First Appalachia, Now the world
On the culinary side, Blackberry Farm casts a long shadow that could even be described mountainous. In opening the new concept, the team once again leaned into key points of differentiation while also capitalizing on synergies shared between the two properties. Blackberry Farm pulls from the bounty of the Great Smokies and spotlights Appalachian cuisine with dishes like Creamed Corn & Chanterelles, Autumn Squash Soup, Red Wine Glazed Stuffed Quail, and Snake River Flank Steak.
Blackberry Mountain, by comparison, incorporates flavors from much farther afield but still benefits from the existing supply chain. “We still use all the same, great local vendors and farmers and everything that we use at the Farm, but at the Mountain we take a little bit more of a worldly approach to the flavors and applying techniques to the food,” says Josh Feathers, executive chef at Three Sisters, one of the restaurant trio atop Blackberry Mountain.
The menus at Three Sisters, as well as Firetower and Whippoorwill Lounge, change with the seasons but the flavor profiles have no constraints. “We’re a little bit all over the place,” Feathers says of the global influences that range from Italy (as highlighted in a burrata appetizer with radishes and herbed salad) to Ethiopia (roasted cabbage with herbs, citrus, pickled peppers, and dukkah) to Korea (Korean barbecue–glazed duck leg with strawberries and soba noodles) to India (tandoori chicken with saffron-cauliflower rice and pickled currants).
READ MORE: The Chef Behind Award-Winning Blackberry Farm
Feathers found his way into the culinary world through the military. He joined the Navy to become a search-and-rescue swimmer, but after developing anemia, moved to the kitchen (the Navy was in need of cooks at the time). After seven years of service—more than half of which was spent in Naples, Italy—Feathers returned to his home state and joined the Blackberry Farm team in the mid-2000s. If cooking on the original property was a culinary homecoming for the chef, leading Three Sisters at Blackberry Mountain is a throwback to his time overseas.
“It required me to remember the experiences that I had while I was in the Navy,” Feathers says. “I had a chance to travel all over Europe and be exposed to a few things.”
Separate Yet Symbiotic
Feathers is also joined at Blackberry Mountain by chef Joel Werner, who leads Firetower, which brings the breakfast and lunch dayparts to Three Sisters’ dinner-only fare. Both Feathers and Werner worked at Blackberry Farm before moving over to the Mountain. It’s yet another example of the two resorts’ symbiotic relationship, one that the team has worked hard to ensure is mutually beneficial.
After all, it’s possible a new property could steal patrons away from the established one. “The business aspect of that is not to cannibalize the guests that are coming to Blackberry Farm but to find a new audience and provide a new experience,” Alexander says.
Less than a year in, it’s too early to say how the numbers will shake out, but thus far Alexander estimates that about half of Blackberry Mountain guests have stayed at Blackberry Farm before and the other half are new to the resorts. Each property has a three-night minimum, but visitors can also choose a special package that includes two nights at one and two nights at the other.
Of the guests who have stayed at both, some prefer the Farm while others favor the Mountain, and still several like the two equally but for different reasons, Alexander says.
The risk of cannibalized sales aside, money is another constraint that dissuades other independent resorts from any sort of expansion. Even when operators manage to clear the financial hurdles, they’re then faced with the challenge of limited resources.
“There are a couple of reasons why I think others may not venture into expansion. One is capital, and the other reason is just bandwidth, the team’s capacity—not capability. At Blackberry, we’re very fortunate to have an incredible, talented leadership team that have been here 10 to 20 years. They understand our vision, our mission. We were able to leverage that to open Blackberry Mountain,” Alexander says. They had been preparing, too, by fostering growth among employees and setting them up for management roles in the future. Even if Blackberry Mountain had never come to be, it’s a savvy investment, especially within an industry that’s riddled by high turnover.