What is your favorite part of being a restaurant owner in Asheville?
The Asheville restaurant industry is the perfect blend of collaboration and competition. With such amazing food, chefs, owners, and concepts in this town it really pushes us all to be the best we can be. As an owner, I feel tons of support from others in the business. We love getting together and swapping stories and experiences and we also have some fun by competing for “the best” of this or that. It’s fun and challenging at the same time. It gets me out of bed early in the morning, but not as early as when I was farming.
What is the background of your restaurant’s name?
The name Foothills started in 2002 with the creation of “Foothills Family Farms”. This was a marketing collective of farmers working together to help under-served farmers in the foothills region gain access to packing and cold storage facilities as well as retail and wholesale markets in the Asheville area. Originally the name was purely used to describe the geographic area that we served and farmed in. When the meat side of the business took off in 2012, the marketing collective successfully branched off. The farm kept the Foothills name and incorporated as Foothills Farm & Butchery LLC. Today, this company manages Foothills Food Truck, Foothills Catering and Wholesale, and the two Foothills Butcher Bar locations. We still own the farm in Old Fort but it’s now leased to organic vegetable and hemp farmers.
What ingredient could you not live without?
Our farmers. We have long standing and honest relationships with them. Without these relationships, we would not have been able to maintain our strict sourcing standards. When we first started, I grew all the animals on our farm, until we couldn’t keep up with demand and had to choose a path that made the most sense to grow the company – which was developing the restaurant concept but preserving the whole animal butcher shop and philosophy in the process. We’re proving the concept that we can scale a truly transparent meat company and help our farmers grow along side us. It’s the way we started and the way we always wanted it to be. That’s why the sign says “Honest Meat”
What is your favorite dish on your menu?
We serve a wide variety of foods but my all time favorite is the hot dog. I just like hot dogs and I particularly like ours. My old friend Jimmy Lee and I perfected the recipe years ago in our original butcher shop and now we make about 400 pounds a week.
We hear so many stories from guests about how an experience with our hot dog has transported them back to some simpler time in their life – eating a hot dog at the beach as a kid, or on a camping trip, or back yard cookout, covered in chili and feeling like life is just fun and easy all at once. That’s the power food has. It’s incredibly gratifying to provide that experience through a simple food that we make by hand.
What is your favorite dish from a fellow AIR restaurant’s menu?
Chicken Pakora from Chai Pani. They are both delicious and fun to dip and eat.
Why did you choose Asheville to open your restaurant?
I chose Asheville back in 1999 for all the reasons that one would choose Asheville, but specifically because of the food and farming scene that was developing here at that time. I wanted to farm and I wanted to feed people better food. I wanted to be a part of building a better system for getting food to the plate. I started in the food business as a farmer and now I serve as a restaurant group owner and CEO. It’s been a wild and wonderful 18 year journey. There is a great deal of potential in our business model to impact small farms and other small businesses in such a positive way. This past year has been challenging but very rewarding now that we see the results of getting the details right in all the right places. It’s an exciting time to be in the food business in this beautiful part of the world.