PURPLE ONION CAFE NEWS
History of the Purple Onion
Some of you have asked for some of the history of the Purple Onion.
When we first started coming to Saluda, the building was used by the
then-independent Saluda Mountain Telephone Company to store some of its
equipment. In the early 90s, Nancy Barnett, who now owns the building,
renovated it and opened a plant and gardening store.
In 1995, Theresa Wilkes, an extraordinarily gifted massage therapist
(she told me to say that), moved her practice into the back part of the
building where the kitchen is now. Theresa had also been in the
restaurant business in her former life and decided that it would be fun
to have a small cafe in part of the building. Early in 1996 Nancy
closed her shop and Theresa expanded into the rest of the building and
named the cafe Wise Child.
She then thought that it would be lots of fun to have music there every
week-end and would I help her recruit some musicians to play there. I
was still relatively new to the area but knew lots of people from WNCW
because I had worked on their fund-raisers. Wanda Lu Greene and
Marshall Ballew from WNCW were particularly helpful in putting me in
touch with musicians that they knew.
As a result, we started having music in the spring of 1996. The only
real requirement at that time was that you just had to have enough nerve
to get up in front of other people. The quality of much of the music
was quite variable and the crowds sometimes sparse but we persevered.
We were able to attract such luminaries as Wanda Lu, Marshall, Scott
Allen, Tony Rackley, Bruce Piephoff and Jimmy Landry our first year so
we were on our way.
The good food and music presented by Wise Child made it successful
enough that it became like a second full-time job for Theresa. She sold
it to Allison and David Hamrick in late 1997 who decided after a few
months that owning a cafe was not what they wanted to with their lives
Lynn Casey bought it in late 1998 to run with her sister, Susan, a local
Saludan well known for her excellent cooking skills through a catering
business she ran at that time. They renamed the cafe Purple Onion and
began to rebuild its reputation for good, healthy food, music every
week-end and just an all around fun place where every one including
children was welcome. The warmth and enthusiasm that Lynn and Susan
brought to the cafe was infectious and business improved dramatically.
Coincidently, the musicians who had played at the Purple Onion were
passing the word around that it was a really cool place to perform with
audiences that actually paid some attention to what they are doing. As
a result we have been able to attract some of the best performers in the
area until now where the word is that the Purple Onion is one of (if not
the) best rooms in the area for acoustic musicians. Our audiences
certainly recognize that because now we have very few "sparse" crowds on
If you have been receiving some of the early newsletters, you know that
Lynn fell in love after she bought the Purple Onion, got married this
past spring and moved to Florida. Susan wanted to continue the
business, not only because she loved it but also because it had become
an integral part of the Saluda and music community, so she became the
owner which she still is today.
The Purple Onion continues to be the place to be for excellent
hospitality, food and music. We hope to see all of you there soon and
Purple Onion Cafe
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