Greg and Ashley Garrison met in high school back in Texas. Then Greg went to school at the University of North Carolina-Asheville where he played soccer and was one of the top midfielders in the Big South, earning first team all-conference honors as a sophomore. Ashley went first to Birmingham-Southern to play softball but then transferred to UNC-Asheville. Greg earned his degree in mathematics; Ashley earned hers in cell and molecular biology.
As it says in the John Lennon song “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy),” “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Ashley might have been in veterinary school by now or been doing research. Greg might have been teaching middle school math and teaching soccer. Instead they are the young, vibrant owners of Asheville’s iconic businesses The Hop Ice Cream Cafe.
Seeing them around town scooping at event after event while operating two locations of The Hop (640 Merrimon Avenue and 721 Haywood Road) and slowly building a wholesale business, you enter the store and know they must be dead tired, but still they manage a smile and a kind word. That’s just who they are.
Greg says Ashley’s sole (or should that be soul?) purpose is to make people happy. “She gives everything that she could possibly give,” Greg says. The same can be said for Greg.
The Hop supports numerous causes by hosting benefits or offering organizations a portion of sales from particular products. The Garrisons also promote everything Asheville via their social media outlets. Sometimes one wonders when they have time to make all that fantastic ice cream.
Ashley began working at The Hop first; Greg followed. The Hop was established in 1978 and was housed in an old service station in the “Woolsey Dip” area of Merrimon. While Greg and Ashley were working at The Hop, it moved a block north to its current location in the Merrimon Square Shopping Center. A year later (2008), the owners started talking about selling the venerable ice cream shop. Greg says that he and Ashley, along with their families, discussed the possibility of buying it and decided to take the entrepreneurial plunge. Then in 2010 the Garrisons opened The Hop West.
Ashley oversees the making of ice cream, which includes many all-natural flavors. Some include foods you wouldn’t associate with ice cream, such as beets, carrots, kale, spinach, beer, and bacon. You can also find gluten- and sugar-free options, vegan ice cream, and fresh fruit sorbets. The Garrisons work with other local businesses and farms to make their delicious frozen treats from as many Western North Carolina products as possible.
It’s not just frozen treats on the menu, though. You can enjoy a cup of locally roasted, fair-trade coffee and an array of smoothies and desserts, too. Along with family-friendly entertainment and free wi-fi, The Hop makes a good option for a hangout.
As The Hop on Merrimon offers a substantial space, the Garrisons wanted to make sure the space paid for itself, especially in winter. The Garrisons made an area especially for kids and started showing movies. It was clear from the feedback they received that North Asheville needed a family-friendly venue that didn’t serve alcohol. So they began a kids’ entertainment series on Tuesday nights. In meeting more entertainers, the idea for more benefits and socials came about. Now The Hop stays busy with weekly events and has a diverse schedule.
The Garrisons have taken The Hop from one location to two and have increased the staff size to about 20-25 total, including a few part-time folks with more loose schedules. They are also selling pints on the UNCA campus as well as a few other places in the area. Potential growth may well lie in the ability to get additional restaurants or stores to carry The Hop’s ice cream.
All the while, the Garrisons have not lost sight of what’s important: Their own relationship and their relationships with others. Greg says it’s impossible to not bring work home with them. “Yeah, we sometimes get angry or frustrated,” Greg says. “The key is that we talk about it and then move on. We worked out a lot of our communication issues before we became business owners so we’re quick to acknowledge what the issue is.”
That sort of communication applies to employees, too. “We had no business training,” Greg says. “We both worked here and that was our only training. So we look at employee interaction as training a staff of potential business owners. There is no hierarchy. Each person is trained to do everything.” The Garrisons are proud of the fact that they’ve been able to give employee bonuses and do fun things for the staff such as rafting trips.
Greg says that “the money has come.” It’s easy to see why. Hard work, a great product, and an amazingly positive attitude have paid dividends over the years. To the Garrisons, their business is really an extension of their life philosophy.
“You have a sphere—big or small—and it’s your job to make it as happy as you can,” Greg says. “That’s your job. For some people, that sphere is global. For us, it’s North and West Asheville. Our focus is to try to center ourselves and make the best product and best environment that we possibly can.”
The Hop has locations at 640 Merrimon Avenue and 721 Haywood Road and is open 1-11 p.m. daily. For more information about The Hop, calle 828.254.2224 (Merrimon) or 828.252.5155 (Haywood), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit The Hop.