An ambitious, back-to-the-roots restaurant named Buxton Hall Barbecue will open this fall in the old Standard Paper Sales Company building at 32 Banks Ave. in South Slope. The venture is a partnership between Elliott Moss, previously chef at The Admiral and Ben’s Tune-Up, and Meherwan and Molly Irani, co-owners of MG Road and Chai Pani, and will focus on traditional, wood-smoked, whole-hog barbecue.
The new eatery will take up residence next to two other planned businesses, Vortex Doughnuts and the Public School bar, in the huge, historic space that served as a wood-floored roller rink in the 1930s. When completed, Meherwan Irani says the 4,500-square-foot main dining area will have a “soaring, barrel-shaped ceiling; skylights; a gorgeous wooden floor and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking an amazing view.” They will use the equally large basement of the building for a kitchen, prep and storage area.
“The building has an iconic look and feel and an amazing history,” Irani continues. “It’s at once welcoming, grand, steeped in history and faded with time with the texture and patina of almost 80 years of history.”
Irani and Moss aim to maintain the as many of the building’s original details as possible, including some unique 1930s murals that still decorate many of the walls. To that end, they have been consulting with Jack Thomson, director of the Historic Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County, to assure that every effort is made to preserve the historical integrity of the site.“We definitely feel like it’s an important part of the look and feel of the building,” he says of the murals, large windows and other details, “and we want to retain as much of it as possible.”
They also want the project to celebrate South Slope’s history. “We definitely want to pay respect to the heritage of the area, and there’s no better way to do that than with barbecue,” says Irani.
Irani says he and Moss got to know each other shortly after Moss left Ben’s Tune-Up last year, and “realized we shared similar trajectories in terms of our stories and what we’ve been through in order to open restaurants.” A friendship developed, and soon Moss began partnering with the Iranis to host the Asian-themed pop-up restaurant Punk Wok on Monday and Tuesday evenings at MG Road. Earlier this year, they began hatching a plan to open “a landmark restaurant in Asheville.”
Moss’ intention to open an old-school, artisanal barbecue restaurant in South Slope has been no secret since he left The Admiral in 2013. Having grown up eating barbecue in Florence, S.C., Moss originally tried to pursue his long-held dream with a project on South Slope’s Buxton Hill at 15 Banks Ave., just a stone’s throw from the site of the current venture. That endeavor, which was to be named Buxton Hill, fell through, but his passion for barbecue never dimmed. “It’s his roots,” says Irani, “and similar to the way we at Chai Pani are passionate about Indian food, he’s passionate about bringing back the real-deal barbecue.”
Irani says he and Moss went to look at the 32 Banks site together, and they immediately knew it was a great spot for Moss’ project. “It’s almost like the space came first, and our partnership coalesced around it,” says Irani. “We both saw it and I said, ‘Elliott, this is what you need to be doing,’ and we realized we could join forces and pull this thing off.”
Both chefs have received nominations for James Beard Foundation Awards for Best Chef in the Southeast — Moss in 2013 and Irani in 2014 — but at Buxton Hall, Moss will head up the kitchen as co-owner and executive chef, while the Iranis will be co-owners managing the bar and front-of-house operations. “I’m looking at it as almost an extension of what we’ve started at MG Road,” says Irani. “We want the bar program to match Elliott’s cooking and talents.”
Irani says he and his wife had not been looking to take on any new projects, but this opportunity was too good to pass up. But why are the Iranis, with their clear vision Indian food, getting involved in doing barbecue?
“We recognize that there’s something important going on here,” he says. “For Elliott, it’s getting back to the authenticity of it … It’s something he’s nostalgic for and it’s important to him, and that’s what we’re drawn to, no matter the genre of food.”