The Rise of HenDough

Paul and Sarah Klaassen bring years of industry experience to HenDough Chicken & Donuts. Photo by Tim Robison.

In one way, Paul and Sarah Klaassen got lucky. When the couple left the high-end restaurant industry to focus on two of their own favorite foods, comfort staples that have enjoyed a recent fancying up in foodie circles, they were able to brand their idea with a charming double-duty pun. HenDough not only references their new restaurant’s specialities — fried chicken (i.e. “hen”) and doughnuts — it’s also an obvious homonym for “Hendo,” the affectionate, widely used nickname of their new hometown. (They moved here five years ago.)

But luck has nothing to do with the hard work and culinary artistry of the couple, both veterans of the back-of-house regional food scene. Paul is a certified executive chef and has been cooking for 16 years, including a stint at the Bistro at Biltmore, and Sarah is a pastry chef who’s been in the industry a decade.

Their eatery is stylishly painted in retro-happy colors. Menu items are listed on a blackboard, and sculptural accents of folk-art poultry are perched in choice corners. The logo, a jolly hen peering through a doughnut-turned-monocle, is a feat of high whimsy, and completes the transformation of the Kanuga Road space (formerly Blue Water Seafood).

All perks point to a savvy enterprise. “We will be using as many local products as possible,” says Sarah. (These include Blue Blaze Soda from West Asheville, milk from Mills River Creamery, and coffee from Dynamite Roasters in Black Mountain.) When they lock down their beer-and-wine license, they’ll feature adult bevs from just a few blocks over — Sanctuary Brewing and Southern Appalachian Brewery.

But, at base, it’s about the hen and the dough — inventive fried-chicken handfuls and pastries that are next-level fancy. “The concept just kind of came to us,” says Paul. “We were a little burnt out on the upscale/full-service scene. We wanted to do something fun and cook food we love to eat. Fried chicken and doughnuts are the items we find ourselves looking for when we travel and want comfort food. So we figured, why not serve them in the same place at the same time?”

He’s quick to note that “this is not a chicken-and-waffle situation,” referring to the classic Deep South pairing that’s become a staple in trendy, neo-soul casual eateries. At HenDough, the savory and the sweet don’t necessarily occupy the same plate (though they can be sometimes found coupled in the same pastry, as in the Klaassens’ slipper-sized caramel-bacon doughnut).

“They will be separate items for the most part, with the occasional appearance of the fried-chicken-and-doughnut sandwich,” explains Paul. “Think coffee/doughnut shop in the morning and chicken shack in the afternoon. We will have an awesome chicken biscuit all day, and doughnuts will be fried several times daily.”

Instead of the expected hockey-puck shape, the biscuit is sized to fit the whole sandwich: a compassionately clever touch. The “Traditional,” served on a bun, is enhanced with Duke’s mayo and a copious smattering of homemade pickles, making this a house standout. Other menu regulars will include Asian and Southern iterations of the chicken sandwich, dressed respectively with sriracha aioli and pimento cheese; a pulled chicken salad; and deeply addictive Buffalo-fried chicken livers with ranch dressing. The excellent sides also exhibit the couple’s foodie roots: besides baked beans, collard greens, and the smart inclusion of steak fries — which can be weirdly hard to find these days — the Klaassens are featuring fried Brussels sprouts and a cold sweet-potato salad with bacon.

“We will be primarily using Coleman’s natural chicken from North Carolina … a hormone- and antibiotic-free product,” says Sarah, who was bouncing 16-month-old son Hayden on her hip at the restaurant’s recent soft opening.

On the sweet side, her pastry background has helped yield an array of doughnuts so lavish they deserve their own picture book. Flavors, rotating up to a dozen daily, include S’mores — overflowing with marshmallow cream — Creme Brûlée (think Boston cream but with a carmelized top), and strawberry coconut. Even the plainer choices, e.g. cinnamon, achieve maximum decadence.

Dreams don’t materialize without long hours and loving support, and Paul credits an “extremely talented” staff and extended-family help with Hayden for kneading HenDough into a reality.

Maybe it’s the combo of casual atmosphere with craft cooking, or maybe it’s that melty whiff of fried richness — but something about the place smells like a game changer.

“The food scene in Hendersonville has really come a long way in the past few years, and we hope to contribute to its growth,” says Paul. “Taking two of the most approachable foods, making them from scratch with quality ingredients, and adding a few unique twists seems like a winner to us. We’re were pretty excited to introduce it to this area, and so far the idea has been well received around town.

“When we first moved here,” he adds, “if we wanted to go out to eat, we drove to Asheville. We find ourselves staying in Hendersonville more and more these days, and soon it will be the other way around — people will drive to Hendersonville to eat at our local restaurants.”

HenDough Chicken & Donuts is located at 532 Kanuga Road. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 8am-8pm. 828-595-2885. More info can be found on the restaurant’s Facebook page; a website is forthcoming at www.hendough.com.

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