July 9, 2011 | Citizen-Times | Original Article

Hispanic presence jumps in Asheville area, WNC

ASHEVILLE — A lot of the customers at Asiana Grand Buffet have family roots in distant countries but maybe not in the part of the world you would expect.

Hispanics make up 10 to 20 percent of the customers at the restaurant on Smoky Park Highway, a little east of the Interstate 40 interchange, says Manager Michael Ar.

Latinos do not make up that large of a percentage of the population as a whole in Buncombe County, but their presence at Asiana and the growing number of “Se Habla Espanol” signs visible at businesses around the county reflect their increased presence and economic impact.

The number of Hispanics in Buncombe County nearly tripled from 2000 to 2010, according to newly released census data. Last year's total of 14,254 made up 6 percent of the county's total population.

Some reasons so many patronize Asiana is simple.

“I think it's a lot to do with communication,” Ar said. Being able to walk up to the buffet and pick out your own meal makes things simpler for those who are still learning English, he said, and the restaurant employs a number of people who speak Spanish.

The number of Hispanics in most Western North Carolina counties grew rapidly during the first decade of this century but is still relatively small. The figure tops 1,000 in only eight of 17 mountain counties, and Hispanics make up more than 5 percent of the population in only six.