The Flying Frog, an Asheville institution for almost two decades, had its last night of business on Sunday, Jan 16. Both the upstairs bar and the restaurant are now closed. Vijay Shastri, chef and owner of the restaurant with his family, says that the team weighed the available options carefully.
“The decision to close came about based upon the fact that we’re a higher-end, white tablecloth restaurant,” says Shastri. “It’s a very difficult prospect in this economy, and that’s what it boils down to. We looked at everything clearly before we made that decision.”
Shastri also says that he is definitely not retiring from the restaurant business, though he did not go into greater detail. “Let’s just says that this is not the last that everyone’s going to be seeing of me,” he said. “My plans are to have some time for my daughter.”
Shastri says that he worked to lower prices and offer cheaper options at the Flying Frog, but changing the upscale image of such a mainstay proved difficult. “You get to a point where you’re branded so heavily that at a certain point when everyone knows you and considers you to be very expensive,” he says. “It’s virtually impossible after all of these years to break that stigma.”
Shastri says that his family considered keeping the bar open for a bit longer, and just closing the restaurant — at least initially. After some deliberation, he says, the Shastri family decided that it was time to step out of the way and let the business owners in Asheville navigating a tough winter divide up the pie amongst themselves. “This is a tough time,” says Shastri. “Since we’re going away anyway, we wanted to get out of their way and let them do what they can.”
Shastri says that the economic landscape for restaurants has changed since the Flying frog opened in 1996. “High-end spending, from both tourists and locals, is virtually non-existent in Asheville right now, even for the last couple of years. The folks that came in that routinely bought $500 to $1,000 bottles of wine, basically they’ve ceased to exist. I can equate huge amounts of reduction here to the loss of frivolous spending.”
Though Shastri appears to be in very good spirits, he remarks that the end of an era does make him sadly nostalgic. “I’m very sad about it. The Frog was my first grown-up venture. In the case of the Frog, there’s so many good memories.” However, says Shastri, he intends to stay positive. “I honestly choose not to think of this as the end of something but the start of something else much better. I would hate to end my long tenure in the Frog with something negative,” he says.
“It is what it is,” says Shastri who adds that you can’t keep him out of the kitchen. “We had a great run. I would never change anything, honestly. And next time I’ll be leaner and stronger.”
Does that mean that he’s going more casual? No, says Shastri. “I’ve done a lot of soul-searching, and the reality is that I am a white-tablecloth operator. More than likely, I will look to go to a smaller, more intimate white-tablecloth restaurant.”
Shastri says that he does not know what will replace the Flying Frog in the vacant space on the corner of Battery Park Avenue and Haywood Street.