Business Notepad

Grove Arcade returns to life

A tangible resurrection of Asheville’s 1920s heyday, the Grove Park Arcadewill be officially resurrected on Saturday, Nov. 2. Chasing out the ghosts of the Great Depression and World War II that have haunted the structure for decades, more than 20 businesses inside the Arcade — including local farmers and craft vendors — will also open their doors that day. Beginning at noon, the party kicks into gear with the Hillcrest High Stepping Majorettes and Drum Corps, followed by a Native American dedication at 12:30 and a ribbon cutting at 1. And don’t miss The Flying Wallendas, performing at 1:30 and 3:15 p.m. In a fabulous nod at the Vaudeville era, the Wallendas will walk a high wire 25 feet above Page Street. The afternoon closes with musical performances. For details, call 252-7799 or visit www.grovearcade.com.

A taste of Vietnam

It was 1983 and Luna Nguyen — who opened the Vietnamese restaurant At Luna’s (3 Biltmore Ave.) in Asheville last month with her husband Steve Deberry — was living in Italy when the first McDonalds arrived in that country. “A lot of Italians were angry at McDonalds,” she says. “They called it corporate, a franchise. There were demonstrations.”

Out of that protest, the “slow food movement” was born, an international campaign to choose healthier meals, buy locally-produced food, and reverse the trend that has us all eating unhealthy, packaged food as we rush through our days.

That movement greatly influenced Nguyen who had already noticed that the Italian attitude towards the preparation and enjoyment of food was very similar to the Vietnamese. “There’s a lot of preparation that goes into meals,” she notes. “And then families spend time together eating.”

“That philosophy is more important than ever today,” she continues. “People are so busy. They don’t spend enough time together.”

While Nguyen aims to bring authentic Vietnamese food to Asheville, she also envisions “more than just an ethnic restaurant.”

“I want people to feel at home here,” she explains. “I want to create a family place where people come. They know you, you know them — they feel comfortable.”

The menu focuses on simple, authentic country and street fare of Vietnam but also offers more formal dishes. Customers can enjoy such delicacies as ‘Cha gio tom’ (Imperial Shrimp Rolls), ‘Pho tai’ (Hanoi Beef Noodle Soup, Vietnam’s national soup), ‘Tofu xao Xa ot’ (Spicy Lemongrass Sauteed Tofu), ‘Thit nuang’ (Sticks of Charbroiled Meat marinated in Peanut Sauce) ‘Bo Xao Lan’ (Spicy Beef Curry Vietnamese style), ‘Canh Chua Tom’ (Spicy Delta Sour Shrimp Soup) and desserts like ‘Che dau xanh banh lot’ (Custardy Coconut Mungbean).

Conveniently, there are two menus; one vegetarian, one non-vegetarian. The restaurant uses some organic produce and has commissioned a local greenhouse to grow the special aromatic herbs used in this type of cuisine. “Everything is cooked to order,” stresses Nguyen. “All our ingredients are fresh.”

Eventually, says Nguyen, she hopes to have weekly specials that will introduce customers to new kinds of food. She also plans to integrate various tastes. For example, she explains, “This Fall, I plan to make an Italian dish called Gnocchi [pumpkin and potato in a large dumpling] … but with a twist: topped with a Vietnamese sauce.”

Nguyen’s culinary influences started early. Her mother ran a restaurant in Vietnam that specialized in a Vietnamese noodle soup known as Pho. After leaving Vietnam in 1970, Nguyen spent the next thirty years in Rome where she taught cooking classes for U.S. State Department staff and their families, and ran an Indonesian restaurant in the popular Trastevere tourist district on the Tiber River.

“I dedicated more time to cooking and researching recipes [including Italian and French],” Nguyen says of her time in Rome. “I found I had a gift. If I went into any kind of restaurant, I could tell what they put in their dishes, the ingredients.”

She met Deberry, a psychologist and philosopher, at a Buddhist conference lead by Thich Nhat Hanh. Deberry was wanting to incorporate Zen into his psychology practice, explains Nguyen, and they kept in touch afterwards to continue their discussions about Buddhism. Eventually, she notes simply, “We fell in love.”

Deberry can often be found behind the bar at the restaurant, serving up beer, wine, and conversation. Says Nguyen, “[We] want to create a place where people want to hang out, chat, and make new friends.”

Hours are 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for lunch and 5:30 – 9:30 p.m. for dinner Tuesday through Saturday (closed on Monday), and 1-3 p.m. for lunch and 5-9 p.m. for dinner on Sundays. For more information, call 259-3655.

Cooperative gallery opens for limited time in Black Mountain

It all started when several local artists (including Susan Taylor, Jenean Stone, Ida O’Connell and Ann Whisenant) found out that after six years in business the Catawba Sunrise Gallery in Black Mountain was closing its doors with a few months still remaining on their lease. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, they thought, to open a temporary cooperative gallery in the vacated space during those final weeks?

“They called around and asked other artists if they’d be interested,” explains Pauline Tennant, one of the artists they contacted. “At first they weren’t sure they’d get the 20 people they needed to meet expenses, but they had no problem.”

In fact, they ended up with 28 participating artists and TempARTary Gallery (104 W. State St.) officially opened its doors on Oct. 4 with a reception.

“It was amazing,” says fellow artist Karen Lane. “Within two weeks it was up and running.”

Adds Tennant, “Everyone chipped in — painting, scrubbing scruff marks off the floor, setting up their own areas.”

The cooperative works like this: All the artists take turns working in the gallery at least one business day during the month. They each pay a fee to cover expenses but the purchase price of any work that’s sold goes straight to the artist.

There’s a variety of work on show — mostly paintings in watercolor, oil and acrylic, but also some floral and wreath arrangements, pottery, mixed-media pieces, stained glass work, and watercolor and photograph cards.

“A cooperative gallery gives you a larger variety of work,” explains Tennant. “You’ll notice if you go around [the gallery], each artist is so different from the next. The individual really comes out in the art work.”

It also makes art more affordable, notes Lane. “In a regular gallery the pieces would be at least 50 percent more.”

While the official closing date for the gallery is Nov. 30, “we’re considering asking for an extended lease,” says Tennant.

“It’s been such a positive experience,” agrees Lane. “We might do a roving co-op where we go to another location. We’re a really good working group. Everyone has had something to contribute … [including] interesting ideas on how to market and sell our work as a group.”

Participating artists include: Taylor (watercolor and oil), Stone (photography), O’Connell (oil), Tennant (handprinted linocuts), Lane (oil), Mary McMurray (watercolor), Ann Whisenhant (watercolor), Parrish Rhodes (watercolor), Steve Hue (oil), Jack Schmidt (oil), Charles Smith (watercolor), Barbara Wade (watercolor), Bernice Parker (oil and wreaths), Audrey Sumner (acrylic and oil) Lois Dossey (watercolor cards), Marguerite Welty (watercolor and acrylic), Ruth Deudney (oil and watercolor), Bill Patelidas (oil), Eugenia Chilton (oil), Mac and Sheila Hester (pottery), Fredreen Bernatovicz (watercolor), R. J. Bushong (stained glass and sculpture), Kent Barnes (photography and photo cards), Gray Layton (watercolor), Patricia Michael (watercolor, photography and pottery), Louaine Elke (watercolor), and Phil Harvey (mixed-media sculpture).

Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sundays from 1-5 p.m. For more information, call 669-4045.

Free homemade cookies on Halloween

Picnics Restaurant & Bake Shop (371 Merrimon Ave.) in Asheville will celebrate its 7th Anniversary by giving away free cookies on Thursday, Oct. 31. Owners Ron and his mom Minnie Smith will be handing out the homemade treats from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Established in 1995, Picnics is known for its wood-roasted chicken as well as daily specials including ‘Mom’s Meatloaf’, ‘Mexican Lasagna’ and ‘Roast Turkey Dinner’ — served in a casual, picnic-like atmosphere — or — to-go. Meals come with sweet cornbread, yeast roll or biscuit, as well as a choice of homestyle vegetables.

The Bake Shop offers 12 varieties of fruit pies (with all-butter crusts), made-from-scratch cakes, hot apple dumplings and more.

The Smiths want to remind customers that during the holiday season all pie and cake orders — as well as Thanksgiving/Christmas special pan food orders — must be placed in advance.

Winter hours are 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call 258-2858.

August unemployment rates fall in WNC

Unemployment rates fell in August in 88 of North Carolina’s 100 counties — and in every county in Western North Carolina, according to the state Employment Security Commission. Rates increased in nine counties and were unchanged in three.

Mitchell County showed the biggest drop: from 14.3 percent in July to 9.1 percent in August. Yancey County also registered a major change, from 12.4 to 8.5 percent. Most WNC counties, however, showed more modest declines: Buncombe County’s rate fell from 4.4 to 3.8 percent; Haywood County (from 5.6 to 4.8 percent); Henderson County (from 3.8 to 3.6 percent); Jackson County (from 2.9 to 2.7 percent); Madison County (from 5.6 to 4.2 percent); Polk County (from 3.6 to 3.0 percent); Swain County (from 5.8 to 5.2 percent); and Transylvania County (from 4.9 to 4.6 percent).

“The drop in unemployment rates may represent preliminary signs of recovery across the state, in that the 88 counties account for 96.8 percent of the state’s population,” said ESC Chairman Harry E. Payne Jr. “We will be watching the rate over the next several months to see if this improvement continues.”

Additionally, August marked the fifth straight month that unemployment rates in the Asheville metropolitan area, which includes Buncombe and Madison counties, have been the lowest among all metro areas in the state. At 3.8 percent, the Asheville metro unemployment rate is more than one point lower than any of the ten other metro areas in North Carolina; the Raleigh metro area had the next lowest rate at 5.2 percent.

There is also evidence of positive job growth in the Asheville metro area over the last twelve months. Total nonfarm employment increased by 900 persons since August 2001. This places Asheville with the fastest growing metro job growth in the state and one of only three metro areas that posted positive numbers.

The total Asheville metro area civilian labor force grew from 110,600 in August 2001 to 111,800 in August 2002; those employed within the force grew from 106,600 to 107,500 in the same time period. The following information is a breakdown of job gains and losses within the “Nonagricultural Wage & Salary” category between August 2001 and August 2002 in various employment sectors:

Within the “Goods Producing” sector, “Construction & Mining” is down from 7,500 to 7,400 and “Manufacturing” is down from 16,700 to 16,400.

Within the “Service Producing” sector, “Transportation, Communication & Public Utilities” is down from 4,700 to 4,600, “Wholesale Trade” remains the same at 4,900, “Retail Trade” is down from 22,900 to 22,600, “Finance, Insurance & Real Estate” is up from 3,300 to 3,400, and “Service & Miscellaneous” is up from 36,300 to 38,200.

Additionally, the “Agricultural” sector is down from 1,800 to 1,600 and the “All Other Nonagricultural” sector (which includes nonagricultural self-employed workers, unpaid family workers, and domestic workers in private households) is up from 6,800 to 7,000.

“These figures place Asheville among an elite group of top performing metros,” says Tom Tveidt, director of the Asheville Chamber’s Community Research Center. “Together, the low unemployment rates and positive job growth clearly show the strength of the Asheville area economy.”

Tourism makes gains in Asheville area

Despite a national slowdown in tourism in the wake of 9/11, the Asheville area posted record gains in hotel sales during its July 2001-June 2002 fiscal year.

Hotels in Buncombe County collected $113,045,590 during the 2001-2002 fiscal year, compared to $99,301,180 the previous year — a 13.8 percent increase. Gains were reported every month, including September. And though some of that growth can be attributed to the addition of new hotel rooms, the overall room occupancy rate was also up by 2.9 percent — the first time in several years that the region has notched occupancy-rate gains, according to the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Forum will look at achievement gap

In North Carolina, black and white students’ achievement levels rank fairly close together in the lower grades of elementary school, notes Bob Smith, executive director of the Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council.

But starting in the third grade and continuing through high school, a gap opens in reading and math scores that leaves black students lagging behind. Compounding the matter are high dropout rates among black students, Smith says.

“Statewide, it’s a tragedy,” Smith declares, adding that it’s a local problem as well.

To highlight the issue, the Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council will present an “Integration and Education” forum at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 4, at the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) lecture hall, 501 Biltmore Ave.

The forum will focus on the history of educating black students and the impact of integration– as well as the achievement gap and practical solutions on how to close it.

N.C. Director of School Improvement Marvin Pittman, from the Office of the State Superintendent, will lead the discussion. He has worked to develop student accountability standards statewide and come up with strategies to close student achievement gaps. He’s also co-chaired the governor’s Character Education Committee and has championed cultural diversity training, according to the Community Relations Council.

The forum, notes Smith, will allow time for audience members to discuss the issue with Pittman.

For more info, call the Community Relations Council at 252-4713.

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