Mellow Mushroom to return
Boone can keep on shroomin'.
Weeks after the Mellow Mushroom restaurant closed on Rivers Street, plans are under way to bring the landmark eatery back to Boone.
Chuck Luddeke, original owner of the Boone location and current owner of the Blowing Rock 'shroom, is opening a new Mellow Mushroom franchise at the corner of West King and Waters street, adjacent to Koncepts Hookah Lounge.
Pending a water allocation approval from the town of Boone, the popular pizzeria is slated to open the first of January 2011, with construction tentatively starting in mid-October.
"We're looking forward to having a bigger and better location, and we feel like it'll be a great addition to the downtown area, only about a block and a half from the old location," Luddeke said.
The restaurant's being designed by area architect David Patrick Moses, "so it'll be unique in that respect," Luddeke said, "but we're just right now in the beginning stages."
Luddeke said the new 'shroom will sit at 3,600 square feet, approximately 800 more than the Rivers Street location. "And we're hoping to do some creative outside dining, and I'll kind of leave it at that for now," Luddeke said.
It'll be a new space, but Luddeke said customers can expect some familiar faces.
"I've met with a number of (former employees), and every person that worked at the old location has been told they're more than welcome to come fill out an application," he said. "I've already hired a couple at the Blowing Rock store to carry them over ... We're treating them really just like anyone else, though they kind of have first dibs on it. A lot of them have found other jobs in Boone ... but we'll definitely welcome them with open arms."
Luddeke's glad to be returning to Boone. After living in Atlanta, Ga., home of the Mellow Mushroom restaurant chain, he moved to Boone in 1995 to open a franchise.
"I grew up with Mellow Mushroom, and just felt like Boone would be an unbelievable location for it, which it was," he said. "The Boone store, I think, was the 26th franchise at the time, and, right now, I think Mellow Mushroom's got somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 to 125 stores nationwide; it's grown like crazy."
Luddeke opened the Blowing Rock store in 2001, after selling the Boone location to the late Bill Mink, who had worked with Luddeke for five years beforehand. When Mink died in 2007, ownership was transferred to his wife, Kristi Bunn. The restaurant closed Aug. 25, due to lease issues.
"We were fortunate to be able to get the franchise back and continue it," Luddeke said. "It was unfortunate that Kristi (Bunn, previous owner) was unable to secure a new lease at the old site ... but we feel again like the change of location and all that will just be good. That building has been through a lot over the past 30 years, from Sollecito's (Pizza) to Mellow and all that."
The new location will be an all-new franchise, Luddeke said, but it'll feature all the menu items 'shroomers have grown to love - stone-baked pizza, jam-packed calzones, generously filled hoagies, salads, pretzels and, of course, Portobello mushrooms.
"My favorite?" Luddeke said. "Probably the bruschetta, and then probably the Mega-Veggie pizza."
And Luddeke's keen on keeping it all in the family. His son, Chase, and daughter, Lindsey, help run the Blowing Rock location, and Chase will work as general manager of the Boone location, with Blowing Rock veteran Adam King to serve as manager.
They'll keep the Blowing Rock location, as well, "and we'd like to invite everybody to come visit us in Blowing Rock when they need their Mellow Mushroom fix," Luddeke said.
In the meantime, he asks that the community remain patient as the Boone 'shroom begins to grow.
"The Mellow Mushroom suits Boone," he said, "and that's the main reason I wanted to bring it there in the first place. It's become a staple of this community ... and I think Boone without a Mellow Mushroom would be a little bit short of a crime. We'd also like to thank everybody for their support of the old location over the years, and we look forward to getting the new one going and being a part of the community again."
The Mellow Mushroom is located at 155 Sunset Drive in downtown Blowing Rock. For more information, call (828) 295-3399. For more information on Mellow Mushroom, visit http://www.mellowmushroom.com.
Chili's opens, Walmart gets super
By Lauren K. Ohnesorge
Boone is "peppering in some flavor" as we speak.
Chili's Grill and Bar is officially part of the High Country restaurant repertoire.
While it may occupy the same space that housed the ill-fated Port Christopher's, Baxter's Smokehouse Barbecue and Wish Bones American Grill, cosmetic upgrades have it looking like a completely different space. The corporation hopes the facelift and chain prestige will keep Chili's from suffering the fate of the restaurants that came before.
This particular Chili's has been in the works for awhile. A site plan was submitted Jan. 22 and, since then, managers have worked around the clock to open when students got back to Boone for the fall semester.
Insiders say the restaurant is mostly employing full-time community members, not college students, evidenced by the facility's orientation that was scheduled for last Tuesday, the first day of class at ASU. With the bout of recent restaurant closures (Boondocks Barbecue, ReelHouse Cinema & Draft, Mellow Mushroom), the chain has its pick of employees. The management team came directly from the Chili's location in Asheville.
Menu items include "Big Mouth Burgers," carne asada steak and the baby back ribs made famous by the popular jingle and a few new additions.
"We do have a new sweet and smoky sauce for our chicken crispies that's pretty tasty," manager Brent Rosenmarkle said.
Rosenmarkle's been here a month and doesn't plan to leave any time soon.
"So far, so good," he said. "I love it. I love the weather. I love the people."
Chili's marks the first big restaurant chain to hit Boone since the liquor by the drink initiative (LBTD).
Before the initiative, many chains had avoided committing to Boone due to its LBTD ban.
Opponents of the initiative had feared competition from nationwide chains would oust locally run establishments.
Chili's Grill and Bar, located at 1934 Blowing Rock Road, is open Sunday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, from 11 a.m. to midnight. For more information (or to place a to-go order) call (828) 266-9626.
Also new where chains are concerned? Groceries at Walmart. Those in the know have seen construction at the big box store for the past few months, and, as of Wednesday, Sept. 8, the construction will be complete.
The Walmart (200 Watauga Village Drive) will be open 24-hours a day. The expansion brings 80 new jobs to the community (making the total number of employees 350). The expansion will be unveiled officially at 7:30 a.m. Sept. 8 after a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"We have a loyal customer base, and some have been shopping here since our original opening," store manager Tracy Stilwell said in a press release. "We think they'll love the new, easy-to-shop layout of the store and appreciate the savings we offer on the products they need."
Think big: Really big, wider aisles, lower shelving (for visibility) and a greener store. The expansion brings energy-efficient technology said to reduce energy and water consumption, while minimizing waste. Low-flow toilets and faucets should reduce water used in bathrooms, and the LED lighting throughout the store will operate 70 percent more efficiently than traditional fluorescent lighting.
Got restaurant news? E-mail editor Frank Ruggiero at (firstname.lastname@example.org) , snail mail Mountain Times Publications, Attn: Frank Ruggiero, 474 Industrial Park Drive, Boone, N.C. 28607, or call (828) 264-NEWS and ask for Frank.