Local author Clint Johnson has been writing for magazines since his college days in 1974 and for several North Carolina magazines for the past 10 years. Although he now primarily writes books about history, he decided to showcase a popular local eatery for Our State’s “Tarheel Tastes” column.
“I wanted to feature something in Ashe County, and Frasers fit the bill,” Johnson said of the West Jefferson restaurant. “It’s something you don’t find in small mountain towns. Frasers just stands out.”
The menu is not the only unique aspect of Frasers, which is named for Ashe County’s most popular export, the Fraser fir Christmas tree. To honor many of the county’s features, Frasers names menu items local people recognize, like Skyland Bookstore Burger and Shoe’s Bacon Bleu Cheeseburger (for artist and West Jefferson Alderman Stephen Shoemaker, a regular at Frasers). Menu items range from sandwiches, burgers and salads to more exotic dishes such as grilled Halibut steak and South Carolina favorite Shrimp and Grits.
It’s the kind of food that owners Nigel and Barbara Wirgowski look for when dining out but weren’t sure would prove popular with the local people. They had visited Ashe County for years from their home near Washington, D.C., before eventually deciding to move here and open a restaurant with another couple. West Jefferson residents voting in the sale of wine and beer clinched the plans for the fine dining establishment, which opened in 2003, and the later approval of liquor by the drink allowed the Wirgowski’s to establish a bar in the restaurant.
Frasers has become not only a landmark for West Jefferson, attracting visitors from far and wide, but also a popular gathering place for lunch and dinner meetings for the locals. The comfortable atmosphere, created in the old Belk department store, showcases the building’s original wood floors and tin ceilings and features local artwork on the walls.
All in all, it’s a great place to eat, and Johnson decided to share the secret with the rest of the state. And he learned some things in the process.
“We (Clint and wife Barbara) had seen them in church but never talked to them in-depth until we got the assignment,” Johnson said of meeting the Wirgowski’s. “And I always thought Frasers was the name of the owners.” He had a delightful time getting to know Nigel and Barbara Wirgowski, and is pleased to have been able to tell their story.
“I think it’s great,” said Barbara Wirgowski of the story in the recent January issue of Our State. “When we saw the article, we were so surprised at the length of it and how in-depth it is.” She said the restaurant had never before been featured in a magazine, only mentioned along with other aspects of West Jefferson in a Public Television broadcast about the time they opened. “A lot of people coming to the restaurant (from places like Winston-Salem and Kernersville) say they’ve seen the article and wanted to come have lunch or dinner with us,” she said. Their fame may continue to grow as the magazine leaves shelves all across the state and finds its way into the hands of readers in other states as well.
“It has helped business already,” Barbara said. “It came across as a first class article and the photos were wonderful. This truly must have been something the town needed and wanted. The patronage has been great ever since we opened.”
Nigel added that bringing attention to Frasers also brings attention to West Jefferson and Ashe County. “This helps everybody,” he said. “Other restaurants, the artists, and downtown. That’s the way I look at it. We’re not the only ones here. People come here and give everybody some business.”
West Jefferson Town Manager Greg McGinnis agrees. “I thought it was a wonderful article, and further confirms what I discovered when I first came here and others have discovered, what a wonderful place West Jefferson is with the restaurants and art galleries and other businesses,” he said. “It’s just another feather in our cap, and well deserved recognition for Frasers.”
You can read the article in the January issue of Our State, on stands now through Feb. 2 at Skyland Books in West Jefferson and other locations around the county.
The magazine’s Assistant Editor Andrea Griffith said the staff was very pleased with the story about Frasers. “We love to highlight places that haven’t been done before, and Frasers is obviously a unique restaurant,” she said.