At the corner of South Main and West Henderson, a new neighborhood eatery for Marion is emphasizing locally sourced, farm-to-table food.
McDowell Local opened for business Monday at 84 S. Main St. in the space that was formerly Café Marion. This new restaurant opened to a packed house with lines of people waiting to order their food.
McDowell Local is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It has a Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday will be the only day it is closed.
The lunch and dinner menu for McDowell Local features such popular items as sliders, nachos, chicken wings, a variety of salads, burgers and sandwiches and hand pies. The Sunday brunch will have a buttermilk biscuit bar, breakfast casserole, shrimp and grits, eggs Benedict, a breakfast burger and a grits bowl, among other items. There will also be vegetarian and gluten-free options.
“Our goal is simple: provide our friends, family, and neighbors with a relaxed dining experience that keeps folks coming back,” reads the eatery’s Facebook page.
Owners Aaron and Lauren Mathews said to The McDowell News they want their eatery to be a place that offers good, fresh food that also supports local growers and other small businesses while offering something different for the community.
“My goal has been to keep as much of my menu locally sourced as possible and have my ingredients in house,” said Aaron Mathews, who is in charge of the kitchen.
Already, McDowell Local has formed partnerships with Carolina Baking Co., Sweet Betsy Farms, English Farmstead Cheese, Mica Town Brewing, Blue Ridge Mustard Co. and West Court Food Center, all of which are in Marion, and Farm Fresh Ventures in Old Fort. You will find their products on your plate or on the counter.
Through these and other partnerships, McDowell Local is offering fresher, healthier food while supporting local growers and entrepreneurs.
“These people have been super nice to me or cooperated with me,” said Aaron. “McDowell County is a cornucopia of agriculture.”
Farm Fresh Ventures in Old Fort is just one example. McDowell Local’s Facebook page describes Farm Fresh Ventures as offering “state of the art hydroponic technology as horticulture therapy for individuals suffering from chronic addiction to drugs and alcohol and are part of Recovery Ventures Corporation, the only long-term residential treatment program in North Carolina to offer this form of treatment. We’re super pleased to partner with them and offer you some gorgeous and delicious mixed greens for salads, burgers, and sandwiches.”
As for the beverages, McDowell Local will have the usual sodas and water along with craft beer and wine with your meal.
The eatery will employ a maximum of 10 people and it is truly a family-owned and operated establishment. While Aaron is in charge of the cooking, his wife Lauren will oversee the business side and the promotions on social media. Two of their daughters, Emma and Nora, will work there while their third daughter Anne Thomas is a student at Wofford College.
“It will definitely be a family affair,” said Lauren.
Aaron and Lauren Mathews had thought about opening a business in downtown Marion for some time now. At one point, the couple looked at starting an antique store. But given Aaron’s background, it was inevitable that they would start a restaurant.
“I grew up in Charleston, S.C. so food has always been a big part of my life,” he said.
He added he also missed the neighborly interaction with staff and customers that he had from his restaurant background.
His experience includes 18 years of working at My Father’s Pizza in Black Mountain. He was the owner of that popular, long-time eatery for five of those 18 years. He also went through the culinary school at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. Furthermore, he worked at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, where he was the food and beverage manager there.
“I’ve been very lucky,” he said. “I’ve gotten lucky because of my experience and the location.”
He and his family have made their home in Marion. They helped their friends Jason Snyder and Emily Causey open their new business, Mica Town Brewing Co., here as well.
“Marion is classic small-town Americana,” said Lauren. “I love it.”
When looking to open their own business, Aaron and Lauren saw the potential for something new and good in this city.
“We saw the empty storefronts and the potential for these places,” said Aaron.
When they heard that Café Marion was closing, they knew it would be an ideal place for their eatery. Rook and Roxan Wetzel, owners of that eatery, had already put a lot of work changing 84 S. Main St. into a good restaurant.
“(The Wetzels) laid the groundwork to make the next person successful,” said Aaron. “They left us in good shape. For that, I’m very appreciative.”
McDowell Local is the latest in a series of new businesses that are bringing more life and excitement to downtown Marion. Aaron and Lauren Mathews are another example of younger entrepreneurs with fresh ideas and approaches.
Aaron and Lauren said they can’t speak highly enough of the help and the cooperation they have received from Marion Business Association, the McDowell Chamber of Commerce and the city of Marion.
“It’s a good community for small business,” said Aaron. “Folks have gone out of their way to offer up words of encouragement and support and it makes all the difference. We’re pleased, proud, and humbled to be a part of Marion.”