New owners of Mars Hill’s theater-brewpub want to keep the good times rolling.
When former owners Marc and Merri Fretwell expanded their Hickory Nut Gorge Brewery in Chimney Rock to a second location about 45 miles north in 2019, the plan was anything but ordinary. They transformed the defunct Mars Theatre in Mars Hill into a destination for local craft beer, bar food, movies and community events.
Now the brewery’s new owners plan to double down on the theme of community by creating a space for people of all ages to enjoy live entertainment, such as open mic nights and comedy shows.
“Our initial move is we’re going to provide more entertainment than just movies,” says Scott Spruill, who joined his siblings Rick Spruill and Susan Echarte to buy the business from the Fretwells in October. Spruill previously owned dry cleaners and mailing and printing companies in New York and New Jersey.
“We’re going to completely open it up to the community and make it more of an option of a variety of things to do other than just go and have a craft beer and watch a movie.”
Rick, who will oversee the Chimney Rock location, has lived in Lake Lure for about two decades. Over the years, the area became a special place where the men created the tradition of traveling there for father-son trips. Spruill’s 20-year-old son, who passed away last year, was fond of their visits. This, along with the brothers being craft beer enthusiasts, led to the purchase.
The original Hickory Nut Gorge Brewery opened in Chimney Rock in a cozy 1,000-square foot space in 2015. The expansion followed four years later in Mars Hill, a Madison County town of about 2,000 residents that is 20 miles north of Asheville.
The new location made it possible to brew Hickory Nut’s beer at Mars Hill, add more varieties and distribute ale worldwide. Huge brewing tanks line the walls, lounge seating exists upstairs and several rows of theater seats are on the first level.
Hickory Nut is known for its English-style beer and Spruill plans to keep it on the menu.
“There will be some more American craft beer influence, but we’re not going to fix what’s not broken,” he says. “So much of the English-style beers we currently brew people love so we’re going to handle that with care.”
The brewery’s arrival helped enliven the downtown, which will soon add a Mexican restaurant, says O’Neal Shelton, president of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce. “It created an avenue for a certain group of people to enjoy the brewery,” says Shelton, who grew up watching movies at the 75-year-old theater. “We don’t have another venue like that.” Other plans include making some changes to the outside of the brewery with the addition of a mural and new branding, adding chandeliers to brighten up the inside and adding plaques to showcase the theater’s history, hopefully making it a tourist attraction for people passing through the area.
Spruill is looking forward to relocating to the area from the Northeast and contributing to the growth of the area while still getting inspiration from his son.
“I know he would be so happy I’m doing this,” he says. “Everything’s from the heart, we’re not in it to become millionaires, we’re in it to just enjoy life and have fun.” ■