What’s new in food: Asheville Independent Restaurant Association hires new executive director

INCOMING: Kim Murray, veteran restaurateur and longtime board member of the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association, will assume the role of AIR executive director on January 31. Photo by John Warner

In October, when Kim Murray, co-owner of Creekside Taphouse, first learned that Jane Anderson was stepping down from her longtime position as executive director of the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association, her immediate reaction was “Those are big shoes to fill!”

At the time, Murray, an active AIR board member for nearly a decade, had not thought of pursuing the position, despite talk from fellow members suggesting that she consider the role. Instead, she agreed to assist in the interview process. But when a suitable candidate did not emerge, she began to reconsider her stance.

“Restaurant people are a whole different breed, with very unique personalities and issues,” she explains. “Our board is restaurant owners, so to work with them and members it takes someone with know-how about the industry and Asheville. The further we got, the more I thought I could do this. I believe in this organization, and I want to see it continue to grow and thrive.”

After much discussion with Anthony Dorage, co-owner of Creekside Taphouse, Murray accepted the position as AIR’s new executive director, where starting Monday, Jan. 31, she will represent, support and advocate for over 100 locally and independently owned restaurants.

According to Murray, her top priorities will be to continue to address the workforce challenges facing the industry, as well as recruiting new members, increasing cultural diversity and bringing back AIR’s annual fundraiser Taste of Asheville in some form.

Her familiarity with its operations, continues Murray, offers her an insider’s view on the position’s responsibilities. “Jane [Anderson] has been the point person for so long,” Murray says. “Whenever something came up, it was always: ‘Call Jane, she’ll know what to do.’ And she did. The position is so important to our industry, and I’m honored to take it on.”

Banking on the future

Another local organization will also pass the leadership baton on Jan. 31, when Claire Neal assumes the role of chief executive officer at MANNA FoodBank. Hannah Randall has held the position for nearly six years. During her tenure, Randall has led the organization through multiple natural disasters and emergency responses, most notably the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Under her leadership, the nonprofit also launched MANNA Community Market, a mobile pantry initiative that reaches isolated pockets of people living with food insecurity in rural parts of WNC.

Neal, a native of North Carolina, is currently the CEO of Lifelong in Seattle. With nearly 20 years’ experience developing equity-focused health programming, Neal earned a doctorate in public health through the executive doctoral program in health leadership at UNC Chapel Hill.

As Neal assumes her role, MANNA is embarking on a much-needed facility expansion and continues to navigate the fallout from the ongoing pandemic-accelerated food crisis. “I look forward to bringing my experience in public health initiatives to the strong foundation firmly in place at MANNA,” says Neal. “Food insecurity is a public health issue, and I’m energized to join MANNA and the entire community doing lifesaving work for families across the region.”


Dry January is halfway through for those who’ve opted to forgo alcohol during the first month of 2022. If your resolve needs a revival, Asheville Tea Co. has some nonalcoholic “tea-tails” to help you power through. Inspired by the classic gin and tonic, the company’s Appalachian G&Tea can be poured over ice, topped with tonic water, flavored with a squeeze of lime and garnished with fresh mint leaves.

Another option is Asheville Tea Co.’s Hibiscus Mojito tea. Influenced by the classic Cuban cocktail, it’s a blend of regionally grown lime basil and mint with organic hibiscus; drink it hot or pour it over ice, add a teaspoon of elderberry syrup and top with tonic water for another tasty “tea-tail.”

The Asheville Tea Co. line is sold in local retail outlets and online at avl.mx/ad8.

Craft mocktails 

Add the Asheville Mocktail Trail to your Dry January calendar and sign up for a guided experience with Asheville Rooftop Bar Tours or go rogue and hit one or more of the five watering holes that will feature craft mocktails through the end of the month. Participating bars include The Montford Rooftop Bar, 199 Haywood St.; The Blackbird, 47 Biltmore Ave.; Goldfinch, 122 Cherry St., Black Mountain; Pillar Rooftop Bar, 309 College St.; and Hemingway’s Cuba, 15 Page Ave.

Each bar will have a special mocktail, including a piña colada, Blackbird Crush, The Red Herring, Ginger Peach Spritz and Strawberry Express. To sign up for the guided tour, visit avl.mx/5rl.

Gutsy move

Naomi Mikami, chef and owner of WakuWaku Eatery, wants to help people recover from six weeks of sausage balls, pie, mashed potatoes, gravy, cookies, ham, yeast rolls and cheese — so much cheese. In her first newsletter of 2022, she invites readers to “reset your stomach and conditions from the busy holiday season.” Her January menu of obanzai — a traditional style of Japanese cuisine native to Kyoto — relies on more low-calorie, high-fiber and mineral-rich foods such as konnyaku, tofu and root vegetables. Four premium obento meal options available through Jan. 31 are described on the restaurant’s website and can be ordered by email or phone, for pick up at 674 Merrimon Ave. or the restaurant’s satellite location at 191 Lyman Street, No. 165.

To view the full menu, visit avl.mx/b2r.

Cold comfort

Turnips and cabbage and squash, oh my. ’Tis the season for winter produce, and three Buncombe County tailgate markets and its vendors are braving the cold with weekly winter tailgate markets. Find your fresh and local root vegetables, greens, mushrooms, eggs, meats, cheeses, breads, baked goods, condiments, honey, fermented foods, seafood, prepared foods and beverages at the following markets: ASAP Market at 340 Victoria Road on the A-B Tech campus Saturdays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.; the River Arts District Farmers Market inside and outside Pleb Urban Winery, 289 Lyman St., on Wednesdays, 3-5:30 p.m.; and the Weaverville Tailgate Market, indoors at the Weaverville Community Center, 60 Lakeshore Drive, Wednesdays, 3-6 p.m.

For those seeking winter markets in neighboring counties, there are more than a dozen options. A complete list with locations and operating hours can be found at avl.mx/b2s.

Encore performances

The Summer of Chow Chow 2021 has concluded, but two of the ticketed cooking demonstrations can now be enjoyed online at no cost. Chef Katie Button’s “Paella Cook-Along” can be viewed at avl.mx/b2t with an available recipe list found at avl.mx/b2u. Chef J Chong presents a “Farmers Market Cook-Along” is at avl.mx/b2v. The ingredient list and instructions are available at avl.mx/b2w.

Editor’s note: The article was updated on Jan. 19, 2022. 


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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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2 thoughts on “What’s new in food: Asheville Independent Restaurant Association hires new executive director

  1. NIMBY

    The author and editors may want to reconsider trivializing a horrific event with their use of the phrase “Trail of cheers”. Incredibly disappointed in MountainX.

    • Thomas Calder

      Thank you for the comment. This was indeed a regrettable lapse in judgment. We have since retitled the subhead on the online version. We apologize for any hurt it caused to you, any of our other valued readers and members of the Cherokee Nation, past and present.

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