West Asheville restaurants reinvent their service models to meet COVID challenge

THE BIG SQUEEZE: If life hands you lemons, Jargon owner Sean Piper advises making a lemonade stand. Piper created a tongue-in-cheek photo illustration of the walk-up sandwich and beverage takeout window he and bar manager Chris Keane, left, operate outside the restaurant Monday-Thursday, noon-4 p.m., and Tuesdays, 3:30-6:30 p.m., at the West Asheville Tailgate Market. Image courtesy of Jargon

“When life hands you lemons, open a lemonade stand.” That’s what Sean Piper mused to his wife, Shelly, in March after they had to close the dining room at Jargon, the popular restaurant they opened in West Asheville in May 2017.

The concept appealed to her, so Sean tied some balloons to the entrance, made a bunch of fresh lemonade and opened a walk-up window selling sandwiches, sides and beverages Monday through Thursday noon-4 p.m. In mid-May, the restaurant added a Tuesday afternoon pop-up stand across Haywood Road at the West Asheville Tailgate Market.

After spending three weeks deep-cleaning the closed restaurant, and before opening the lemonade stand, Jargon began offering its menu online for takeout service on Friday and Saturday evenings. But Plan A quickly morphed to Plan B.

“Our regular menu wasn’t translating well to takeout and didn’t keep well in a box,” Piper says. So, in late April, Jargon transitioned to Slang — an abbreviated menu of items specifically designed for takeout, available to preorder online for pickup at reserved times on Fridays and Saturdays.

“We added some new things to the Slang menu,” says Piper. “The duck wings have been a hit. The softshell po’ boy sold out in four hours.”

A few doors down, another Haywood Road hot spot flipped the script on its business model in response to the COVID-19 crisis. “The West Asheville Biscuit Head has been closed since mid-March,” says chef Jason Roy, who co-owns the three Asheville Biscuit Head locations (and one in Greenville, S.C.) with his wife, Carolyn. “We’ve been doing takeout from the Biltmore location since then and will likely open South Asheville for takeout, too. But does Asheville really need three Biscuit Heads right now? I don’t think so. We decided it was an opportunity to do something fun and different.”

While El Salvadoran pupusas might seem a world — or at least a hemisphere — away from biscuits, thematically it maintains the Biscuit Head motto to “Put some South in your mouth.” And, says Roy, the Pupusa Head Pop-Up that takes place Fridays through Sundays is keeping it all in the Biscuit Head extended family.

Herminia Arrioza has been a cook at the West Asheville store for about seven years, Roy explains. “She was always bringing pupusas and tamales and pastelitos in for the staff,” he says. “Her food is just so good. Before all this happened, she and I had talked about helping her open her own place, a Salvadoran restaurant. Then this happened, and it seemed like perfect timing to do this fun weekend thing from the front window. Pupusa Cabeza!”

The weekend menu offers four or five dishes from Arrioza, including five kinds of pupusas; tamales; Salvadoran empanadas filled with potatoes, green beans and carrots; and pollo guisado — stewed chicken thighs with rice. On the other side of the menu border are biscuit sandwiches, including hot chicken with pimento cheese and the Nutella Elvis, a buttermilk biscuit with Nutella, bananas and bacon.

“It’s gone over really well,” Roy enthuses. “It’s been fun to showcase what Herminia does. Who knows where it will lead?”

Piper is also doing his best to see the silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud. “I’ve always wanted to open another place that would be a fun, funky Jargon with elevated street food. With Slang, we have the chance to try some of those things out. I’ve always been a positive person so we’re fighting the fight with all we’ve got and making the best of the situation.”

For updated information, hours of operation and menus, visit biscuitheads.com and jargonrestaurant.com.


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About Kay West
Kay West was a freelance journalist in Nashville for more than 30 years, contributing writer for the Nashville Scene, StyleBlueprint Nashville, Nashville correspondent for People magazine, author of five books and mother of two happily launched grown-up kids. To kick off 2019 she put Tennessee in her rear view mirror, drove into the mountains of WNC, settled in West Asheville and appreciates that writing offers the opportunity to explore and learn her new home. She looks forward to hiking trails, biking greenways, canoeing rivers, sampling local beer and cheering the Asheville Tourists.

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