Getting your fill in Appalachia
Strolling through downtown Bryson City, one tends to cross paths with the scent of delicious food wafting from a nearby building. Upon further inspection, that building is The Filling Station, a popular deli. That scent is their renowned flagship item — the Cuban sandwich.
“It’s all about consistency and quality,” said co-owner Barry Tetrault. “We have fresh, authentic bread from Tampa and authentic pork from Miami.”
Running the business with his wife, Helene, since 2006, The Filling Station has become a beacon for unique and appetizing soups, salads, sandwiches and specialty items within Southern Appalachia.
“Though we’re known for our Cuban sandwich, it has really turned into what we do, which is everything goes,” Barry said. “Everyday we have specials and are always interacting with our customers of what they want. I come up with things completely off the chain, and the people like it.”
Happily married for the last 32 years, the two met fresh out of high school. In the late 1970’s, both worked for a restaurant in Hollywood, Fla. He was the kitchen manager, while she was a server. Each relocated from separate parts of the northeast, each were looking for opportunities in a new environment. Once together, Barry started a painting/waterproofing company and Helene worked in the local school system. Things were going well, but something was missing.
With that attitude of “everything goes,” the duo fell in love with Bryson City on a chance vacation to the town in 2004. They fell in love with the unique small town, its people and the majestic peaks of the Smokies. Coming back in the next year, they noticed a new business in downtown – The Filling Station.
“She drove by and saw the building, she said she liked the place, liked where it sat and how it looked. She wanted to own that business and that building. I told her she was dreaming,” Barry chuckled.
But that dream quickly became a reality. When Barry’s father passed away on their 25th wedding anniversary, the couple was heartbroken. Though that sadness, a silver lining emerged. The day they returned to Florida from the funeral, Barry got a phone call. It was the owner of The Filling Station. On their last trip to Bryson City, Helene had shown interest in the business and left Barry’s business card.
“He asked if I was interesting in buying the deli,” Barry said. “I looked up at the sky and said ‘OK, dad,’ because he always wanted to get us out of Florida.”
A day later, they packed up their motor home and headed for Swain County. After some thought, they took the plunge and soon the business was theirs. The vision to make the deli into a desired destination was coming to fruition. But, all wasn’t smooth sailing with the economic woes that soon faced to the nation. It was time for the family to batten down the hatches, hold on tight and stay true to their intentions.
“Everyone thinks when you open a small business that you’re going to break the bank, that it’ll be easy and that’ll be the end of it,” Barry said. “But there’s no such thing as easy when you’re in the food industry.”
“When the market crashed, we ended up having to push hard, build up the business and get it going,” Helene added.
Coming into their seventh year at the helm of the deli, the Tetraults are just as passionate for who they are as a business and what they do as their first day behind the counter. There are plans already in the works to expand into the other half of the building, which would offer seating and booths, ultimately opening up the snug structure.
“It’s going to be something that Bryson City and Western North Carolina will be telling everybody that they have to go see this place,” Barry smiled.
Though the culinary philosophy of The Filling Station stands strong, the couple is well aware of how important the support of the community is when it comes to the success of an establishment.
“If it wasn’t for this community, we wouldn’t be here,” Helene said. “There’s been a lot of change since we came here, and it’s great. There are a lot of people coming to stay here permanently, with everyone bringing something different to the town.”
With their roots deeply set in Swain County, the Tetraults soon attracted the attention of the popular North Carolina magazine Our State. The publication heard about the small culinary treat in the deeps hills of Appalachia. Eventually, a writer decided to call and find out if The Filling Station was interested in being featured in their “100 foods you must eat in 100 counties” article.
“The guy called up and I thought it was a joke,” Barry chuckled. “I really didn’t know who he was, but I told him ‘sure, come on down and get some photos.’”
Those photos and quotes found themselves into the article that hit newsstands around the state and beyond. Soon, troves of curious tourists and longtime locals wandered into The Filling Station. The buzz was overwhelming to the couple, but it was exactly what they had hoped would happen if they just stayed true to their principles of providing good food with a good attitude.
“The people that live and visit here deserve this, they deserve quality service and food, and that’s what we aim to give them,” Helene said.