Where East meets West: Thai fusion restaurant enters next chapter in Waynesville
It’s lunchtime in downtown Waynesville. Hungry bellies wander up the sidewalk in search of nourishment. It is the calm before the storm for Julie Katt as she awaits the midday rush.
“The key thing is the people,” she said. “You have to like to deal with people, to have patience with people, and for us, that’s what it’s all about.”
Co-owner of Blossom on Main, a Thai fusion restaurant on Main Street, Katt rushes around the cozy space, making sure every detail is taken care of, from seating customers to taking orders to placing meals on the tables, all the while engaging in conversation with friends and those soon-to-be friends.
“Service is so important,” she emphasized. “There are so many great places to eat around town these days. And we came into this knowing that we needed to be consistent — for the convenient hours of operation, for the great service and for the quality food.”
Katt, her husband (Harry) and their good friends (business partners and couple) Keith Zipielewski and Beth Owen-Zipielewski purchased the location a little over a year ago. When the former Thai Spice came up for sale, the foursome decided it was the right time to pursue a longtime dream of owning a business together.
“Keith and Beth own a successful restaurant in Florida and have tons of culinary experience to feel comfortable in launching Blossom on Main,” Julie said. “And when this place came on the market, we knew it was something we wanted to do.”
Julie herself is no stranger to the food and beverage industry. A native Floridian, she spent many years during college working in restaurants, and also in the newspaper industry where she was an ad representative (where the skills of accommodation and hospitality go hand-and-hand). Following graduation, she started a family with Harry, to which they found themselves in Haywood County in 2008 to join Julie’s parents who relocated to Western North Carolina.
Eventually, with her kids headlong into the local school system, Julie found a position at The Swag, a renowned getaway (of rest and recipes) high up in the mountains above Jonathan Creek. It was at The Swag that Julie worked her way up to director of guest services, a career move that justified her enjoyment of people and place, especially in terms of fine dining.
And for Blossom on Main, Julie’s main objective is shifting the perceptions folks might have about Thai food.
“Offering Thai in Western North Carolina presents it’s obstacles,” she chuckled. “A lot of people in this area hear ‘Thai food’ and they automatically think everything is either spicy or fried, when, in fact, Thai is about fresh vegetables, steamed rice and delicious meats. And everything that’s produce is hand-cut in house. None of that frozen stuff or something from a bag.”
And it’s that misconception that Head Chef Preston McClure also aims to correct.
“Spicy can simply just refer to spices, and not heat,” he said. “It’s about getting people to know that Thai is about sweet and sour and savory, all kinds of ingredients and styles.”
A 29-year veteran of the culinary industry, McClure crossed paths with Julie and Co. when they worked together at The Swag, where he was a chef. For McClure, it’s the creative component in his kitchen (alongside Chef Marcelo Prieto) that makes the difference.
“That’s the whole point. If you don’t have a kitchen that’s enjoying what they’re doing and are passionate about the food, then it’s just a job,” McClure noted. “Food is the only thing we do that involves all five senses — hearing, seeing and smelling the food, touching and tasting the food. And, for us, having that ‘clean slate’ to create and change up the menu makes everything that much better.”
McClure points to the flourishing farm-to-table scene in Western North Carolina as another prime example of how intimate, flavorful and succulent the dishes in restaurants have become around the region. In terms of Blossom on Main, they’re in the process of utilizing seasonal ingredients and iconic local brands into their selections. It’s where the idea of “Thai fusion” really comes to the forefront, as seen by the recent addition of a “trout curry wrap” that features meat from just a hop, skip and a jump down the road at Sunburst Trout.
“Thai food is real fresh, which works great with all the local farm-to-table produce and ingredients we have around this area.” McClure said.
And for Julie, seeing her vision come to fruition has been a surreal and rewarding experience.
“We all live here, and the support for the community, and out-of-town visitors, has been overwhelming,” she smiled. “It’s great to see our friends, neighbors and those new to the area really enjoy what we’re doing here.”
Want to go?
The 12th annual Melange of the Mountains culinary weekend will be March 10-13 around Haywood County.
The event is the county’s premier culinary kickoff for the spring tourism season. It is a uniquely local epicurean partnership of innovative chefs, sustainable producers, crafty microbrewers and local farms. The culinary gala will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 10, at Laurel Ridge Country Club in Waynesville. As well, there will also be an array of special restaurant events and tastings through the weekend.
Participants include Apple Creek Café, Balsam Mountain Inn, Blossom on Main, Copper Pot & Wooden Spoon, Lake Junaluska Conference & Retreat, Laurel Ridge Country Club, Selu Garden Café, The Farm Kitchen, The Swag, Sunburst Market and the Waynesville Inn Golf Resort & Spa. There will also be tastings provided by Boojum Brewing, The Classic Wine Seller, Frog Level Brewing and Tipping Point Brewing.
Tickets for the gala are $35 for chamber members, $40 for nonmembers and $60 for VIP.
For more information on the gala and about other culinary events throughout the weekend around Haywood County in celebration of Melange of the Mountains, click on www.haywoodchamber.com (search the “Signature Events” under the “Events” tab).