What’s new in food: GrindFest celebrates local Black businesses

A MOVEMENT: GrindFest returns to celebrate the past, present and future of Black Asheville. Pictured is volunteer Ariel Villafane at GrindFest 2021. Photo courtesy of GrindFest

“GrindFest is a time to help shine more light on today’s Black-owned businesses,” says founder J Hackett. “We’re honoring the history and building wealth together.”

The free, four-day festival returns to Asheville’s River Arts District, Friday-Monday, May 27-30. Through music, games, live performances, food and local vendors, the block party-style celebration seeks to highlight and honor the history and ongoing progress of Black Asheville communities and entrepreneurs.

“This event is important not only because of what it is but also because of where it is,” says GrindFest director Bruce Waller. “Today’s River Arts District is part of what we once knew as Asheville’s original Southside, which was previously a Black business district surrounded by a large residential neighborhood.”

Like many other predominately Black neighborhoods, Southside saw large swaths of its residential homes and businesses destroyed through urban renewal projects. But GrindFest organizers are poised to push Black success forward while honoring the past. “As this area continues to grow through development, we want it to be more inclusive,” says Hackett. “It takes all of us to make sure that our future is brighter than some of the shadows of our history.”

Queen’s Island Cuisine, Bear’s Smokehouse and Black Bear BBQ are among the local food trucks participating throughout the four-day event. The Atlanta-based, Black-owned, Slutty Vegan, will also be dishing out naughty-named sandwiches and sides on Saturday, May 28.

Furthermore, a number of barbecue, chili and chicken wing competitions will take place on Monday, May 30 for anyone brave enough to put their culinary creations to the test. Soul food from Cooking with Comedy Catering, fried fish from Turk DaJerk Catering, West African food from Kente Kitchen Market, popsicles from Buggy Pops and a host of several other hot dogs, ice cream, Italian ice, fish, chicken and barbecue items will also be available from local purveyors.

“Black business is everybody’s business, and GrindFest is a time for all of us to celebrate that together,” says Hackett.

For a full list of events and volunteer opportunities, visit avl.mx/bl2

Bubbles & oysters

Botanist & Barrel invites Asheville to help celebrate its 1-year anniversary with freshly-shucked oysters and curated flights of natural wine, cider and champagne on Friday, May 27, 5 – 7 p.m. Katie Schneider, Botanist & Barrel’s cider and wine educator and lead bartender, will be shucking select N.C. oysters to accompany lavish liquids and bubbling beverages thoughtfully selected to complement the local bivalve mollusks.

Guests are encouraged to purchase tickets reserving oysters ($15 for 6, $28 for 12) ahead of time and arrive early to reserve a table. The paired wine and cider flights will cost an additional $25.

“We are humbled and proud to be a part of the talented and diverse community of craft producers in Asheville and hope people are taken on a journey to the orchards, vineyards and estuaries where the fruit and oysters were grown,” says co-founder Lyndon Smith.

Botanist & Barrel is at 32 Broadway, Suite 110. Visit avl.mx/9gf for tickets and information.

American Craft Sake Festival

The American Craft Sake Festival returns to Asheville Saturday, May 28, after a two-year hiatus. The gathering is hosted by Ben’s American Sake at Ben’s Tune Up.

Sake tastings from sake breweries across North America, seminars from sake industry professionals, including Japanese Consul General Kazuyuki Takeuchi, live music and drink specials will all be available from 2-6 p.m. Ben’s Tune Up’s full menu of snacks, steamed buns, ramen bowls and sandwiches will also be available during the event.

“We can honor tradition while also creating something new, and that’s what I hope to see celebrated as our festival grows—there are just so many possibilities,” says Patrick Shearer, head brewer at Ben’s American Sake and board member of the Sake Brewers Association of North America, in a press release announcing the event.

Ben’s Tune Up is at 195 Hilliard Ave. Advance tickets for the festival are $40. Any remaining tickets will be available on the day of the event for $50. Visit avl.mx/bl3 for tickets and information.

Darë Vegan Cheese partners with UNCA

Twelve of UNC Asheville’s top management students have been selected as part of a consulting practicum providing direct support to Darë Vegan Cheese. This initiative is a continuation of the annual opportunity provided by Susan Clark, associate professor of management at UNC Asheville, through her student-led consulting practicum course.

“I designed the course to provide students with the opportunity to shadow an entrepreneur, in a collaborative setting, for an entire semester,” says Clark in a press release from the university. “Students frequently express the desire to become entrepreneurs themselves, and after they take an experiential learning opportunity course, they are much better prepared for success as business owners and managers.”

The student-comprised cohort applies theoretical knowledge to develop strategic business plans intended to help local businesses succeed and innovate. As students gain invaluable experience while preparing to enter the job market, local companies benefit from progressive business and marketing services that might otherwise be out of budget.

“The younger generation’s insight into marketing and customer retention/acquisition will be knowledge I continuously reference as we spend more energy and dollars on marketing efforts,” says Gwendolyn Dare Hageman, founder of Darë Vegan Cheese.

For more information, visit avl.mx/bl4

First Watch debuts  in Asheville

First Watch, a popular breakfast and casual lunch chain with over 430 restaurants across 28 states, opened its first location in Asheville on May 23.

Diners can expect traditional breakfast plates and items accompanied by more innovative fare, such as the crab cake benedict, chorizo sunrise sandwich and lemon ricotta pancakes, all made fresh to order with seasonal ingredients. Speciality Kale Tonic, Morning Meditation and Purple Haze juices are pressed each morning to help wash down your meal and kickstart your day.

“We are looking forward to providing Asheville with our unique, healthy and Instagramable menu,” says Morgan Shields, marketing and business development manager with Capstone Concepts, a regional franchise development partner. “We also are super excited about becoming a part of the Asheville community and providing jobs to the local economy.”

First Watch is at 2 Hendersonville Road, Suite A1. For hours and a full menu, visit avl.mx/bl5

Closed: Zia Taqueria and Ziggy’s Barkery & Deli

Zia Taqueria and Ziggy’s Bakery & Deli both closed this month after 10 and 3.5 years in business, respectively.

“We are so appreciative of the support from the community over the last 10 years,” Zia announced in a social media post. “We will miss sharing our love of southwestern food with you and enjoying your company in the homey and historic space we have occupied.”

“After long deliberation, I am ready to close the doors of my beloved bakery & deli,” wrote co-owner Robyn “Ziggy” Ziegler through her own social media announcement. “It was my pleasure to provide a great Philly-style deli experience and help you celebrate old and new memories while enjoying our food. I am overjoyed at the warmth this community has shown over the years.”

While there are no immediate plans for the now-vacated locations of these restaurants, both businesses have hinted at exciting things to come and new culinary opportunities ahead.

Leadership change

Emily Fox will step down from her position as co-director of Asheville Poverty Initiative, a local nonprofit promoting socio-economic justice and food security, on June 3. Fox worked with API for over 5 years, beginning her journey of program growth and coalition work as an intern before steadily transitioning into her role as co-director.

The organization’s other co-director, Melva Lowry, will remain in her position as future leadership plans evolve.

“When I say I am leaving my position as co-director with API, it comes from a place of love and gratitude for everyone who makes API’s work possible,” says Fox in an official statement. “It comes from a place of knowing that we have the leadership we need to move forward and grow as an organization and that there is space for me to step back and pursue a new path. API will always hold a special place in my heart, and I am excited to see where we go from here!”


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