WEST JEFFERSON-A lot has happened on the little hill below Mount Jefferson. For Kristin Howell, an Ashe County native and owner and operator of When Pigs Fly BBQ and Wings, her business has been able to withstand a slow economy and the closing of two neighboring businesses.
And she still has one of the most popular restaurants in Ashe County.
“I was waiting tables at two restaurants, cleaning houses for two different developments, pressure washing decks and raising a seven-year-old at the time when I got the opportunity to become a restaurant owner,” said Howell. “Mike Aloia came to me with the idea of taking it over. I opened up and managed a lot of restaurants so if anyone was capable of running When Pigs Fly, it was me.”
The restaurant started with five employees and while things got off to a slow start, the crew soon put things together.
“It was a struggle, we couldn’t find our vibe at first, but after diligently working and finding our niche, things fell into place,” Howell said. “We finally got the barbecue and smoking process down pat and we started making a lot of our stuff from scratch and that really helped a lot.”
Closing in on three years of operation under Howell, When Pigs Fly has started piling up the awards and recognition for their successes. They were voted best wings and best lunch spot in the county in 2014 and 2015, best barbecue, best hamburger and best restaurant in the county for 2015 and manager Kayla Osborne was voted as best waitress in 2014 and 2015.
But times haven’t always been great, especially since the closure of neighboring businesses Lowe’s Foods and Casa Garcia. Howell admits that the empty spaces is starting to take a toll on the traffic that comes through her restaurant.
“When Lowes Foods closed, we were scared and it was a struggle, but we survived. Our sales went down about 35-percent at first because we are tucked up on that hill and it’s out of sight, out of mind,” said Howell. “We have really struggled, yet always seem to pull through. We make enough to pay the bills and so far, we are okay with that. Nowadays, you can’t ask for much more.”
Looking into the future, Howell is hoping to have a chance to move her restaurant into a bigger spot.
“We are slowly outgrowing our little spot on the hill and we have been searching for a place to relocate,” said Howell. “We are hopeful and diligent in our search and hope that soon we can move near town.
Howell said while she does want to be closer to town, a downtown spot is out of the question due to limited parking.
“A lot of our customers and regulars drive trucks and haul equipment at lunch time and we need something with adequate parking,” Howell said.
Right now, the staff has increased to 11 people, including Howell who cooks during the weekly lunch rush.
“For such a small staff, we have managed to stay open seven days a week and hope to always be around,” said Howell. “We want to serve great food in a clean environment while maintaining a family-like atmosphere. We love what we do. We are fortunate to have been doing so wonderful. We are thankful for every story we have heard, every belly we have filled and every person we have heard from. We look forward to being here for a long time.”
Howell said it’s important that each customer be greeted and taken care of the moment they walk through her door. On some days, they’ll even get the opportunity to be taken care of by Whitley, Howell’s 10-year-old daughter.
“We really focus on the personal side of dining out. We really want everyone to feel like family,” said Howell.
When Pigs Fly offers a huge variety on the menu to choose from, everything from wings, barbecue and hamburgers to ribs, salads and shrimp. They also offer the ever-popular $6 lunch special that includes a sandwich, fries and a drink and even a gluten free fryer for those sensitive to gluten.
When Pigs Fly is located at 247-1 Mt. Jefferson State Park Road in West Jefferson and can be reached at 336-846-4747, or on Facebook by searching for When Pigs Fly Bar-B-Q & Wings.