HendersonvilleNews StoriesPete Zamplas

Cedars surges on as social hub; owner Tom Shipman dreams of hotel at adjacent Chariot complex


By Pete Zamplas –

The Cedars Catering and Banquet House surges on as a social hub for various private and civic receptions, while owner Tom Shipman hopes that if there ever is a hotel-conference center for Downtown Hendersonville it is on his property.

Shipman told The Tribune Friday that if a major hotel chain ever wants to locate in town, he is willing to work a deal to locate its hotel on his property. He suggests around the corner from The Cedars, where The Chariot and a car wash he also owns now sit. That is on the northwest corner of Church Street and Seventh Avenue, east of The Cedars which is at 227 Seventh Ave. W.

“We would love to do that — build a small hotel of 75 to 100 rooms. Call it the Cedars Hotel,” Shipman said with a grin. “Or we could go in with a Hilton or Marriott, and get them to build it downtown. I like to say when ‘my ship comes in’ (financially), I’ll tear this place (Chariot) and the car wash (he leases to Auto Bell) down, and build a hotel with a banquet hall on the back side to join into the Cedars. It’d be all connected and enclosed” with corridors, for year-round use.

Though The Cedars is booked solid 10 months per year, he said, “I wish I had a bigger facility, smaller than a civic center, that seats up to 300 people.” Now, The Chariot seats 180 and The Cedars seats 150, though holds 300 people standing at receptions in its dining and “social” rooms. The Cedars also has three small sitting rooms and a powder room.

The City of Hendersonville has publicly sought a conference and special event center anchored by a hotel. The city eyes using the nearly century-old Grey Hosiery Mill site it owns, east of Grove Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues. But a feasibility study two years ago estimated it would cost over $15 million to renovate the historic facility, and more to buy adjacent land for parking. The recession has hindered such a project.

Shipman, among others, sees his site as much more practical should a hotel ever arise. “It’s the perfect location. You’re one block off Main Street,” he said. “There’s more traffic at Church and Seventh than anywhere in town. The hospital is within blocks. Many churches are near here, and do big functions.” He added “the mill site is down by the railroad tracks. This side of town is much nicer.”

If a hotel ever happened, it would be the newest chapter in decades of Shipman family entrepreneurship and community service. During the Korean War, Tom’s father the late Clifton Shipman gave boxed sandwiches to up to 250 new soldiers at a monthly train stop in town. If he missed the train here, Clifton drove on bumpy roads to the next southward stop in Saluda.

“We tried to do the right thing,” Tom Shipman, 61, said to The Tribune about the family business and civic legacy. The affable gent with thick white hair just got a small business leadership civic service award, for the 2012 fourth quarter, from the local Chamber of Commerce. The Chariot regularly hosts several local civic group luncheons. “We feed all of the civic groups,” Shipman said. “We do fundraisers for churches and other groups.”

A newer client is the Henderson County Republican Party, which this Saturday holds its annual convention, the Lincoln-Reagan luncheon, in the Chariot after using a school for years. Shipman said he was more affordable. U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, State Sen. Tom Apodaca and State Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin are featured speakers Saturday.

Gov. Pat McCrory as a candidate last year is among many with fundraising banquets in the stately Cedars. Many wedding receptions are there. Ambience can shift. Shipman has cooked a pig with an apple in its mouth, on The Cedars front yard. Typically, meatballs highlight appetizers. Tom said, “We slow cook prime rib, beef biscuit, BBQ so it melts in mouths.”

The Cedars was The Cedars Hotel in 1908-69. Clifton Shipman bought it in 1976. Tom added a gazebo on the west side 10 years ago, later an uncovered porch and stairway on the east side. It links to the renovated covered porch, which has original columns. “We’re always changing carpet, wallpaper or painting,” Tom added. He equipped The Chariot with internet access.

First Family of Restaurants

The Chariot moved a decade ago to 715 N. Church St., formerly Clifton’s Cafeteria. That was Clifton Shipman’s landmark Southern low-country diner and his first restaurant. He opened it in 1950 at Church and Third in the Brooks Building, two years after running a newsstand and The Smoke Shop youth hangout there. Clifton’s was at Church Street in 1968-97.

In this same era Clifton’s meals were catered to the Chariot at its prior site, kitty-corner across Seventh and Church next to Grace Lutheran Church. The Chariot replaced Shipman Motor Co. Ford, which Tom’s great uncle Mingus Shipman began in 1939.

Clifton Shipman, who died two years ago at age 87, started more than 25 businesses in town. He turned gas stations into two famed eateries. Hasty Tasty fast food, near Hendersonville High, featured 19-cent burgers in the Fifties. Chicken Shack (1965-95), across Seventh Avenue from the Historic Train Depot, turned into a bus station. Behind Hasty Tasty was Hitchin’ Kitchen (1963), serving steaks and seafood. Clifton’s Smokehouse (1954) became Bob Quattlebaum’s Quarter House.

Clifton pioneered recreation such as miniature golf in Boyd Park in 1954, Weeping Willow Pool (1951-54), and a dance pavilion by Jump-off Rock in ’58. Soon after World War II, in his first venture, he ran the Saddle Club with thrice-weekly swing dancing then weekly square dancing in the barn above the family’s Hendersonville Riding Stables (1946-69). This was at the family home, off State Street, where Tom also grew up. Hendersonville Little Theatre performed in the barn from 1966 to 2012.

Tom W. Shipman starting at age 7 fed horses and scooped their poop, in the stables. He said his father quipped “I was the youngest ‘pilot’ in town. ‘He piles it (horse manure) here, and piles it there.’” Tom, a 1969 alumnus and Bearcat wrestler, worked while a Hendersonville High student.

Tom and wife Fran fill in for chef Mike King as needed to cook. Charles Goins helps cook, for larger Cedars events. The baker is Ann Musser.

Call 693-6762 for more about The Cedars.

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