When the pandemic hit, John Richardson knew he had to find a way to keep people together.
Now, he is preparing for the opening of his new community gathering space concept, The RailYard Black Mountain.
“COVID happened, and I knew that people wanted to still have a place to go out and eat and gather,” Richardson said. “It’s going to be different. I’ve known about this space, trying to figure out for the town what this place could be that would be cool and fun and exciting.”
Located at 141 Richardson Blvd., the space will be host to a taproom, restaurant and community gathering space. The RailYard officially opens April 15, but Richardson said March is being used as a soft opening for locals to come in and get to know the space.
The RailYard will host American roots band LazyBirds, as well as craft beverages and food from the space’s own burger concept, SmashBalls, on the official opening date of April 15 from noon-10 p.m.
Once opened fully, the 7,000 square foot main building will host SmashBalls’ full kitchen, a taproom, a 70-foot bar and a 1,200 square foot community space. This community space will host events ranging from farmers markets to yoga classes and can be rented out for private events.
Five large garage doors open up the main building to an outdoor space lined with shipping containers that will eventually be home to food trucks and other local vendors. The area is filled with picnic tables and chairs for guests to enjoy. A large stage is planned for the space as well.
Richardson, the son of a Presbyterian minister, spent his summers in Montreat and previously worked in nonprofit leadership and sales. In 2011, he opened Black Mountain Ale House and in 2018 opened Black Mountain Brewing with Matt Schwarz.
He is also the founder of PubCorps, a nonprofit that works to make volunteering “simple, accessible and fun and then grab a beer afterwards.” The RailYard will be the home of PubCorps and will host various volunteer opportunities at the site.
Richardson said he sees the RailYard as an “incubator” for community-driven activities.
“It’s an incubator,” Richardson said. “It’s an incubator to build a community. It’s an incubator for nonprofits like PubCorps or Bounty & Soul or the Rotary Club or any other nonprofit that wants to use this space. An incubator for building a community.”
He said he wants to create a space that anyone from the community can come to and feel welcomed and have a conversation with someone.
“That’s the magic of it,” Richardson said. “What’s really important is when you get people from different walks of life who have different points of view who are then able to have a shared experience and talk about it.”
At the RailYard, Richardson said he wants to focus on making sure his staff makes not only a living wage, but a middle-class wage with health care benefits. He said he is looking for employees who are passionate about serving other people.
“We’re hoping that with that with the scale of this we’ll be able to get career people that want to do this and invest their life in this,” Richardson said. “Service is noble.”
Richardson said the RailYard would not be possible without the people he has working for him.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to be even stronger as a community because it’s a bigger space to get to know more people,” Richardson said. “I think of myself as a social entrepreneur more than anything. If I had a bunch of rotten people working for me, it wouldn’t be as cool.”
He said it is his hope that the RailYard can make a difference in the town as a gathering space and non-profit hub.
“I don’t know what the solution is, but I’m willing to buy everybody a beer to talk about it,” Richardson said. “I know we’ve got enough smart people in this town that we can make a difference.”