Breathing new life into a North Carolina town
Words by Mary Kate McGowan
Littleton, North Carolina, a one-square-mile rural town, might seem like an unlikely destination for food enthusiasts seeking an exceptional dining experience. However, as the town experiences a rebirth, one restaurant stands tall as a beacon of hope and revitalization.
Blue Jay Bistro, led by the visionary team of Ed and Deb Fitts and guided by the culinary expertise of Executive Chef Ashleigh Fleming, is putting Littleton on the map and breathing new life into its historic streets.
Over the years, Littleton had lost its luster as residents moved away. But change is in the air, and businesses are popping up along the picturesque streets of the small Carolina town. Leading the charge in this revival is the Blue Jay Bistro, a culinary gem that opened its doors in 2021 and has since been winning hearts and palates alike.
Breathing life into his hometown
Ed Fitts, a native of Littleton, had left the town for opportunities elsewhere but always had a special place in his heart for his hometown. After a successful career in the packaging business and a venture into the wine business, the Fittses found themselves pondering their next project. The couple set out on a mission to breathe new life into Littleton.
"Our goal was to try to figure out how to help eliminate generational poverty. That's what we started out to do," said Ed.
Their first step was to address the need for economic opportunities and employment options in the town. They identified the need for a quality restaurant, a school, and a revitalized theater as critical drivers of economic growth.
In pursuing this dream, they started by developing a community-centric and welcoming establishment: the Blue Jay Bistro. Led by the talented Fleming, the Blue Jay Bistro features an ever-changing menu of fresh, locally sourced ingredients that farmers sometimes drop off at the restaurant's backdoor.
For Fleming, a culinary journey has been a lifelong passion. "I've been in culinary, I guess, for a long time, pretty much since I grew up," she said. However, after years of dedication to her craft, she was disillusioned with the industry's direction. "I felt like the craft and the industry were moving to a place I didn't want to be a part of. I didn't want to do it anymore."
But a twist of fate brought her to Littleton. After the restaurant where Fleming was working closed in March 2020, she decided it was time for a change. A job listing in Littleton intrigued her, and soon she found herself at the Fitts' house, discussing her culinary journey and ambitions.
"Ed's energy and vision for what he wanted to do here were so specific," Fleming said. "With Deb's determination, the combination was hard to walk away from."
Blue Jay Bistro isn't just a restaurant; it's a testament to the power of treating people right. The Fittses ensured that every full-time employee, working more than thirty hours a week, receives insurance benefits and a 401(k) plan—a rare and commendable gesture in the restaurant industry.
"Our menu is seasonally driven, and we creatively use the best of North Carolina's ingredients," she said. "But beyond the food, we want to create an inclusive environment, a culture that celebrates and supports everyone involved."
A love letter to Littleton
Beyond the Blue Jay Bistro, the Fittses undertook the ambitious project of revitalizing the local Lakeland Cultural Arts Center. Over three years of hard work, the theater was transformed into a stunning venue, becoming one of North Carolina's most beautiful theaters. The arts center now attracts audiences from near and far, putting Littleton back on the cultural map.
Recognizing the importance of education in breaking the cycle of poverty, the Fittses decided to establish Littleton Academy, which is committed to providing quality education to the town's children and ensuring that every child has access to a respectful and nurturing learning environment.
The Fitts also recognized the need for affordable housing and have partnered with a 3D printing company to construct eco-friendly houses using hempcrete, a sustainable building material. This project aims to create jobs, provide housing options, and contribute to the town's growth.
As Littleton and the Blue Jay Bistro grow, one thing is clear: its success is a love letter to where Ed Fitts grew up, a tribute to the community that welcomed the Fitts family back with open arms. The restaurant embodies the belief that good food and experiences can unite and uplift, putting a small town such as Littleton back on the map and inspiring a culinary revival that promises hope and prosperity for future generations.
"We wanted to have the same small-town feel that people have enjoyed for the last 100 years," said Ed.
To learn more about the Blue Jay Bistro, or to book a reservation—the chicken fried oysters come highly recommended, visit https://bluejaybistro.