Built in 1895, Asheville’s Biltmore Estate is the largest private home in the United States—by a long shot. The estate is open to the public, drawing in nearly two million tourists annually who wish to take in its bewildering scale (and secrets). It’s no coincidence, then, that the closest McDonald’s is, by some subjective measure, “the world’s fanciest McDonald’s.” But it wasn’t always.
Even before it was open for public visitation, the Biltmore employed so many workers that they had a staff village built for them just off the property’s sprawling grounds. Once the Biltmore became a tourist destination, the village then became a retail center, complete with bars, restaurants, clothing stores, and the like. The only catch was that the businesses within the complex still fell under the jurisdiction of the Biltmore Village Historic Resources Commission, who maintained exacting aesthetic standards. In other words, Biltmore administrators sought to ensure that the air of high-society elegance carried on beyond the property’s borders.
Enter a new McDonald’s franchise in 2000, built in much the same fashion as any franchise might. The Biltmore Historic Resources Commission was not pleased, and in short order the franchise was renovated to what visitors can see today.
The Biltmore McDonald’s octagonal dining room features tables of red oak, wrought iron railings, and luminous chandeliers under a sweeping pressed-tin ceiling, with every wood feature boasting a handsome finish. A baby grand player piano sits in the corner, churning out disembodied tunes you might hear at a fanciful gala, while a gold-leaf mantled fireplace forms the base of a giant stone chimney. And while the food is sourced and prepared as it would be at any McDonald’s, the staff who makes it maintain a strict dress code of slacks and a bow-tie. It’s fast-food meets forced-fanciful.