ave. “I’m going to do comfort foods, just done really well,” he says. “It’s going to be, as far as I am concerned, what this area on this side of town really thrives with.”
He promises biscuits for breakfast and burgers and meatloaf for dinner — and he plans to bring back his beloved fried chicken from Mr. Frog’s with a variety of options. There will also be salads and other healthier options as well, and he aims to keep the price point affordable. “I’m really going to try to keep everything below that $20 range and keep it local and regional, if I can do it.”
He says he’s not striving for a fully realized farm-to-table concept, but rather for a menu focused on quality ingredients and an unfussy approach. “I kept coming back to comfort food, because I think it really does belong,” he says. “I’m really tired of going to places where things are just okay. Simple foods, comfort foods — it’s not about complexity. It’s just about doing it right, using the right products.”
Initially, he says, the restaurant will operate with a counter service system. Diners will open a tab at the bar, while roving servers will take additional orders and close out tabs table-side.
Shastri notes that some regard the location as cursed, having housed four restaurants in less than a decade, including Blind Pig Supper Club chef Mike Moore‘s Seven Sows Bourbon and Larder for a stint before Local Provisions opened there in 2015. But he believes he has that angle figured out.
Pinning the problem on the building itself, he plans to shut the restaurant down in January for renovations. The bar, which currently sits to the rear of the dining area, will move to the front of the space. The bathrooms will be relocated and the entire front of the building will be opened up with wrap-around windows.
But with those plans still several months in the future, he says that in the meantime he intends to redo the lighting, add new paint and completely change the patio. He also says he wants to offer employees decent pay.
“My goal is to open with everybody here making over living wage from the start,” he says. “Asheville has become too expensive to live in to not make a damn good wage. … If you’re going to do it, do it right.”
The Continental Lounge is projected to open at the end of May or in early June.