Driving down Haywood Road in West Asheville, it’s hard to not notice the new paint job on the exterior of Tastee Diner. Inside, some additional changes are apparent as well. Local art is now available for sale on the diner’s walls. Also hanging is a gilded framed portrait of French chef and restaurateur Auguste Escoffier. Meanwhile, animal skulls line the service counter.
But despite these new aesthetics, the diner still carries a welcoming vibe, along with that permeating smell from its flattop grill.
When new owner and chef Steven Goff purchased the diner last year, he says he wanted to pay homage to its 75-year history, while “embellishing it to reflect the modern community.” Along with the restaurant’s new designs, he has also updated the menu — though he’s kept some old favorites such as the Carolina dogs.
“I am trying to preserve the place with a little of its integrity as well as pay tribute to it in my own way,” he says.
Still, Goff is aware that not everyone is happy with his new additions. He has received some backlash from longtime diners, mostly through social media. “Diners reflect their owners and their community,” he says. “Asheville is a very eclectic place, and I am an eclectic person.”
Nevertheless, Goff says he is committed to serving everyone in the community. “My whole career has been focused on community,” he explains. “To me, a restaurant is a perfect place to be a bedrock, somewhere where people feel happy and safe when they go there.”
Among Goff’s goals is to make Tastee Diner accessible to everyone through his wooden nickels program, which the chef first launched in 2019 at his former restaurant AUX Bar. The model is simple: Patrons can purchase a token for $5 to pass along to a person in need.
The program comes from personal experience, as Goff himself was once homeless. “Honestly, I don’t need a wooden nickel to feed the homeless,” he says. “The point is for people to actually try to have a genuine interaction with [the homeless], to realize they are human. And we will sit them down and show them love and hospitality.”
On Wednesday, Jan. 11, at 11 a.m., Tastee Diner, under Goff’s new ownership, will celebrate its official ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Tastee Diner is at 575 Haywood Road and is open seven days a week from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. To learn more, visit avl.mx/cab.
In the same spirit as Goff’s wooden nickel program, there are several resources for those experiencing hunger in Western North Carolina.
In downtown, First Presbyterian Church, 40 Church St., recently resumed its Sanctuary Saturdays. Started in 2009 as a warming shelter, volunteers served coffee and popcorn underneath the chapel while recipients watched films. Since that time, the program has expanded into the fellowship hall. Every Saturday through March 25, those seeking a hot meal or a warm place to rest can visit the church between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Participants can also charge their phones, use the bathrooms and receive health care advice.
The YMCA of Western North Carolina’s Mobile Market also provides free, fresh produce at several area locations throughout January. Sites include several Buncombe County libraries, community centers and parks. Some of the markets will hold cooking demonstrations, as well as distribute healthy recipes and nutrition information. Visit avl.mx/ca7 for more information.
In Black Mountain, nonprofit Bounty & Soul holds three weekly food distributions. On Tuesdays from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and Fridays from 4-5:30 p.m., a no-cost drive-thru market takes place in the parking lot of the former Bi-Lo grocery store, 205 N.C. 9. On Wednesdays, the nonprofit hosts a no-cost market geared toward the Latin community at 21 Sherwood Park Drive in Swannanoa.
Visit avl.mx/8zg for more information.
MLK Prayer Breakfast
The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville & Buncombe County will hold its 42nd annual MLK Prayer Breakfast on Saturday, Jan. 14, at 8 a.m., at the Crowne Plaza Resort. The yearly event, which returns as an in-person event for the first time since the pandemic, brings together 1,100 attendees to celebrate diversity, community and King’s legacy.
This year’s program, “Audacious Action During Uncertain Times,” will begin with music from the Just Us Unity Choir and a welcome from Michael Dempsey, the event’s master of ceremonies. This year’s keynote speakers are Andrew Aydin, author of the March trilogy, which chronicles the life of late U.S. Rep. John Lewis; and Preston Blakely, mayor of Fletcher. Other speakers include Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and Buncombe County Commission Chair Brownie Newman.
The Crowne Plaza Resort is at 1 Resort Drive. Tickets range from $15-$350. For more information, visit avl.mx/ca6.
Let it grow
EmPOWERING Food Systems, a three-year project funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, will hold three panels on establishing agritourism opportunities in Western North Carolina.
The sessions, which are free and open to the public, are hosted by Haywood Community College and Southwestern Community College and will include farm tours.
The first, Getting Started with Agritourism, takes place Monday, Jan. 9, 2-4 p.m., at the Haywood Community College Small Business Center and will be followed by an optional farm tour at Jehovah Raah Farm and Smoky Mountain Mangalista Farm.
On Thursday, Feb. 9, a tour of JAAR Farms in Sylva will take place before the agritourism panel, which will be held at the Southwestern Community College Small Business Center from 2-4 p.m.
The Agritourism Panel on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2-4 p.m., at the Macon Campus of Southwestern Community College, will follow a tour of Windingstair Farm.
Preregistration is required for all of the sessions; visit N.C. Community College System’s Small Business Center Network’s website at avl.mx/ca2.
Asheville Restaurant Week returns Jan. 17-23, with over 35 participating restaurants offering menu specials. The weeklong event provides an opportunity for locals and tourists to support the city’s food scene.
Reservations, while not required, are strongly encouraged and are to be made with the individual restaurants. Tax and gratuity are not included in the special menus, and each restaurant may have different ways of offering specials.
For more information, visit avl.mx/ca4.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on Jan. 16.