Despite the challenges 2020 presented to the hospitality industry, Hotel Domestique and Restaurant 17 in Travelers Rest turned it into a year of growth — literally — by adding a 22-acre farm along the North Saluda River to its operations.
Officially named Stage 22 Farm at Hotel Domestique, the farm is part of a larger plan set in motion in March of 2019 when investor Ben Navarro, CEO of Charleston-based Sherman Financial Group, partnered with co-owners George and Rich Hincapie to buy out the former unnamed majority partner in the hotel.
When the two-year projected plan is completed, the farm will include an abundance of seasonal crops; multiple greenhouses; a cut flower program; an orchard with pomegranate, peach, plum, pears, Asian persimmon, hazelnut and pecan trees, among others; an event venue that allows for outdoor dining and entertaining; and livestock of all varieties.
“Our new partner loves health and wellness,” George Hincapie says. “Before we even formed the new partnership, we were talking, and he said from the beginning he wanted a farm.”
George Hincapie, a retired professional cyclist, and Rich Hincapie, CEO of Hincapie Sportswear, opened Hotel Domestique, formerly La Bastide, in 2013 as a 13-room destination reflective of their European travels and geared toward the cycling community. They continue to oversee the 30-acre property located at 10 Road of Vines, between downtown Travelers Rest and Asheville.
Stage 22, located a mile from the hotel at 280 River Road, is managed by Craig Weiner, formerly owner/operator of Broken Oak Organics who, prior to that, grew produce specifically for the nearby Cliffs properties. Sarah DuBose of Sassafras Flower Farm is working with Weiner and managing the flower program.
The new farm land was previously used as Clemson University’s organic golf course research center at the Cliffs to grow sod, making the soil never invaded by commercial pesticides ideal for growing organic crops.
“We really lucked out finding this piece of land,” says Eric Poovey, Hotel Domestique general manager.
Weiner says being able to build a farm from the sod up is an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“We’re killing the grass and planting food,” Weiner says, partially joking.
Restaurant 17 executive chef Haydn Shaak has sourced ingredients from Weiner for 12 years, so when the farm project was presented, he knew exactly who should lead it.
“Craig knows what works really well around here,” Shaak says. “Now he has more room to play around and so much new stuff — some stuff he couldn’t do at Broken Oak. They could’ve picked anybody, and I spoke up for Craig. It meant a lot to see all that come together.”
Shaak says he’s excited to be more self-sufficient as they have always wanted to be.
“We’re taking the Blackberry Farm approach and being more self-sustainable, and cutting out the middleman,” he says.
The timing of finding the land and naming the farmer was ideal. When work on Stage 22 began last spring, shortly after indoor dining in restaurants was prohibited, Shaak was able to send staff who would have been laid off to work on the farm. That overlap kept Hotel Domestique and Restaurant 17 from having to furlough anyone. The additional labor also helped propel the project forward.
Currently, Weiner says Stage 22 is growing primarily fall and winter crops for Restaurant 17, but also is supplying produce to other local restaurants as well — the Table 301 family, Topsoil in downtown Travelers Rest, and former Husk Greenville chef Jon Buck, who is doing private dinners and events, for instance. Farm stand Wednesdays are also a weekly event on-site for the general public to purchase produce.
Stage 22 is also serving as a composting program for the restaurant to recycle its food waste back into the soil, Shaak says.
The reality of what Stage 22 could become when all of the various components are completed — which would allow the hotel to offer farm breakfasts, kayak trips down the river, pick-your-own ingredients for lunch, and true farm-to-fork events — is a dream come true for Hincapie.
“We’re finally at a place to do what we’ve wanted to do,” he says.