From the 1950s through the 1980s, so-called “urban renewal” policies demolished many landmarks of Black culture in Asheville. In 2022, through the ingenuity and creativity of Black entrepreneurs, chefs, makers and artists, Asheville’s Black history and culture is being reclaimed in bold and exciting ways.
- Black Wall Street Brings Makers, Artists and Indie Entrepreneurs to the River Arts District: From the start, J Hackett had more on his mind than mochas and cold brews. When Hackett opened his spacious and modern Grind AVL coffee shop in the River Arts District, he immediately invited other Black entrepreneurs to use the cafe as a pop-up shop. But, sensing a greater need, he and co-owner Bruce Waller launched Black Wall Street AVL, an all-purpose hub that serves as a mentorship program, an incubator, a nucleus for networking and advocacy and a physical marketplace for more than 60 Black businesses in Asheville. In 2022, visitors can enjoy the first-ever Black Wall Street AVL headquarters in the heart of Asheville’s thriving arts and entertainment district. The new space serves as a maker, art and indie business marketplace.
- GRINDFest, the annual celebration of Black business and culture that launched in 2021, is back in 2022. Spearheaded by J Hackett and Bruce Waller of Grind AVL coffee shop, GRINDFest, promoted by its founders as “The Blackest Weekend in Asheville,” is a joyous celebration of food, fun, music, learning and connection. The Juneteenth weekend festival kicks off June 17.
- Reclaiming an Iconic Black Landmark Through Soul Food and Music: Chef Clarence Robinson has deep ties to Southside, a historically Black neighborhood adjacent to downtown that is best known today for its thriving brewery district. When Robinson was 10 years old, he would come to the screen door of Rabbit’s Motel to watch Ms. Lou Ella Byrd cook up chitterlings, sizzling fish and stewed-all-day greens. Rabbit’s was a Green Book-era landmark that provided safe lodging and good food for traveling luminaries like Richard Pryor and Duke Ellington. Today, Rabbit’s has found new purpose as a musician rehearsal space — SoundSpace@Rabbit’s — supporting Asheville’s thriving music scene. To fully honor the history of Rabbit’s, owners Claude Coleman Jr. and Brett Spivey partnered with Chef Robinson to open a soul food restaurant, just like the one Ms. Lou Ella used to run. Areta’s Soul Food (named for Robinson’s aunt who used to work at Rabbit’s) will feature Southern classics like sweet potato-battered pork chops and golden mac ‘n’ cheese, along with a large variety of vegan dishes. INSIDER TIP: Diners who can’t wait for Areta’s 2022 opening can visit Robinson’s food truck, Soul on the Road, for his famous comfort food (including the delectable “Soul Bowl”) in the parking lot of SoundSpace@Rabbit’s.
- Star Chef Ashleigh Shanti Blazes a Trail for Black Queer Chefs: When rising culinary star Ashleigh Shanti left Benne on Eagle in 2020, where she served as chef de cuisine since the acclaimed restaurant's opening in 2018, she held lofty ambitions for her signature “Afro-lachian” cuisine: “As a Black chef who’s a woman and queer, it’s vital to have some representation when it comes to restaurant ownership.” Next year, Shanti’s dream will become a reality with Good Hot Fish, slated to open in South Slope in 2022. Good Hot Fish is a classic Southern seafood eatery based on Shanti’s uber-popular pop-up of the same name. The menu will feature fish camp classics like deviled crab, hush puppies and fried fish sandwiches. It will also include Shanti’s trademark blend of spicy, citrus flavors, foraged mountain vittles and the occasional kombucha cocktail. Those eager for a taste can check out Shanti’s Insta @goodhotfish for pop-up announcements.
- Before “South Slope,” It Was Southside: The area just south of downtown Asheville, South Slope, is known to many people today as a walkable hub for food and craft beverage. But, before it was a food, art and entertainment district, this neighborhood was Southside, a historically Black center of commerce and culture. Before urban renewal policies bulldozed most of this neighborhood, Southside was practically a city unto itself. In 2022, makers and entrepreneurs like Claude Coleman Jr., Chef Ashleigh Shanti and Chef Clarence Robinson are bringing Black-owned businesses back to Southside through new ventures.
- ON THE HORIZON: Visitors will soon be able to connect to the history of Black Asheville via a new citywide African American Heritage Trail. Launching in late 2022, the trail will feature unsung heroes, underrecognized achievements and Black community contributions complemented by a multimedia trail guide. Click here for an FAQ on this community-driven project.
Want more 2022 news? Click here to view 22 (and then some!) transformational travel stories for the year ahead. Beyond the “what’s new” factor are the ever-inspiring histories, untold stories and trailblazers leading the way in this lively mountain city.