The S&W building has been a gem of historic architecture in downtown Asheville, opening as a cafeteria and local gathering place in July 1929. Designed by renowned architect Douglas Ellington, it became a Patton Avenue Art Deco landmark, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For nearly 50 years it was a popular place, but then had a string of tenants and sometimes sat empty.
Enter Ellington’s grand-nephews Douglas and Kenneth Ellington, who purchased the building in 2017, with the mission to “bring back the S&W as the bustling center of community it was many years ago.”
Doug Ellington heads the Ellington Realty Group, which began the process of restoring the S&W building and bringing the S&W Market concept forward to its June 16 opening.
Making It Unique
The Ellington group had visited food halls in other cities and felt that Asheville is “a savvy food town that could benefit from a true food hall,” said Anne Aldridge, Ellington’s director of operations and S&W Market manager. “We felt this grand, large space would be perfect for a food hall with beer.”
Some people may relate a food hall to the food court at the mall.
“But when you look at what we’re doing, it’s very different,” said Anne Aldridge. “A food hall serves local and fresh ingredients, in chef-driven food offerings. It’s a coming together of diverse, fresh food from independent restauranteurs in one space.”
Members of the Ellington Reality Group “knew we weren’t food experts,” Aldridge said. Fortuitously, Burns Aldridge, Ellington managing broker, is a longtime friend of five-time James Beard nominee chef Meherwan Irani, CEO and co-founder of the Chai Pani Restaurant Group, Buxton Hall Barbecue and Spicewalla.
Burns helped Irani with the first Chai Pani space and he sought Irani’s help and expertise for the S&W project.
“Meherwan was bowled over by the building’s space and was up for the challenge of bringing about Asheville’s first food and beer hall,” Anne Aldridge said.
“With its rich history so steeped in place — a former gathering place of the city lovingly restored to be that once again — the S&W Building is a space that’s meant to be shared,” Irani said.
Two Years of Planning
Diana Bellgowan led the S&W architecture and interior design renovations.
“It’s a gorgeous Art Deco building,” Anne Aldridge said. “The design principle was to leave the building alone as much as possible.”
Bellgowan allowed the terrazzo floors, terracotta tile walls and repainted gold ceiling to stand out, while planning for food stalls and bar spaces.
“It was a complicated project for a designer with an old historic building on the National Register, but it now feels and looks like it should,” Anne Aldridge added.
It’s spacious — the first floor containing the food stalls is 5,000 square feet with an additional 5,000 square feet of space on the mezzanine level. The sidewalk area along Patton Avenue feature outdoor seating for up to 40 people.
Downstairs is a 5,000-square-foot event space, Circa 29, which will begin hosting events in July.
“Circa 29 is a really cool space that has a different feeling, like a speakeasy,” Anne Aldridge said.
Highland Returns to Its Roots
Asheville is a craft beer mecca, and the project managers knew S&W needed a beer anchor.
“Burns said it would be really great to have Highland Brewing come back downtown, where it started (in 1994),” Anne Aldridge said.
“Highland has been approached many times about opening a second taproom, but it never felt right — until S&W,” said Leah Wong Ashburn, family owner and president/CEO of Highland Brewing. “The more I heard about the project, the more I liked it.”
Highland agreed to S&W as its second taproom and is the anchor tenant, with a mezzanine-level bar featuring 18 taps and a small first floor bar. Ashburn felt the project aligned with the family ownership stories of both the S&W building and Highland Brewing.
“The S&W Market is a statement to our commitment to Asheville,” Ashburn said. “We have a stake in this community. The S&W building was part of the downtown boom in the 1920s and my dad (Oscar Wong) helped shape the growth of downtown when he started Highland Brewing in the 1990s.”
The S&W location, with its Art Deco style, is a different atmosphere from the industrial chic character of Highland’s complex in East Asheville. New to Highland at S&W will be table service on the mezzanine level and a Highland Italian pilsner, brewed specifically for S&W.
Irani selected the food tenants to complement each other, offering fresh, local food from independently owned restaurants and local chefs.
“The focus is on delicious food in a really good mix,” Anne Aldridge said.
The vendors include Buxton Chicken Palace, with Irani’s Buxton Hall Barbecue partner, celebrated chef Elliott Moss; Bun Intended (Thai street food); Farm Dogs (grass-fed hot dogs, handcrafted sausages, locally made pretzels); Peace Love Tacos (a variety of tacos and a-la-carte favorites); The Hop Ice Cream S&W (locally made ice cream); and The Times Bar (a cocktail bar adjacent to the food hall).
“The local makers who are coming together for this project are incredibly talented, and we know that with the variety and quality of beer and food we will have, the S&W Market is going to resonate with locals and visitors as a place to return to again and again,” said Burns Aldridge.
“We hope locals come out and enjoy the S&W Market,” Anne Aldridge said. “People have admired the building for so long. It’s sad it was closed all those years, but we think people will be really surprised by how great it looks. The S&W Market is a good reason to come to downtown Asheville to enjoy excellent food and beer in a beautiful piece of architecture.”
The S&W Market is located at 56 Patton Ave. in downtown Asheville. For more information, visit www.swmarketavl.com/.