Kim Salahie, who bought Zebra back in May from chef-owner Jim Alexander, is amidst a series of renovations of the space, and plans to keep the French-American feel but “contemporize it a little bit.”
Salahie spent nearly 20 years with the well-known Compass Group in various capacities and sectors, including director of culinary development, but says he yearned for the French-restaurant experience of his youth: His first foray was in a French bistro in London, where he grew up. He recalls alerting the owner, in his second week as assistant manager, that the chef wasn’t cutting it. “You’re quite right, Mr. Salahie,” he was told. “Tomorrow, you are a chef/manager!” So he both managed and cooked for several years before entering the corporate side of the business in the States.
For Zebra, he aims to maintain the tradition established by Alexander, and says he’s retained about half the current menu, with chef Chris Wriggle running the kitchen. Salahie has “a lot of plans” moving forward, from perhaps focusing more on breakfast to possibly beginning afternoon tea, since the place is so close to SouthPark, and he’s rather familiar with that concept (he’s actually a dual-national; born here, raised in England).
Fans of Alexander will want to know that he and his wife, Lisa, have moved to the Asheville area to be near family, particularly their grandsons.
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Lisa Alexander said they’re planning to take the summer off, then decide what they want to do. Sons Charles and Geoff have Appalachian Vintner, a fine wine and craft beer store, in Asheville, and Lisa Alexander said they have been considering opening a distillery – but they’re all considering several options.
She said she and Jim have introduced Salahie (pronounced SAL-a-hee) and his wife, Pascal, to their customers, and that they’ll stay available to help them in any way needed.
Alexander began as co-owner and chef at Zebra in 2001 after years as a club chef, and patrons quickly embraced his signature dishes (that vase salad has been with him since even before Zebra), and service points that were uncommon in the city at the time. (Nine months after he opened, my review said, “In a city split between diners who know moulard from muscovy and diners who couldn't tell a Screaming Eagle from a Mad Dog, keeping things interesting but approachable is no small feat” – arguably still true.)
He became sole owner a few years later, and kept the restaurant among the city’s notables, as well as engaging in charitable pursuits consistently. He’ll be missed.