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AlyKat opens at new location

The AlyKat's new location is 1201 Asheville Highway. The AlyKat's new location is 1201 Asheville Highway.

Ask Richard Kaltenbach about his tasty and creative AlyKat soups and he responds with a question of his own.

“Do you like stuffed peppers?” he asks.
He’s thinking of making a stuffed bell pepper soup, with ground beef.
If it catches on, he may add to a menu that has kept a loyal crowd of diners coming back to the AlyKat Deli for 42 years. The restaurant is moving again — to its fourth location — but moving has never slowed it down.
“The only thing new is a new location,” Kaltenbach says. “Same menu, same staff, same great food.”
AlyKat is a veteran survivor in a town
of fickle appetites amid restaurant choices that range from upscale to chain to short-lived fad.
“We are the oldest restaurant in town,” says the 49-year-old Kaltenbach, who’s been cooking since he was 15. “We’re the only one left.”
Since 1974, AlyKat has served professional folks and blue-collar workers, retirees, shoppers and maybe a few tourists.
Started by Allen and Kathy Rieger — thus the AlyKat name — the restaurant was next owned by Phil and Margaret Trees. Kaltenbach worked for them until the late 1990s, left for a while and bought AlyKat in 2011.
It’s now moving close to its original location, which was next to the Opportunity House. When the widening of Asheville Highway wiped out most of the parking, the owners moved to the Bi-Lo shopping center. It moved 12 years ago to the old Harris Teeter shopping center on Spartanburg Highway. It’s opening Wednesday at 1201 Asheville Highway, in the building that originally opened as a Howard Johnson’s in 1965.
Seating capacity is doubling, to 99, and the size is more than doubling, from 1,400 to 3,500 square feet.
“We’re going to lose our pickup window but we’re gaining a party room, meeting room, whatever you call it,” he says. “I’ve already had three people call me to ask me about using the back room.”
For now he plans to maintain the current hours — 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. Saturday.
“If we get adjusted over here I plan on opening later,” he says. “Right now I don’t want to change anything.”
He won’t have beer and wine on the menu when he opens this week but he points out that in a renovation he kept the full bar that the previous tenant, Mex-Italy, left behind.
The AlyKat crowd has followed the diner twice before and likely will again.
“Great service, great good at a reasonable price,” he says when someone asks him what accounts for the longevity and the diners' loyalty. “We’re hometown. The locals have kept us in business. A lot of my help has been here a long time. I have one waitress that’s been here for nine years and another has been here for five. I’ve got a sandwich maker that’s been here for eight years, another’s been here for four. When they come in, they’re always smiling.”
When a regular walks in the door, “their drink is already on the table” because the waitress knows. “That’s what people come back for,” Kaltenbach says.
“You can order any sandwich however you want it,” he adds, “because we make every sandwich to order.”
Kaltenbach admits that he sells one house specialty that he never would have considered on his own. He experiments with new things all the time — like stuffed pepper soup.
“We’ll ask people if they like it. It might end up on the menu,” he says. “That’s what happened with egg salad. A lady asked me if we had egg salad. I laughed at them. I said, ‘OK, we’ll try it.’ I have never sold more egg salad sandwiches in my life.”
The comfort food will still be there. Egg salad included. And the crowd will find AlyKat again.