Archive | February, 2015

Gaining a Foothold in the RAD

Rendering of Smoky Mountain Adventure Center by Glazer Architecture

Rendering of Smoky Mountain Adventure Center by Glazer Architecture

Twenty-one years after opening Climbmax one of the nation’s first indoor rock climbing gyms in downtown Asheville, Stuart Cowles is on the sharp end again.

In the early 1990’s Cowles left his job as a manager and designer at a climbing gear enterprise in Conway, NH with the goal of opening a climbing gym.

“That was the motivating factor to move to Asheville. I wanted a small city with a solid climbing community that might be able to support it,” he says. Since then, he’s roped in a loyal following and introduced hundreds of folks to the edgy sport.

Fast forward two decades and construction is underway on the Smoky Mountain Adventure Center in the River Arts District (RAD) that will open its doors later this spring or summer. On a small wedge of land on Amboy Road nestled between Carrier Park and the French Broad River Park, the enterprise will feature a state of the art climbing gym, a yoga studio, a beer tap, as well as bike, stand up paddle board and other gear rentals. The outdoor adventure facility was designed by the local architectural firm Glazer Architecture.

Cowles, however, isn’t jumping on the RAD bandwagon. In fact, the entrepreneur took the lead  of the Mountain Sports Festival as the first executive director over a decade ago. While it’s original venue was downtown, “the goal was always to move the festival to the river,” says Cowles.

In 1994, when Climbmax opened on Wall Street, downtown was just on the verge of its renaissance, much like the river district is today. “I decided I wanted to be in the heart of downtown. I looked at opening along the river 22 years ago — at the time it just wasn’t the right place,” he recalls.

Framing of the SMAC commenced on February 11, 2015

Framing of the SMAC commenced on February 11, 2015

But as the rejuvenation of the river district started to turn the bend, Cowles launched a search for another indoor rock gym venue in the RAD. The crux, he says, was finding a workable building for a climbing gym. With assistance from a Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority grant, Cowles decided to take the leap and design and build a new facility in the RAD. While he’ll continue to operate Climbmax, he’s hoping to tie into the growing demand for recreation along the French Broad.

“It’s really a perfect location since the river brings so many active people together,” says Cowles who intends to create a one stop destination for outdoor adventure. “We hope to be an anchor point, engage active people and keep them within the city limits.”

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Dig In, Y’all: Discover the Asheville Small Plate Crawl

Asheville Small Plate Crawl DishesMost would agree that if there were any downside to living in or visiting Foodtopia®, it would be the impossibility of enjoying every fantastic dish and drink it has to offer: The website exploreasheville.com lists nearly 250 eateries. But Laura Huff and Asheville Independent Restaurant Association, the Asheville Small Plate Crawl’s co-presenters, are out to help you taste as many of the city’s culinary creations as possible.

From February 24 through 26, more than 20 participating restaurants will offer low-priced, small-plate menus for the fourth annual event—menus will consist of five to seven items ranging from three to eight dollars. Select restaurants will also be part of a Biltmore Wine Crawl, offering small plates that have been made or paired with the perfect Biltmore wine. Prizes are up for grabs and awarded based on the number of eateries you visit; the Grand Prize will go to a crawler who makes it to 15 or more restaurants. (There are additional prizes for those taking part in the Biltmore Wine Crawl.)

New For 2015

To be eligible to win, you must check in with each restaurant you visit. Doing so will be easier than ever this year, says co-presenter Laura Huff, blogger behind the popular site carolinaepicurean.com: “I’m thrilled to announce a brand new, custom web app. It’s fun, fast, and accurate.”

All you have to do is download a free QR reader to your mobile device and scan when you pay at a restaurant. Each scan checks you in and enters you into the prize drawing automatically. If you’re crawling from place to place with a group, when anyone in your party purchases a plate, everyone gets to scan the code for validation. If you don’t have access to a mobile device, ask for a “Takeaway Card” at every restaurant; the code on each card can be entered later via your computer.

The Crawl’s Catching On

Although folks have been crawling in Asheville since 2012, the event actually began a few years before in Hendersonville. Huff got the idea back in 2008: “It was born of a wish to help restaurants recover from the market crash,” she says. Since then, it has been well received and expanded by request, which Huff notes is both humbling and fantastic at the same time.

Small Plate Crawls are currently being held in six areas in the region, and four more may be added in 2015. To help with growth, Huff has recently partnered with two culinary powerhouses: Nichole Livengood (Gap Creek Gourmet, NicLive PR) for South Carolina events, and Susi Gott Séguret (Seasonal School of Culinary Arts, Asheville Truffle Experience, Asheville Wine Experience) for North Carolina and Tennessee events.

Plan to Go?

If you plan to crawl this month, visit ashevillesmallplatecrawl.com for all the details, including a list of prizes and each restaurant’s special menu and crawl hours. You can also follow the Asheville Small Plate Crawl on Facebook and Twitter for the latest information. Note that reservations are discouraged.

To make the most of your experience, Huff shares these three tips: 1) Bring cash. Credit cards are accepted, but she reminds that paying with cash is much faster and will help you get to more restaurants. 2) Tip generously; servers are working harder for smaller checks. 3) If you’re crawling in a very large group, Huff and her team ask that you try not to occupy seats for too long, especially if only one or two plates are being ordered.

For information about other crawls, visit carolinaepicureanevents.com. Keep your finger on the pulse of WNC’s food scene at carolinaepicurean.com. Photo courtesy of Asheville Small Plate Crawl.

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