S&W Market : New Food Hall Creates a Unique Space in Downtown Asheville
Written by Caroline Sikkink
Food halls are opening all over in popular cities around the US and Asheville is no exception. In 2010, a mere 25 food halls existed in the US. Today, there are 321 in operation and 145 in development. The S&W Market joined the list of these food halls as it opened in June of 2021. However, S&W is not your typical food hall - the historic building that hosts the eight vendors has a rich history and a grand aesthetic appeal.
Built in 1929, the S&W cafeteria opened in July of that year with a mission to serve local food quickly and casually. However, after the cafeteria moved to the Asheville mall in 1974, a few different restaurants opened in the building, but all ended up closing as the large space was difficult to maintain for a single restaurant. In 2018, one of the current owners of the building, Doug Ellington, began conversations about opening a food hall in the building. Anne Aldrige, current business manager of S&W, was a part of these early conversations as the food hall idea formed.
“We thought this could be a really neat idea for Asheville since it’s such a foodie town and a food hall would bring a unique element to the town that’s not here already.”
Renovating the historic Art Deco building was a challenging process. Construction on the building began in 2019. The pandemic in 2020 delayed the progress on the food hall, but they were finally able to open in the summer of 2021 which Aldridge describes as magical.
“We opened during the short period of time where masks were off. Everybody had chills coming in because we were all able to gather and be together without masks for a little 2-week period.”
Since then, the market has continued to operate and grow in the heart of downtown Asheville. The food hall hopes to be an inviting environment that can host both locals and tourists to create a vibrant and fun atmosphere.
“The cafeteria was a really major part of downtown Asheville back in its day and many locals came here all the time and gathered. That would be incredible to see that happen again.”
Though locals should be sure to explore the food hall, this space is also a spot that those visiting Asheville should be looking to hit,
“We want to be a spot on every tourist’s stop in Asheville - so if they go to the Grove Park and Biltmore house, we want them to come to the S&W Market and for that to be part of their list.”
The vendors in the cafeteria have a unique experience in sharing the space with each other. With an inward facing layout and a shared dishroom, they share banter in the dish pit, good deals on wholesale items, and even lemons or flour when extra is needed. Peyton Barrell, owner of Gourmand, a vendor in the cafeteria, enjoys the network of business owners in the building,
“You get to talk to other business owners that are having problems with certain things and how they have gotten over that and moved forward. If someone finds a good deal on something at a wholesaler, everyone knows about it. If there’s a good sale on a particular type of cheese somewhere, you’re gonna hear about it.”
The eight vendors include Highland Brewing, Buxton Chicken Palace, Bun Intended, Mikasa Criolla, Farm Dogs, The Hop Ice Cream, Gourmand, and The Times Bar.
The space today operates quite similarly to the original mission - to serve local food quickly and casually in the heart of Asheville. You will find live music on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as Blues every Sunday. Stop by for a bite to eat and explore the iconic building.