ASHEVILLE – A shared love of food brought together a local couple who now use food as a vessel to reach their community center.
In February, Red Fiddle Vittles opened at 1800 Hendersonville Road in Asheville. Appalachian Kitchen & Gourmet Grocery offers food service, hot meals and packaged products.
However, that wasn’t the plan of chef, owner and husband and wife team Matt Farr and Erica Beneke.
In 2018, the two launched a business focused on small-scale private kitchen services. It has grown into event dining and more recently as a gourmet retail outlet.
“With the coronavirus, a lot of things have changed. People are doing things differently. The foodservice landscape has changed dramatically,” Farr said. “We’ve heard from people that they’re looking for restaurant-quality food that doesn’t necessarily have to go to a restaurant. That’s where it comes from.”
The retail side features refrigerators and shelves stocked with locally and regionally made items from farms and producers, as well as other small gourmet businesses.
Read this:15-year-old South Asheville restaurant announces closure
From last month:Proposed bike path on Biltmore Ave unpopular with downtown businesses; decision pending
“A lot of the products here are things you can find at farmers markets,” he said. “We offer local eggs, local sausage, pecan nut products, cheese and deli.”
Other regional brands include Shanti Elixirs, DJ’s Pickles, Lusty Monk mustard and Dare vegan cheeses.
Red Fiddle Vittles stocks ready-to-eat meals and other items made in-house and prepared at home, including frozen cookie dough and cookie dough, soups, macaroni and cheese, and best-selling chicken tenders.
Dinner specials change weekly.
One dish in the rotation was Peanut Butter Chicken Satay, inspired by Farr’s travels in Asia and made with Beneke’s Peanut Butter — which Farr says is one of the many reasons he got a wife.
In addition to private dinners and event catering, chefs provide party platters, picnic supplies, bar snacks, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) pickups, weekly take-home meals, wholesale, holiday meals, and more.
A long-term plan, Farr said, is to increase capacity for their own products and expand retail programs with local food partners. More pop-ups and collaborations and other pursuits of connecting and building communities are also to come.
meet the chef
Over the years, Beneke and Farr’s travel and work experiences revolved around food before finally bringing them together.
Beneke in upstate New York lived in Austin after graduating from college before moving to Asheville in 2017 to be closer to family. She said she went to culinary school in Austin and worked in restaurants for seven years, but was burned by the industry.
“I’ve been a chef my entire career. I always knew this was what I wanted to do. I started working in the kitchen when I was 11 and 12,” Beneke said.
Farr, who is from Memphis, has traveled across Asia, living in Nashville and Chattanooga, before moving deeper into the mountains to settle in Asheville in 2016.
“The mountains are the biggest draw. The vibe here is very cold and welcoming,” he said. “I think Man and Mountain really took us to space. We love it here. It’s the longest time the two of us have lived in one space in our lives, so I thought we might stay here.”
The two met five years ago when Farr was a volunteer manager at MANNA FoodBank, and Beneke signed up for the organization’s annual fundraiser, Empty Bowls.
“When I moved to Asheville, I wanted to do something different and didn’t quite know what that was like, but I knew I wanted it to be food-centric,” Beneke said.
Dining begins with small-scale personal chef jobs and weekly meal preparation. Requests for weekend dining events came quickly, including working side-by-side with Farr and attending one of the MANNA FoodBank Volunteer Appreciation Parties.
“After we did that, we were like, ‘Hey, we’re good at this. This is fun,’ so Matt quit his job at MANNA and we started Red Fiddle,” Beneke said.
A year later, they launched Red Fiddle Vittles. They have since married, had children, and expanded the business to include brick-and-mortar storefronts.
Meal Planning and Pandemic Pivot
The COVID-19 pandemic thwarted their original plans to operate as a traditional restaurant company, Beneke said. The event was canceled, causing the partners to regroup, grow and develop into something new in the Hendersonville area.
“If we spend a little more time here and learn about the community here, it’s densely populated and there’s very little local food,” she said. “There are a lot of chain stores and local box restaurants. People are really excited to have new local options here.”
Red Fiddle Vittles is located in a suite at Dingle Crossing Shopping Centre formerly occupied by Little Caesar. The kitchen space provides most of what they need in its structure, with room to customize it to their needs.
“We probably spent two to two-and-a-half years looking for a kitchen before landing on this place, which happened to come with a small retail area,” Farr said. “We kind of turned.”
He said they decided to offer chef-made dishes using local ingredients and sell them at reasonable prices.
“We’re a little bit higher than a casual restaurant, but we use local ingredients, we pay a living wage, we try to do all the good things for our people, our communities, and the people who produce and make food, and that’s really why it comes down to us, ‘ said Farr.
Clients’ needs and occasions vary, ranging from small dinners with friends to destination weddings.
“We just had a couple in town and wanted to stock up on their vacation rental, so they took a bunch of stuff so they didn’t have to go grocery shopping and cook and do the dishes and I’m here on vacation,” Farr Say. “Over the summer, we had people coming to pick up picnic supplies and stuff to fill up party boards. The bits and pieces made what they were already doing even more special. We filled a lot of different voids this way.”
They’re expanding their bar snack program, which includes locally foraged mushroom confit, goat cheese and beet dip, spicy pimento cheese and duck sauce.
Amid the pandemic, some businesses are starting to outsource their food programs, creating more opportunities for Red Fiddle Vittles, Farr said.
Six months ago, Noble Cider started taking orders to its two restrooms a week, including a premium menu that requires minimal preparation and storage, such as dips and spreads. Most recently, Red Fiddle Vittles began fulfilling orders for the Stone Ashe Vineyard in Hendersonville.
“Many food business owners have to think creatively about how to diversify their revenue streams, so if something happens and one of our main avenues is shut down for a while, you have others that you can focus and hone in to make a living Thing. It’s an adventure,” Farr said.
In other news:Asheville Enterprise Donates Artifacts to Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington, D.C.
Food News:Recipe dinners, new hot sauces, freebies and deals with Chef James Beard
behind the name
The name Red Fiddle Vittles was first inspired by the word “vittles”.
“Vettel is an old word. It comes from the English word ‘victuals’, and then ‘vittles’ is a local adaptation of that very old word. The original definition was life-sustaining food,” Farr said.
“Violin” was inspired by wordplay and its association with bluegrass music and Appalachian culture, Beneke said.
The couple loves red.
“Vittles and victuals is a noble word for this brand, and it’s a folk word, and if you want to call it a violin, the fiddle is a noble instrument, but it’s also a folk instrument,” Farr said. “We think the same about food. It’s comfort food, but special. It’s high-quality, it’s high-quality ingredients, locally sourced, but it’s approachable, fun, and delicious, and you’ll keep coming back.”
Save the violin Vettel
Location: 1800 Hendersonville Road, Asheville
Hours of Operation: Wed-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat 10am-4pm
Information: For more information, visit redfiddlevittles.com.
Tiana Kennell is a food and dining reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of USA TODAY Network. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter/Instagram @PrincessOfPage. Please subscribe to Citizen Times to help support this type of news.