Written by Arthur Treff | Photos by Linda D. Cluxton
Have you ever noticed, when friends are gathering at your home, that it’s not until dinner is devoured, candles are snuffed and only crumbs remain at the table, that genuine conversation begins?
Does it take place in the dining room, or the strategically arranged seating of the living room? Usually not, because the good stuff happens in the unadorned spaces: by the weedy compost pile, in the driveway, over by the recycling bin, or in the mudroom leaning against the washing machine.
The magic of human interaction materializes where we least expect it—unless you’re at The Wedge Brewery. The décor isn’t upscale, most of the seating is rough and tumble, but the atmosphere is as welcoming as your best friend’s kitchen door. More than a microbrewery, the Wedge is the carefree vortex that all manner of local Ashevillians enter after a hard day’s work.
You’ll see a roofing crew, fresh off the ladder sitting across the table from hipsters in goofy polyester shirts. A dreadlocked and darkly tattooed girl in a sundress gathers up the spent glasses from two men in ties who are engrossed in a business meeting. Dust clouds follow arriving cars and paint the sparse grass-tufts brown. Dogs wait reverently by the food truck’s back door while a young couple challenges an aging duo in a game of corn toss. The festival atmosphere is punctuated by horn blasts from arriving freight trains 50 feet away.
How did the Wedge become a free-thinking, congenial local gathering place against a backdrop of industrial detritus? Did some social scientist savant create this place?
In business, the path from A to B is never a straight line. Ownership is all about paying attention and remaining flexible. The events that drive the detours are as numerous and varied as bubbles in a beer glass.
“This,” says Tim Schaller, pointing to the gritty parking lot beside the tracks, “was not in my original plan. If I had wanted to open a bar, I would have located it downtown. I thought we’d just be brewing beer back here. I had the vision of a brewery, a small tasting room—for my friends and me to drink in—and a lot of delivery trucks coming and going. I had no idea that people would want to sit in the dirt to drink our beer.”
Back in 2002, an artist named John Payne converted a dilapidated triangular three story building into a studio/living space for himself and leased the remaining studio spaces to fellow artists. He named it The Wedge Studios, which sits in the (now) trendy River Arts District (RAD).
John worked to create a cohesive collaborative environment for his tenants by being selective when approving studio leases. Artists who secured space in the Wedge felt as if they had been admitted to display at a juried show.
Across town, Tim Schaller, a New York transplant since 1998, was making a living building and renovating throughout the area. He was captivated by the craft brewing industry, and Tim dreamed of trying his hand someday at making beer. He was a regular at Greenman’s tasting room and Clingman Café in the RAD, which is where he met John Payne.
John’s avocation was building anatomically correct robotic dinosaur skeletons that hung from cables—“kinetosaurs”—white his vocation was selectively renting studio space in his building. Heather Malloy, who was shopping for rehearsal space for the dance troupe, Terpsicorps, approached John.
Heather couldn’t afford the space she needed, but John believed in her vision and wanted to help. He reasoned that if a commercial venture could be enticed to operate out of his building, the generated income would offset donating a large space to Terpsicorps…he just needed to find a good fit.
Meanwhile, Tim’s brewery business plan was taking shape at Mountain BizWorks, and when he shared it with his friend, John thought that Tim’s brewery could be the perfect commercial tenant for the Wedge building.
(article continues on page 2 and there are more photographs at the end)