Blue Agave carries on with signature marinades and “something for everyone”
Pandemic lockdowns plus a serious labor shortage means just about every restaurant in the country has had a hard time keeping their doors open over the past couple years — and you can tell from talking to those who’ve survived how proud they are to still be here.
But few places in WNC have been hit more personally by the pandemic than Blue Agave Mexican Restaurant.
A family-run operation helmed by twin brothers Felipe and Agustin Chavarin, Blue Agave took over the vacant restaurant space at the Asheville Airport Clarion Inn in 2018. With 20 years of experience running restaurants in Henderson County — including co-owning El Paso and Cocula Mexican Restaurants — they knew what they wanted to do, and how they wanted to do it.
But just as they were hitting their stride, the pandemic struck. They closed for dine-in and tried to pivot to take-out only. “It was hard,” says Blue Agave manager Estefania Perez. “We got hit directly … [Agustin] passed away unexpectedly in August of 2020 due to complications from COVID-19.”
Losing his twin brother and longtime business partner so suddenly, at just 43, left Felipe and the rest of the Blue Agave team devastated, and not knowing how to carry on. But focusing on what Agustin brought to the table gave them inspiration for how to make their restaurant better — and how to best carry on his legacy.
“We’ve really had to step up,” says Perez. “His specialty was really the food and the menu, and we’re just hoping to keep up what he had going.”
To try to keep up, they had to hire two people to fill Agustin’s shoes. A lot of the burden in the kitchen fell to Tony Ayala. Hailing from Michoacán, Mexico, Ayala worked his way up from a dishwasher to a chef over the years, starting at El Chapala. “He’s a very hard worker, and he’s had a lot of experience,” notes Felipe Chavarin.
“He and Agustin worked closely on the recipes and the dishes,” agrees Perez. “If it wasn’t for Tony, at this moment, we’d probably be in deep, deep trouble.”
Originally from Puebla, Felipe and Agustin didn’t cook in restaurants until they got to the U.S., but their understanding of the food started back home in Mexico. “My aunt and my grandmother were very good cooks. We learned a lot from them,” says Felipe. “In Mexico, there’s a lot of variety. You go to the south or you go north, east or west, everything is different; every state kind of has their own menu.”
Just one glance at the Blue Agave menu and you get a hint of that culinary diversity. Of course, Puebla’s famous Mole Poblano makes an appearance. But so do coastal dishes, regional tacos, pastas, tortas, and burritos. The Arrachera al Carbón is a standout — charbroiled flank steak with Mexican sausage, pinto beans, grilled cactus, guacamole, and blistered jalapeño peppers served on a ripping-hot skillet.
“The marinades make all of the flavors come together, and the meat we use is very tender,” notes Chavarin. “It’s about the freshness.”
As Perez notes: “We have a very extensive menu, and people always ask, ‘What kind of food do you serve? Authentic or more Americanized?’ And we want to think that we have something for everyone on the menu. If you are into hard-shell tacos, we have those; but if you are into mole, we have that. We can do everything from authentic and traditional to Taco Bell [style].
“That was our goal — to have something for everyone who walks through that door.”
Blue Agave Mexican Restaurant, 550 New Airport Road, Fletcher. Open Sunday through Thursday from 11am-9pm and Friday and Saturday from 11am-9:30pm. For more information, call 828-676-3101 or check out the restaurant’s Facebook page.