For over three years, a large-scale renovation has been reshaping Hickory’s Southeast District. This innovative project was designed as a catalyst for the rebirth of the region. Originally built in the 1930s and christened the Hollar Hosiery Mill, the large buildings sat vacant for years, a silent reminder of a changing economy in a town built by manufacturing. The buildings have been fully restored, with care taken to preserve the spaces’ history.
The space is now a destination; an organic, farm-to-table restaurant with a full bar, Highland Avenue, and a gorgeous top-of-the-line venue, The Crossing, are now fully operational. Both Highland Avenue and The Crossing are operated by Carolina Moon Hospitality. The near future will bring other businesses to the buildings. DeLishi Yogurt and a small store, in addition to a brewery, will operate on the lower level. The timing of this renovation coincides with a larger project of the City of Hickory, called Inspiring Spaces, intended to beautify the Hickory region.
The west building, which now houses The Crossing, was built in 1930 as a mill used to produce hosiery. The east addition, which now houses Highland Avenue, was constructed in 1940 by The Lavitt Company. The buildings were used for various purposes until the 1960s, when they were abandoned. The space has remained vacant in the years since. Its location, bordering the railroad tracks, Lenoir-Rhyne Boulevard and Highland Avenue is highly visible. The renovation has improved the over-all look of the city.
The renovation has spanned three years. Spearheaded by Meg Jenkins Locke, owner of Highland Avenue, Carolina Moon Hospitality and Groucho’s Deli, restoration efforts were completed by locally owned Hollar Hosiery Investments. Clay and Donna Neill, Patrick and Heather Joyner, and Rick and Mary Berry were all instrumental in the process as well. Neill Grading and Construction oversaw the process and ensured that renovations would remain consistent with the historical design of the space. The City of Hickory also provided more than $130,000 in grant monies and tax relief.
Highland Avenue is an exciting new restaurant, unlike any other in the state. The restaurant is completely organic with the food and ingredients sourced from North Carolina. The floorplan is open, with great care taken to maintain the feel of the historic architecture.
To create a harmonious and attractive design, the team worked with Elizabeth Mydosh of EMC Designs and Steve Palmer of Indigo Road Restaurant Group. Steve is involved in 27 restaurants currently, and has been called “The most enlightened restaurateur in North Carolina.” Like Meg Jenkins Locke Steve believes,
How we make people feel is much more important than what we do.”
The farm-to-table nature of this restaurant is a new concept for the region. It will provide food that is healthier for Hickory’s citizens, and it will also support our local economy. GM Robert Locke expects to find the community extremely receptive to their efforts. All food is fresh, delicious, and in season. The majority of the food is regionally sourced. The seafood is from only the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, with the exception of sea scallops which come from the coast of Maine. This leads to a dining experience that is second to none.
Highland Avenue was extremely fortunate to attract the devotion of award-winning chef Kyle McKnight. McKnight is recognized as a “Best Chefs of America” recipient. This award is extremely selective, and is given by a jury of excellent chefs.
Kyle’s passion for fresh, local food is a driving force for the restaurant. He also writes a blog, where he discusses his love of food and his fresh ideas at length. He has a particular affinity for pork and has been called “The Prince of Pork.” Kyle creates amazing meals that excite the taste buds. This dessert, for instance, is his apple tarte Tatin, featuring streusel crumble, spiced brûlée and brown butter ice cream. He was known in Wilmington as a local foods leader as well as a devotee of sustainable agriculture and humanely raised livestock, and Hickory is blessed to have someone of his talents.
I’m extremely excited about being in Hickory and expanding my network of Carolina producers of artisinal meats, honeys, produce and livestock and having the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to help with rural economic development in this side of the state.” Chef Kyle McKnight
The restaurant also offers a full bar, with North Carolina beers on tap. In fact, all of their beers are made in our state, with the exception of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Bartender James Vinson offers pleasant conversation with his perfectly blended cocktails, and expertly poured brews.
This place is doing everything right. They have a great open and bright industrial setting, an excellent staff with meticulous service and the food is fresh, local, creative and absolutely delicious! Keep up the good work. Hickory needed a place like this.”-Hickory local Michelle Walker
The Crossing at Hollar Mill
The Crossing offers custom menus from Chef Kyle McKnight, as well as from their preferred caterer, L & L Catering. They are happy to tailor menus to reflect the client’s favorite foods, budgets, or dietary needs.
The Crossing has already proven to be very popular, with over 100 events booked between April and December. The flexibility of the space is obvious when one considers the different types of events they have already scheduled: cocktail parties, proms, fundraisers, wedding receptions, business meetings and in one case, an extreme cage fighting competition. Fortunately, the staff loves a challenge.
Events at The Crossing are planned, designed, and hosted by Event Director Margaret Mocko.
Owner Meg Jenkins Locke is excited about future plans for the space. She intends to bring indie music groups to Hickory, because until now, Hickory has not had a large music venue that would attract these bands. This space will provide that venue, and improve the nightlife of Hickory.
A Significant Impact
This project has been extremely significant for Hickory. During construction, over 200 jobs were created. Now that the restaurant and venue are open, there are 100 additional jobs, including kitchen staff, event staff, planners, valet drivers and many other jobs.
The restaurant, with its fresh, local food, will improve the quality of life and health of Hickory residents. The venue, and the music acts it will bring, will go far in the effort to keep Hickory’s young people happy in their home town.
The renovation will serve as a catalyst for the entire Southeast Hickory District. We will see several more large vacant buildings renovated in the coming years, and the success of this undertaking is vital to that continued improvement.
The visual impact on the surrounding area is also tremendous. From derelict to stunning in 3 years is quite an accomplishment. This image was taken about half way through the renovation process. The lower level now houses everything needed for a brewery, and the upstairs is where Highland Avenue Restaurant now rests.
Part of a Vision
Owner Meg Jenkins Locke, and GM of Highland Avenue, Robert Locke, share a profound vision for the future of this town. Meg says,
It has been 20 years since I chose to move to Hickory. I am emotionally, spiritually and financially dedicated to this town. To see rubble be turned into beauty is truly humbling. I want to celebrate these gifts together with the town, and continue to be a catalyst for change.”
Robert agrees. He’s lived in Hickory his entire life, and is thrilled to be working as the GM of Highland Avenue. He says,
The cool thing about this place–these buildings are such a great resource. They represent the history of Hickory. It only takes commitment to return them into something wonderful. We, as a city, need to have focus, and we must be thoughtful. These buildings provide an excellent ground floor foundation to build on.”
This renovation has coincided with the City of Hickory’s Inspiring Spaces initiative. Businesses and entrepreneurs seek a community that has been spruced up. It communicates Hickory’s brand message of Life. Well Crafted and is a key tool for economic development. City Council has initiated a new project called Inspiring Spaces as one of several economic development projects that the City is doing to improve the quality of life in Hickory. This project is a 5 to 10 year capital improvement plan. Based on local feedback and other work, Land Design will develop a list of construction projects, their associated costs and implementation schedule for improving the appearance and functionality of streets, parks and public areas of Hickory.
Projects will include but not be limited to: expansion of greenways and trails, the redesign of some intersections or streets to improve pedestrian connectivity, additional sidewalks and bikeways, landscaping and street trees, wayfinding signage, city gateway signage and landscaping, public art or amenities such as fountains or interactive water features in key locations across the city, street lighting and street furniture, and other similar initiatives.
City leadership has a vision, and they are following it. I expect the mayor and our city council to inspire and create spaces we can all enjoy and support.”-Meg Jenkins Locke