As you open the doors to Shine, you may not realize that your hand is pulling on a piece of the trolley track that ran down Hendersonville’s Main Street, circa
As you open the doors to Shine, you may not realize that your hand is pulling on a piece of the trolley track that ran down Hendersonville’s Main Street, circa 1918.
In your eagerness to sit down to plates of pork belly egg rolls and grilled duck breast, you might bypass the small glass case of antique bottles. Engaged in conversation over craft cocktails, you could easily miss the partially obscured mural on the brick wall high above the sleek wooden bar, advertising “New Way Cleaners Complete Laundry Service & Phones,” which co-owner Robert Rogers discovered after peeling back decades-old plaster.
What you will notice are the wooden tables and booths, some made from century-old heart pine, and the exposed-brick walls that are at least that old. Together, these elements tell the story of early-1900s Hendersonville as it played out on this corner lot downtown. Here, businessmen came to town on the train and stopped to get their clothes laundered and use the telephones at New Way Cleaners. While they waited, they loitered in the empty lot next door, drinking and socializing before throwing their used bottles on the ground.
Then, around 1928, a building was erected on that lot, burying the bottles and discarded trolley tracks beneath three or four feet of fill dirt and a concrete slab.
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Six decades later and half a block away, Robert was cooking at the now-defunct fine-dining restaurant Expressions when he met Layla, a Hendersonville native who was working as a server. He had spent three years cooking at restaurants across the South before returning to his hometown of Hendersonville in 1993 to work at Expressions under Chef Thomas Young.
Robert and Layla got married in 1998. Later that year, when their son, Grey — now the chef de tournant at Shine — was born, they decided that they didn’t want to work late nights. They spent the next 15 years in the residential construction industry, though Robert continued to cook upscale meals at home. After the housing market crashed in 2008, the couple decided to pursue their dream of owning a restaurant.
The Robertses’ construction experience has helped them build and run Shine, which opened in 2019 after seven years of renovations. “Strangely enough, construction crews and kitchens run almost the same way,” Robert says. A couple of people oversee the project and delegate tasks. “And then you bring it all back together for the final product, whether it’s a finished home or a finished dinner plate.”
What ends up on the finished plate at Shine is “extremely eclectic,” Robert says. After working in restaurants where chefs were boxed into a certain cuisine — Italian, Mediterranean, Southern — Robert and Layla wanted to create a restaurant where they could cook anything they wanted, without rules or boundaries. “The only rule to Shine’s menu is that it has to be better than anything you’ve ever had,” Robert says.
The chefs love to experiment — as do Shine’s customers. The nightly specials, which sometimes include East Coast seafood or seasonal items, often outsell anything else on the menu. And many of the dishes can’t be found anywhere else in Hendersonville: escargot under a flaky pastry with garlic, white wine, butter, and Gruyère cheese; pan-fried frog legs over dirty rice; a Thai curry recipe with beef and scallops that Robert learned from Young in the ’90s.
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In order to turn an almost century-old building into the restaurant of their dreams — which includes a rooftop bar overlooking the Historic Henderson County Courthouse — the Rogerses gutted the whole structure.
They repurposed the heart pine floor joists and interior brick walls; dug a new basement, where they discovered the antique bottles and trolley tracks; and built a modern steel structure into the 100-year-old building in order to support the rooftop, which is now the only downtown rooftop that’s publicly accessible.
From the outside, Shine looks much like it might have in 1928: Ten layers of paint were stripped from the brick, and the entire exterior was re-grouted. The mid-century aluminum storefronts were replaced with historically accurate wooden window casings. So while diners inside, surrounded by so much history, look out onto modern-day Main Street, passersby look through windows to the past.