A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_144039" align="alignright" width="300"] Susan and Charlie Frye.[/caption] Inside Folk Keeper Gallery Antiques and Oddities in downtown Lenoir is a world of color. Charlie Frye’s bright folk paintings on found

Madison County Championship Rodeo

[caption id="attachment_144039" align="alignright" width="300"] Susan and Charlie Frye.[/caption] Inside Folk Keeper Gallery Antiques and Oddities in downtown Lenoir is a world of color. Charlie Frye’s bright folk paintings on found

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_144039" align="alignright" width="300"] Susan and Charlie Frye.[/caption] Inside Folk Keeper Gallery Antiques and Oddities in downtown Lenoir is a world of color. Charlie Frye’s bright folk paintings on found

A Guide to Downtown Lenoir

Susan and Charlie Frye. photograph by Revival Creatives

Inside Folk Keeper Gallery Antiques and Oddities in downtown Lenoir is a world of color. Charlie Frye’s bright folk paintings on found objects like barnwood, crates, and building materials depict scenes inspired by his native Caldwell County: farmhouses and mountain landscapes, barnyard animals and friendly faces. “My angle comes from an absolute love of our area and the good parts of our culture,” he says, “and just color — color, color, color, all the time.”

Charlie’s family has been in Lenoir for generations. So has the family of his wife, Susan, whose mixed-media art using torn paper and found objects hangs on Folk Keeper’s walls alongside pottery, paintings, and sculptures from other regional artists, all self-taught.

Discover fine arts at Folk Keeper Gallery Antiques and Oddities. photograph by Revival Creatives

Folk Keeper opened in 2016 in a 1925 former pharmacy building. The Fryes, longtime supporters of downtown Lenoir, live above the gallery, where they can see the mountains from their rooftop deck.

Inspired by the same beauty and heritage that inform Charlie and Susan’s work, painters, potters, musicians, chefs, and all kinds of creators are happy to call Lenoir home. “We’ve always had a strong music and visual arts culture in Caldwell County,” Charlie says.

Shop

Folk Keeper Gallery Antiques and Oddities. “Our love of art and our love of antiques just seemed to blend together,” Susan says of the Fryes’ gallery. Part of the shop’s name, Keeper, is a blend, too — of Susan’s grandmother’s nickname, Kiki, and Charlie’s grandmother’s last name, Peeper. “Both of our grandmothers were incredibly special to us,” Susan says.

Find a new outfit at K&K Sparkle Boutique. photograph by Revival Creatives

K&K Sparkle Boutique. This trendy family-owned business sells women’s clothing, shoes, jewelry, and accessories. While Charlie considers himself to be an overalls kind of guy, he has been known to shop for Susan and their daughters here.

Charles Babb Designs. Using hand-selected, ethically sourced diamonds and other gemstones, Charles Babb creates intricate rings, earrings, and necklaces at his downtown jewelry store. He and his wife, Susan, sometimes donate designs to support local charities, including the Wig Bank of Caldwell County.

DPS Antiques & Emporium. This massive antiques store spans three floors and 8,000 square feet of merchandise space inside a former furniture and hardware building. The old freight elevator, which is hand-operated by a pull cable, still transports furniture to the upper floors. “The funny thing about DPS,” Charlie says, “is that their name is Dead People’s Stuff.”

Eat

The Shake-N-Dog. “It feels kind of like a 1950s soda fountain,” Charlie says of this old-school hot dog joint. “Of course, they have your standard hot dogs, but they get creative — they do all kinds of different toppings. And they have really good milkshakes — they put a big scoop of ice cream on top.” On Tuesdays, you can get $1 dogs — topped any way you like.

Find pretty seasonal cookies at The Flour Shoppe. photograph by Revival Creatives

The Flour Shoppe. At her tiny underground bakery, Toni Wright makes cookies and cupcakes, muffins and meringues, French macarons, cinnamon rolls, and other sweet goodies the traditional way, without artificial flavors or mixes. “The days she is open, Friday and Saturday, there’s a line down the street,” Susan says.

Piccolo’s Pizza. This family-owned business started in Chicago in 1977. When owner Octavio Martinez moved to Lenoir in 2001, he brought 30 years of pizza-making experience with him, and he still sources the meats for his Chicago-style and wood-fired pizzas from the Windy City. “It really is one of the most consistent places as far as being part of our community,” Charlie says. “Everybody knows Piccolo’s in our town.”

Taste of Havana. Owner Iris Bender moved to the U.S. from Cuba when she was 19 years old, bringing her favorite recipes with her. Charlie painted the massive, colorful mural of her native Havana on one of the restaurant’s walls. “The food is really good and fresh and authentic,” he says.

Order a cheeseburger and onion rings at 1841 Café. photograph by Revival Creatives

1841 Café. Named for the year that Caldwell County was established, this restaurant is filled with antiques — plus some of Charlie’s art — and serves up juicy burgers, slow-cooked barbecue, steaks, and more. “We go frequently,” Susan says, “and the owner [Vickie Setzer] is the hardest-working woman I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Drink

Liquid Roots Brewing Project. Liquid Roots’ craft beer was voted best in Caldwell County in 2020. The brewery also has guest taps, plus local wines, root beer, and even coffee beans roasted on-site. The Fryes enjoy the open mic nights, which showcase local talent.

Fercott Fermentables. This cozy taproom and bottle shop offers wine, beer, cider, mead, and hard seltzer — plus specialty cheeseboards. “They have so many different choices, and they have a wonderful small-plate menu,” Charlie says. Susan adds, “It’s a great place to go and hang out — real comfortable and laid-back.”

This story was published on Sep 28, 2021

Katie King

Katie King is an assistant editor at Our State.