Archived Arts & Entertainment

Soul Infusion’s fifth

By Chris Cooper

Late Friday night, after the festivities died down and the crickets had begun a serenade for the wee hours, I asked Jason and Karin Kimenker to imagine what they might say 40 years from now about their experience as proprietors of Soul Infusion Tea House. Jason waxed poetic about the whole thing; describing the reciprocal nature of giving and receiving he’s learned from a community he’s grown to love. Karin said she’d just laugh.

Over the last five years, this converted farmhouse has become a place for friends to find friends, bands to find an audience, and as Jason termed it, any of us to “realize our tribe.” The Kimenkers dedication to developing their dream into a reality is obvious in every corner of the teahouse, but most telling is the feeling you get as soon as you step through the door: cozy and instantly comfortable. Anyone from nearly anywhere could feel as if they were plopping down in their living room for a chat here- probably because, for the most part, Soul Infusion IS a living room. Albeit one that’s been enhanced with Karin’s virtuoso home cooking, a mouth-watering beer and tea selection, and in lieu of mind numbing jumbo televisions blasting ESPN, some of the finest local, regional and national music.

So Friday night’s celebration felt like more than a “pat on the back” for a small business that made it through half a decade: it was a gathering of people thankful to have a place like this in their town. Engagements have been announced here, anniversaries celebrated, and probably a few “family additions” conceived after a particularly festive show. Jason joked that if a bomb hit the teahouse that night, Annie’s Bakery would be out of business because the entire staff (including the dog) was in attendance. The dog barked emphatically, either in agreement or dismay, and it’s owner later leaned in to tell Jason she’d experienced the “sincerest sense of community here at Soul Infusion.”

And it’s that word, “community,” that’s at the core of Soul Infusion, the true purpose that Jason and Karin saw in this endeavor. Personally, whether it’s a gig or just dinner, I’ve learned to count on seeing people I know at the teahouse any time I go. My first visit was to see Marshall Ballew’s band several years ago, and though I don’t make it out as often as I’d like, I was certainly smitten from the get-go with this place. Tourists may like to dramatize Soul Infusion’s location as “nestled high in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina,” but the locals know it as “nestled between UPS and the carwash,” and that suits us just fine.

Since this is normally a music article, it’s worth mentioning that Sylva’s own Mother Vinegar provided tunes for the night, and in a loose acoustic setting, goof-balled their way through songs from their recent album, among others. Karl Englemann’s telephone/microphone contraption was in full effect, along with some claw-hammer banjo, kazoo soloing, and one of the most tasteless lounge-jazz spoofs this side of...well, I don’t really know what. Over the years, artists like David Lamotte, Larry Keel, Steel String Theory, acid jazz originator Melvin Sparks and way too many more for me to even consider listing here have found their way to this little venue, as I’m sure many more will as time goes by.

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Of course, the price of commandeering such a lovable ship is that there’s less and less time to enjoy the things everybody else takes for granted, as in the downtown July 4th shindig, which the Kimenkers have missed every year since opening. They’ve also learned the importance of adaptability; when the power goes out, everybody eats by candlelight. Strike up a conversation about vegetarianism with either of the owners and you’re sure to leave with a heap of fantastic cookbooks to help you on your way. Want to rail against the evils of Wal-Mart for a while? I can’t think of a better corporate bashing partner than Jason. Want the best grilled-cheese sandwich on the planet? See Karin.

Jason said that recently, for the first time in longer than he can remember, he took a stroll down Main Street in Sylva. No agenda, no schedule or posters to put up or fires to put out; just reacquainting with the storefronts and sidewalks. He eventually found a nice spot under a tree at the church and sat down to read. Watching and listening to life go by as it does every day in this town reminded him of why he and Karin love it here, and why they’ve worked so hard to make that little farmhouse into what we know today.

One of the things that stuck with me from Friday nights’ conversation about the history and future of Soul Infusion were three little words that Jason casually tossed out. Glancing back at the teahouse from our bench, taking in the crowd milling about on the patio and lounging in chairs throughout the music garden, he turned to me with a grin and said, “We encourage loitering.”

Happy Birthday Soul Infusion, we’re glad you’re here.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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