Owen And Mindi McGlynn: 5 Things We Wish Someone Told Us Before We Became Restaurateurs
Just take a step back and survey the decisions you’re making, and if there’s one small trigger that can impact the rest of your life, you have to go for it.
We had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Owen McGlynn and Mindi McGlynn.
Owen McGlynn, Chef & Co-Owner. After graduating from culinary school at Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts in Charleston, SC, Owen worked in well-known Lowcountry restaurants, including Anson Restaurant and High Cotton. He went on to help with opening the second location of High Cotton in Greenville, SC in 2006, where he served as Sous Chef before relocating to Asheville, NC in 2011 to open Storm Rhum Bar & Bistro with his then girlfriend, Mindi. Now married, the pair opened their dream restaurant, Asheville Proper, in August 2020 and brought to life Owen’s vision for a live-fire modern steakhouse fueled by a custom, wood-burning Argentinean style grill. At Asheville Proper, Owen and the culinary team incorporate the freshest seasonal ingredients from local and regional purveyors with a touch of fire element in every dish.
Mindi McGlynn, Co-Owner & Partner. Originally from Greenville, SC, Mindi grew up learning the hospitality industry through hands-on experience in nearly every front-of-house position. While attending college at University of South Carolina Upstate, Mindi worked as a server at High Cotton in downtown Greenville, where she met her now husband and restaurant partner Chef Owen McGlynn. Seven years and four children later, Mindi and Owen fulfilled a lifelong dream and opened Asheville Proper, where she serves as the co-owner, in-house interior designer, and front of house operations manager. With Mindi’s eye for detail, she created a space where people feel welcomed in a casual and luxurious setting to enjoy delicious food, tasty libations, and excellent hospitality.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share a story about what inspired you to open a restaurant?
MINDI: We knew this was the style of restaurant and cooking that we enjoyed doing. That, combined with an unmet need in Asheville, it naturally developed from there. We’ve both spent our entire careers working in restaurants and hospitality, so we’ve always known this is what we wanted to do — it was really just biting the bullet and going for it. Timing is everything with something like this. We were done having babies, done working for other people, and were in the right spot in our lives to go out on our own to take that leap.
OWEN: While I’ve always known this is what I wanted to do personally, I think it really came to a head when I was working at Storm Rhum Bar & Bistro, the restaurant that originally brought us to Asheville and that I spent several years running. By that time, I had a lot of different experiences in various kitchens and cities — from a line cook to sous chef to overseeing a kitchen — and I was ready to carve my own path. The final decision was a culmination of discussions over a few months, but ultimately, it was a gut feeling.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to grilling? Can you share a story about that with us?
OWEN: Growing up camping and grilling out, we cooked a lot of our food over charcoal or wood. While everything back then was over-cooked and well-done, the fire element really stuck with me. At Asheville Proper, our menu is fueled by the live-fire grill — we try to incorporate the fire into every dish, whether that be smoked, charred, or embered. We pull inspiration from the classic steakhouse, with hearty, rich flavors like bone marrow and steak tartare, alongside a more modern mix of light and fresh options as well. A little something for everyone.
Getting my start in Charleston, SC, I had the opportunity to work closely with a lot of different local purveyors and farmers. I really valued those relationships and made sure to forge new connections wherever I went, whether that was to Greenville, SC or Asheville, NC. I’m constantly inspired by the seasons and the fresh, high-quality ingredients that come with it. I try to honor these purveyors and their work — letting the natural flavors and textures of the ingredients shine throughout the menu.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you opened Asheville Proper? What was the lesson or take away?
MINDI: Back when we first opened, we were having our busiest night yet. I was working in the dining room and Owen was in the kitchen. With our open kitchen and wood-fired hearth, I could see that he was having a hard time keeping the fire lit. Long story short, after many, many attempts to light the wood and, most importantly, keep it lit and hot for service, we realized the wood had not been properly dried by the purveyor we had sourced it from. We had to learn this lesson the hard way, but we learned the importance of sourcing quality wood from a trusted source — especially when the kitchen depends on it. Now, we consistently purchase kiln dried firewood from the same trusted partner we know we can count on. Live fire can be somewhat unpredictable, so the ability to control the fuel is important.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first getting started? How did you overcome this obstacle?
MINDI: Everything was much more difficult when we opened. We dealt with the typical construction delays and curveballs, but trying to open a restaurant in 2020 came with its own unique challenges, roadblocks, and unknowns. We started construction in November of 2019. In February 2020, we received our permits, and by March 2020, everything had shut down. At the time, a lot of contractors didn’t want to start projects because they didn’t know what was going to happen or if they were even going to have workers.
On top of that, supply chain issues were posing challenges with sourcing construction equipment, materials, and more. Our restaurant supply company just shut down one day and didn’t know if they were going to be able to bring in the entire kitchen. We had a contractor who was doing tilework, but he only wanted to work if there was no one else in the building. So, coordinating all of that was chaos to say the least.
Our initial construction timeline was supposed to be 6 weeks, with an opening slated for May 2020 — but after one thing and then another, we stopped setting a goal and just went with it. We finally opened our doors in August 2020, when indoor dining was limited to 50% capacity in the city of Asheville. Even since then, we’ve learned to take it one day at a time.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
OWEN: I like to start with the very best ingredients I can source and then build my dish around that — incorporating different textures and flavors that allow the ingredients to shine.
While the preparation changes seasonally, the dry aged Duck Breast has remained a top seller. It’s aged in-house, so the skin gets super crispy, and the meat stays tender and chewy. Our dry ager displays the menu’s proteins, and what’s the come, right in the dining room. It’s fun because it’s not something you see everywhere, and guests can see the process in real time.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
OWEN & MINDI: Food, ambiance, drinks, and service. When you focus equally on all aspects, you’ll have the perfect meal. We prefer an ambience that’s casual and comfortable yet refined enough for date night or a special occasion.
But truth be told, with four kids, any meal we’re able to enjoy uninterrupted is the perfect meal. We like to get out and have date night. We’re big seafood people, a couple dozen oysters with housemade ginger beer is a go-to.
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
OWEN: Mindi likes to say I have a very old school approach to cuisine. Much of what I do is driven by seasonality and the fresh ingredients that come through the door from our farm and purveyor partners. I pull inspiration from the ingredients themselves, building a dish around them to let their freshness and flavors shine.
Right now, I’m putting a tuna on the menu that incorporates strawberries two ways: fresh and in a shrub, alongside lemon, and charred asparagus. I like to utilize the whole ingredient in a bunch of ways — save bruised strawberries to make a vinegar or the strawberry tops to make a pesto. Ramps just came into season and we’re using everything form the leaves to the stems making pickled ramps, ramp butter, ramp salt, and even ramp powder.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
OWEN: We’re experimenting a lot with in-house aging, including both dry-aged and tallow-aged approaches. We’ve played with everything from coffee and chocolate aged, smoke aged, honey aged, and bourbon aged. Right now, we’re aging almost all proteins that come through the door.
MINDI: This sets the expectation that we’ll always have something new and exciting on the menu. We have people who come in once a week and they order something different, because they know there’s something that’s new and will be gone before they can come back. It also keeps our team engaged and creative — even from the server side, if they’re talking about the same five dishes over and over again, it can become repetitive and uninspired — that’s why we like to keep things fresh and exciting for both or guests and staff.
What advice would you give to other restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
MINDI: If I’m at work, he is at home. If he’s at the restaurant, I’m at home. We have kids to raise too. Making sure you have built a team that you can trust is so important in avoiding burnout. If not, Owen or I would have to be there all the time. Take time off to be away from the restaurant and spend time with your family, that’s important. We have multiple priorities, and we try to live that model.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Us When We First Started” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- You have to take the bad with the good. Not matter how good we think we’re doing, there’s always going to be negativity somewhere.
- Build a team you can trust. As we said above, this makes all the difference. Be able to step away and find new inspiration elsewhere. Recharge and get remotivated.
- Provide Room for Growth. Give the team a sense of accountability and freedom to pursue their own interests.
- Plan for the unexpected. No matter how prepared you are, there will always be curveballs. Every day you have to be willing to adapt.
- Your work is never done. Something we knew, but something you can never fully understand until you’re a small business owner. Even when we’re not working, we’re constantly working.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit Asheville Proper?
OWEN: The Bone Marrow. Anytime we know that someone hasn’t been here before, it’s the one dish we recommend. It’s also a dish that you may not think to order or haven’t seen it on the menu a lot of places. In addition to a delicious starter, we have guests who will use the empty bone as a luge for a good, aged bourbon — it adds a cool flavor profile and creates a photo-worthy moment.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
MINDI: Owen and I are both sober. It’s a lifestyle we chose to focus on our kids and our business. It allows for clearer heads for creativity. Oddly enough, our kitchen team is about 90% sober as well. That’s not something we sought out, but we gravitated together. I know opting for a sober lifestyle presents a social concern, but I encourage anyone who may be interested in imbibing less or parting ways with alcohol altogether, to order a mocktail or a ginger beer — you won’t miss it! Just take a step back and survey the decisions you’re making, and if there’s one small trigger that can impact the rest of your life, you have to go for it.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!