By Nathan Ham
When Tina Houston, owner of Reid’s Café and Catering in Banner Elk and the ever-popular Betty’s Biscuits food truck, opened Beacon Events at 125 Graduate Lane just off of Highway 105 in Boone, the event space was booking up quickly.
The Beacon opened last spring and had become one of the premier event locations in Boone throughout the summer and fall months. The Beacon offered meeting spaces that could host business meetings, rehearsal dinners or other special events with seating for up to 150 people and technological capabilities such as Apple TV and projections. Then suddenly, COVID-19 hit in late winter and the bottom dropped out.
“I had spent last winter renovating this space and bringing it back to life as an event space, but then after March, we had to reinvent it. Because we had a big kitchen and such a large dining room, it just made sense to move into a restaurant setting,” Houston said. “We outgrew the kitchen at the café and the catering kitchen needed more space and that’s what this place offered.”
With a complete halt to the event business this spring, Beacon Events transformed into the Beacon Butcher Bar.
Houston has been working in catering or as a restaurant entrepreneur since 1999, so she certainly has the experience needed to deal with uncertainty and figure out how to best serve customers.
“In a normal setting, this dining room would seat 165 people. Right now we are only seating about 50 and we have seating out on the front porch,” said Houston.
She classifies the Beacon Butcher Bar as a casual dining, yet intimate experience with the wonderfully prepared meals and Italian wines that pair so perfectly with the menu.
Brian Hendershot is the front house manager and wine expert for the Beacon. They serve wine both by the glass and by the bottle.
“We chose to go with Italian wine because those go best with the food that we’re doing. It’s not that we’re trying to imitate Italian food, we’re just going with that sort of ethos and the wine is catered to that,” said Hendershot. “The idea is to have a food-focused wine list that people can enjoy not only on its own but one that showcases well with the food.”
The head chef is Sean McMullen, an Appalachian State graduate that originally grew up in Hendersonville. McMullen said he started working in different restaurants around Boone while at App State and fell in love with the job.
“I worked in a number of kitchens in Boone and decided I wanted to keep working in food even when I graduated with a degree in business management,” said McMullen.
He jumped at the chance to be a part of the Beacon’s future in the High Country.
“When I started working for Tina, I just started doing what the company needed from me. It’s a great opportunity to turn this place into something that we can actually utilize in this current climate since we can’t have events right now. It seems like a good way for people to come and enjoy some food. We feel it’s a great addition to the great culinary scene here but it’s still very different than anything anyone else is offering,” said McMullen. “We are taking precautions for customer and personal safety as seriously as we can. This seemed like the best fit for what we can do right now.”
The menu will typically stay the same for about a month or so, and then the preparation will begin for the next batch of seasonal dinner entrees. The dinner menu features cured meats and cheeses, elegant salads, Neapolitan rustic pizzas, handmade pasta and grilled whole fish. From the bar, natural wines and hand-crafted cocktails are the biggest sellers.
“Most of my experience is based in Appalachian cuisine and classically trained from European style cooking. I see it is traditional rustic Italian through the filter of Appalachian food ways,” McMullen said describing his cooking style.
The Beacon sources almost everything from local farms and meat producers and typically gets its fish from the North Carolina, Virginia, or South Carolina coast. The Beacon also offers Camp Roasters Coffee from Blowing Rock, as well as loose-leaf teas and tisane from Bellocq Tea Atelier and rustic handmade Italian pastries.
“We are fortunate enough to have so many great farmers here that are growing so many great and diverse vegetables,” added McMullen.
Right now, Tina says that they are using four local farms for the bulk of their items: Mountainwise Farm in Zionville, Full Moon Farm in Deep Gap, Against the Grain Farm in Zionville, and Narrow Way Farms in Mitchell County.
“We value the handmade & fashion from scratch details as small as the aioli & dressings we use all the way to our housemade pastas and naturally fermented pickles,” said Houston.
The décor at Beacon Butcher Bar features re-purposed barn wood, local river stone, white concrete tabletops from BDWG and greenery by Callista Designs. Jerry Cantwell’s paintings are on display both at Reid’s Café in Banner Elk and at the Beacon. The colors that adorn the interior walls are of dark sea and clouds, forest, stone, sky, and sunset.
Beacon Butcher Bar opens at 5 p.m. for dinner and closes at 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and is located next to the iconic water wheel. The Beacon will also be rolling out curbside takeout services this week. In addition to the restaurant, the Beacon offers a special market with hand-cut meats, in-house charcuterie, house-cured bacon, marinated olives, imported cheeses, hand-baked bread along with an array of other specialty products.
Pictures of the restaurant . . .
And some food shots . . .