South Asheville rising

Tom Montgomery looked south and spied opportunity.

By last year, 12 Bones Smokehouse, the rib shack in Asheville's River Arts District co-owned by Montgomery and Sabra Kelley, had racked up three successful years. Powered by strong demand for their smoky barbecue and a talented staff itching to do still more, they decided to launch a second restaurant on Sweeten Creek Road in Arden.

Southside powerhouse: A joint venture of the Asheville-based Biltmore Farms and Charlotte-based Crosland, Biltmore Park Town Square is the big growth engine in south Asheville — it's a $204 million mixed-use development on Long Shoals Road that features a 15-screen movie theater,  285,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 270,000 square feet of office space and 274 condominiums, town homes and apartments. Photo by Jason Sandford

South Asheville "was the obvious choice, with the population growth coming this way and the lack of hometown feel," says Montgomery. "There are so many chain restaurants down here; somebody needed to do something."

A number of other independent local businesspeople have made similar decisions recently. While their specific reasons may vary, they say the lack of community meeting places in the area and an abundance of built-out commercial space piqued their interest. Meanwhile, growth driven by one of Asheville's biggest new developments, Biltmore Park Town Square, has made moving south even more attractive to optimistic business owners.

As an independent opening in an area marked by large commercial developments that cater mostly to chains, "We're kind of jumping in the face of the big guys, for sure," Montgomery concedes. But so far, it's paying off. His company just bought the building next door to the Sweeten Creek Road location to provide parking, Montgomery reports, adding that they'd planned from the beginning to buy the neighboring property when it became available.

A perfect fit

The south side of Asheville was also a perfect fit for Tupelo Honey Cafe's second location, says owner Steve Frabitore. The original downtown eatery, now a tourist destination, is consistently near capacity, he says, adding that the 62-seat space makes it hard to honor customers' desire to make reservations and bring in large groups. Meanwhile, he'd heard that south Asheville residents were hungry for a homey breakfast-and-brunch place.

The spot Frabitore found on Hendersonville Road meets all those needs. The former Stir Fry Cafe space will seat 170 people, enabling his restaurant to take reservations and offer semiprivate rooms accommodating up to 60 diners, he says. The location has plenty of parking and was recently upfitted with new restaurant equipment.

"It's a tremendous facility; the space is right where we want it to be. I guess you could say we're moving our product to the burbs," observes Frabitore.

The restaurateur has a three-day job fair slated for Monday, Nov. 30, through Wednesday, Dec. 2, to fill 70 new jobs. Offers will be extended about a week after that, and Frabitore says he plans to open Tupelo Honey's south location Feb. 1. Aside from meeting customers' needs, Frabitore says he's excited about growing his business and creating new opportunities for his dedicated employees.

"That's what's most rewarding for me as an owner."

Tommy Tsiros, proprietor of Pomodoros Greek and Italian Café, says he decided to open a second restaurant on Long Shoals Road last year after researching south Asheville's increasing population density. Tsiros saw Biltmore Park Town Square, in particular, as a "people magnet."

"There's really no tourism draw down south, not like what we have with the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance so close to our east Asheville location on Tunnel Road," he explains. "We felt like Biltmore Park would offset that. For us, it was part of the decision to move south."

Six restaurants, notes Tsiros, have opened in the last year in Biltmore Park alone: Brixx Wood Fired Pizza, the Hickory Tavern, 131 MAIN, P.F. Chang's, a small sandwich shop and Roux (in the Hilton Asheville Biltmore Park). That increased competition, plus a sluggish economy, has meant sales at his south restaurant have been down about 8 percent since the opening early in 2008.

But that doesn't worry Tsiros. As the economy picks up and consumers regain some lost confidence, he says he's hopeful his customers will return.

"We're not upset with what's going on with Biltmore Park. Competition is a good thing. We feel like eventually all those restaurant seats will be filled. The outlook is positive, and I'm very optimistic."

Ambitious plans

While a number of other planned projects in south Asheville have languished, Biltmore Park Town Square has forged ahead. The $204 million mixed-use development, a joint venture by the Asheville-based Biltmore Farms LLC and Crosland LLC of Charlotte, features a 15-screen movie theater, 285,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 270,000 square feet of office space and 274 condominiums, town homes and apartments.

Attracting a mix of chain and locally owned stores, the massive project just announced the addition of six more businesses: Echo Gallery, a cooperative founded by six River Arts District artists, opened recently next to Dwellings, a second location for a locally owned furniture store. Bon Bebe specializes in children's gifts, clothes and furnishings, and Moda features women's clothing. The Sparrow Spa has opened in the Hilton Asheville, and Travinia Italian Kitchen adjoins the Regal Biltmore Grande Stadium theater and 131 MAIN.

"We are delighted to welcome these local stores to the mixture of regional and national tenants located in Biltmore Park Town Square.," Biltmore Farms President Jack Cecil said in a press release. "From the initial planning we wanted Town Square to become a community whereby our shoppers could find local, regional and national goods as well as dine at a variety of restaurants."

Old-fashioned social networking

For Thirsty Monk pub owner Barry Bialik, opening a second watering hole off Hendersonville Road was as much about building community as it was about building his business.

"I live down there, and for selfish reasons, I wanted to have a place there," says Bialik. After noting that a number of his beer-loving friends hailed from the south side, and recognizing the lack of a viable social gathering place in the area, Bialik got serious about launching another location. Building on the success of his downtown pub, which specializes in Belgian beers, he found a vacant space and opened Monk South Sept. 10.

One key, says Bialik, was the fact that the space had recently been outfitted with all new equipment for a coffee shop. "A lot of independent small businesses can get by sometimes by riding on the coattails of other, unsuccessful businesses. We took over a space that was recently built out, so we leased the space and bought the equipment for literally pennies on the dollar."

It's not all about the money, though. Bialik also sees his mission as helping build community. Curious about the history of his south Asheville neighborhood, Bialik says he recently met a couple in his pub who knew much of it and invited him to see their collection of local property deeds dating back to the 1700s.

"Before the Monk South, there really was no opportunity to sit down and meet my neighbors in a public house. Here, I'm meeting my neighbors for the first time," says Bialik, adding, "I think this is good for south Asheville."

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35 thoughts on “South Asheville rising

  1. The new Italian restaurent mentioned in this article is excellent. Travinia opened about two weeks ago…located beside the Regal Movie theatre. No, I do not own stock or a stake in the venture, I’m just a lover of good italian food.

    Travinia passed all my tests for a good restaurant. Hot herby, freshly baked bread, crabcake with a LOT of chunky crab & very little (if any) filler,Insalata Caprese, with excellent heirloom tomatos and an especially nice buffalo mozzarella, and their creme Brulee’ is like sweetened silk in the mouth. AAA+++

  2. Been there

    If it will pull people from other places South, and out of downtown, more power to it.

    To my eye, it looks just like places I have seen, well, everywhere else.

  3. Marilyn

    We can use a few other places here in South Asheville. We were thinking that a Bruegger’s bagels would be especially welcome here! We have a lot of breakfast places here but nothing like Brueggers. So if they are listening….come on down!
    We finally have a Dunkin Donuts but could also use another one even further south near the airport. If WASABI needed a second place, South Asheville would be perfect for them also. There are tons of people here that drive pretty far to get to these place that would eat at them more often if they were in the neighborhood. Can’t wait for Tupelo Honey to open here! Although I have to admit I miss the pad thai from Stirfry but they had really poor marketing. To succeed in this area we need to see menus posted and get out the social networking to tell us what the specials are. Pomodoros is doing a good job of that!

  4. Asheville Dweller

    Sad when downtown is such a joke that developers build another one outside downtown.

  5. hauntedheadnc

    I know, Asheville Dweller. Ever since West Asheville took off, the whole city’s just gone to hell.

  6. GoodGrief

    The Biltmore Park area is awesome. One of the nicest Ymca’s I have ever experienced, and the whole area is clean and has so much potential. There is absolutely nothing wrong with downtown, it is always packed with shoppers, but it’s good to have some variety a little further south. Nice job Asheville.

  7. Carrie

    Hendersonville road and Biltmore Park are starting to look like any other suburb of a major city. A great loss to local uniqueness. Atlanta for example. It is slightly unsettling to me to see this prepackaged, accelerated growth. Chain stores are moving in. Local businesses should be very afraid. I am not sure that Asheville, even with a growing population can support so many new businesses. As I drove by Waynesville I saw a large strip mall of chain stores that had replaced a factory. Are all of these Best Buy stores and Walmart super stores going to be able to supply WNC with quality jobs for everyone? As compared to a factory job?

  8. Ken Hanke

    Hendersonville road and Biltmore Park are starting to look like any other suburb of a major city. A great loss to local uniqueness

    Worse yet, Biltmore Park has all the creepiness of something out of The Stepford Wives crossed with a Disney creation. It all seems phony and forced to me — a total fabrication with zero personality.

  9. forrealsies

    “As I drove by Waynesville I saw a large strip mall of chain stores that had replaced a factory. Are all of these Best Buy stores and Walmart super stores going to be able to supply WNC with quality jobs for everyone? As compared to a factory job?”

    That wasn’t an either/or situation. That was a shut down factory, an environmental mess with abandoned buildings that the developers cleaned up after they bought and restored the property. The city of Waynesville spent a lot of time and money courting developers to take over the former factory site. That site had been sitting idle for some time.
    The factory didn’t up and leave because Wal-Mart bought the land out from under them!

  10. hauntedheadnc

    On the other hand, would you rather have Hendersonville Road with all its strip malls, or would you rather have Biltmore Park, which at least makes an attempt at urbanity?

  11. We can use a few other places here in South Asheville. We were thinking that a Bruegger’s bagels would be especially welcome here! We have a lot of breakfast places here but nothing like Brueggers. So if they are listening….come on down!

    There was a Bruegger’s on Hendersonville Road for years. It was in the shopping center with the post office.

    Hopefully some more open minded people have settling down south lately that are receptive to mom and pops. I’ve known a few that made a go of it but high rent and other factors closed them down.

    I have been asked many times to open a third location down there. I would do it, but I value my marriage!

  12. Avl Tao

    Yes, we know this is the ‘Eat-n-Drinks’ feel-good section of Xpress rather than the ‘real news’ section, but…one of the reasons we ‘know’ there is a financial crisis in commercial real estate (e.g. retail, hospitality, and office real estate) is because financial journalists and bloggers use financial data to measure how good an idea is. Assuming that just because someone decided to open a store is “a sign” of success is hardly the case, no more than is someone spending to the max on their credit card at 20% i-rate a sign of their financial success. In both cases it often turns out as examples of unbridled exuberance that eventually ends in tears. Biltmore Park is the poster child of irrational exuberance, and the last remnant of a “If You Build It, They Will Come” mentality whose slow deflation is spreading at a glacial pace from epicenters in Florida, Nevada, to California, to all manner of places where the locals were told, “It will never happen here, we’re the exception to the rule of over-building”.

    Both the ACT and XPress are heavy on the breathless excitement of new retail & hospitality experiences, and woefully light on financial performance reporting. What would enlighten readers, esp. the green-behind-the-ears 20 & 30-somethings who read here, is mentioning how the over-building of commercial space has depressed lease rates, thus increasing the risks of a Gerber-Village-like default on the debt, an auction of the assets, bankruptcy filings (including not honoring the ‘last paycheck’), and all the $$ adventure that it portends. Why in Asheville do the media simply wait til the storefronts are shuttered or the foreclosure papers are filed before attempting any reporting involving financial data using real numbers? Are they THAT beholden to the ad revenues from the subjects they’re supposed to be objectively reporting on?

  13. Excellent points Avl Tao. I KNOW that Gerber Village is giving sweetheart deals to tenants. Tupelo Honey being one of the recent sweetheart deals I heard, of on the street. And you can bet any plumb business like REI and others with clout will have long term sweetheart deals at Biltmore Park. While any small local business will be billed out the wazoo due to the advantage of being placed by a big box draw.

    I lived in New Orleans during the Worlds Fair period of overbuilding and they will come. Many well known developers were destroyed when the World Fair participants failed to show up. The attendance was woefully below the expectations, exhorbatent “get rich quick” lodging and rent fees kept many away……it was kinda like a stampeding herd of breathless expectation and exhuberance, followed by bankruptcies, suicides and years of empty commercial space & hotel rooms.

    I’m sure some of those original business were more than happy to vacate when Katrina happened. Macy’s and several other large national retailers did not re- stock and open their large stores after Katrina. The building complex that housed much of the Worlds Fair was taken over by Rouse (Fanuiel Hall) and named “Riverwalk” yet they have flown the coop down there too by the local press. Rouse, Macy’s and even Starbucks vacating is sign the bets didn’t pay off.

    Biltmore Park has deep pockets behind it, let’s hope it doesn’t become another Biltmore Square. Which was built by a very savvy developer (De Bartelo) but never caught on.

  14. Betty Cloer Wallace

    AVL Tao wrote: Assuming that just because someone decided to open a store is “a sign” of success is hardly the case, no more than is someone spending to the max on their credit card at 20% i-rate a sign of their financial success. In both cases it often turns out as examples of unbridled exuberance that eventually ends in tears.

    Have you ever noticed that Chambers of Commerce everywhere make a big splash with ribbon-cuttings for new commercial ventures, but they are totally silent on the majority of those businesses that bite the dust, often during the first year?

    And, the “business incubator” programs touted by local governments have a similar dismal record of irrational exuberance followed by tears.

  15. TokyoTaos

    Sorry hauntedheadnc but Asheville hasn’t gone to hell “ever since West Asheville took off” (or are you being facetious?) Within the last few months or so great new Thai, New Orleans-style and Indian street-food restaurants have opened and a Nepalese one is slated to open next month. As a eighteen-year resident of Asheville the city has never felt more vibrant and alive to me or had so much creative energy. West Asheville is nice but it ain’t no downtown Asheville.

  16. hauntedheadnc

    Totally being facetious, Tokyo. I was merely pointing out to Asheville Dweller (who should really dwell elsewhere seeing as how he would only say something nice about Asheville if that were one of the demands made by the kidnappers) that the phenomenon of a downtown district outside of downtown Asheville is nothing new.

  17. john

    To all of you who don’t like S. Asheville: Good. Don’t come here. This is a really terrible, boring place to live. Not at all hip, cool, and snobby like NYC/Palm Beach/downtown Asheville…

  18. Asheville Dweller

    I call Asheville as I see it, a place full of Hypocrites and tragically hip. Don’t blame me if you can’t deal with the truth, there is plenty that I like about this area, note I said area because the world doesn’t revolve around rubber stamp Downtown.

  19. firelady

    I agree with hauntedhead- Biltmore Park is really new- hence the creepiness Ken noted- but the layout and density are appropriate.

    Haunted- I’ve been following your postings on several blogs related to urban design and AVL for years- before I even moved to the region. Good to see your posts here.

  20. hauntedheadnc

    Why, thank you, Firelady.

    Regarding Biltmore Park, and the “Stepford Factor” at work there, I think that as new urbanist developments age and mature, they’ll gain a modicum of the character already present downtown. People forget that other Asheville neighborhoods such as Montford and Biltmore Village also started life as planned developments much like Biltmore Park.

    I used to think that Biltmore Park should have been more plugged into the existing fabric around it, with many more street grid connections. However, having wandered around it and having taken a look at its terrain, I rather think they did the best they could with the land they had. Could have been better, but they did a pretty good job, and I for one would much rather have Biltmore Park than, say, Airport Road.

  21. I used to think that Biltmore Park should have been more plugged into the existing fabric around it, with many more street grid connections. However, having wandered around it and having taken a look at its terrain, I rather think they did the best they could with the land they had. Could have been better, but they did a pretty good job, and I for one would much rather have Biltmore Park than, say, Airport Road.

    I used to hate this place, but one time I was driving my family around and guess what I saw? People walking, talking to their neighbors and being a community. More power to them.

  22. Carrie

    “That wasn’t an either/or situation. That was a shut down factory, an environmental mess with abandoned buildings that the developers cleaned up after they bought and restored the property. The city of Waynesville spent a lot of time and money courting developers to take over the former factory site. That site had been sitting idle for some time.”

    Yes, but the jobs were sent elsewhere..probably overseas. My point. A 12.00/hr job is better than one that is min. wage with no benefits.

  23. “I call Asheville as I see it, a place full of Hypocrites and tragically hip. Don’t blame me if you can’t deal with the truth,……”

    Earth to Asheville Dweller, this condition, (hypocrites and tragically hip) is universal and ubiquitous.

  24. JWTJr

    “Have you ever noticed that Chambers of Commerce everywhere make a big splash with ribbon-cuttings for new commercial ventures, but they are totally silent on the majority of those businesses that bite the dust, often during the first year?

    And, the “business incubator” programs touted by local governments have a similar dismal record of irrational exuberance followed by tears.”

    Comments surely from a non/never been a business owner. Helping someone market a new business is bad? Explain that to me.

    80% of businesses fail because its hard to create and run a viable business. Saying that Chamber and Incubator help is misguided is just wrong. You seem to think that the its the Chamber and the Incubator that thought up the idea and the business in some conspiratorial way.

  25. firelady

    I agree with you about the Chamber ribbon-cutting dynamic. However, regions that thrive actually have higher (than average) churn rates (a ratio of start ups to business closures). This means that these regions actually have a fairly high failure rate of businesses. From my experience in entrepreneurial economic development, I’ve recognized that the regions that have a culture that is not risk averse- people have an idea, launch a business, and then decide if it is viable.

    At issue is whether or not a region actually is an entrepreneurial region:
    1) Does it have a pipeline of entrepreneurs?
    2) Are entrepreneurs developed and supported?
    3) Is there the civic infrastructure to support them?

    To say that business incubators don’t work is a categorical statement. It depends on how they are run. I can say that industrial recruitment rarely leads to sustainable economic development and rarely fulfills the grandiose statements made at ribbon cutting ceremonies. A business that closes is not a failure unless the region views it as a failure. Every entrepreneur learns and moves on.

  26. Doug Sahm

    The area South of town is starting to look eerily similar to some of the outlying areas of Atlanta (Vinings, Roswell, Marietta, etc…). This article seems to focus on a few local businesses that are expanding down there, but the majority of the stores going up are big-box chain stores.
    As long as it is done far enough away from Downtown. Lets keep downtown mostly independent.

  27. limabeancounter

    “Worse yet, Biltmore Park has all the creepiness of something out of The Stepford Wives crossed with a Disney creation. It all seems phony and forced to me—a total fabrication with zero personality. ”

    Thanks Ken… I thought the same thing, but you are eloquently on point. Where are the homeless people? Little boxes on the hillside…

  28. JWTJr

    I was pretty surprised that the Cecil’s, who have lived here so long, chose to build such a behemoth. It looks like it erupted out of the ground. I wonder how the living quarters are selling? The slow down has had to hurt them.

  29. Asheville Dweller

    Independent Down town LOL Chains are downtown, its just they are “Cool” chains so no one says anything, as I stated before Hypocrites. Town isnt so unique as some people try to church it up . . . .

  30. JWTJr

    I’ve lived all over. Chain or no chain, hippies or no hippies, no other town anywhere near the size of Asheville has a downtown like we do.

  31. TokyoTaos

    C’mon! Chains? For every one chain store downtown there’s at least ten locally-owned businesses. Tell me what other city our size has that ratio?

  32. entopticon

    Like a lot of people, I was a little offput by the Disney-esque movie set feel of the Biltmore Park development, but as I have looked into it more, they really are doing a lot of wonderful things, and it is vastly superior to most other developments, so I applaud them.

    Among other things, it is dense and on the highway, not sprawled out over a thousand acres somewhere out in the countryside. The environmental footprint is miniscule compared to comparable development.

    They really did design it to be walkable, and that is not something to be under appreciated, because that is a major environmental plus. They used an extensive list of environmental building materials, which is great. The hotel even set precedent for their use of solar panels. They have a nice farmer’s market in the center area, and restaurants in the development even work with local farmers. And as opposed to the vast majority of such developments, they actually encourage people of color to move there.

    It may not be perfect, but considering all of the truly admirable steps that they have taken, I think there is definitely much to be appreciated. It may be more visible than other developments, because it isn’t behind gates out in the countryside somewhere, but that is actually a good thing. There are a whole lot of developments far more deserving of scorn. I think it is important to encourage the positive steps that the Biltmore Park development has taken. If more developments followed their lead, rather than sprawling out for miles, we would all be far better off for it.

  33. john

    Ent, for once I agree with you. And I live in S. Asheville, unlike some other writers who drive down here, take a quick peek, then hop in their Prius and high-tail it back to ‘civilization.’

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