Don’t Postpone Joy®. It’s not only a registered trademark to Laurey Masterton, it has truly become her mantra.
Laurey is the proprietor of Laurey’s Gourmet Comfort Food, a landmark café and catering business located at 67 Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville. Having undergone cancer treatments for the past year and a half, Laurey has had to pull back on occasion from the business that she started by herself in 1987 and that bears her name.
As a child, Laurey Masterton says she got close to her mother by cooking food. Her parents, John and Elsie Masterton, founded Blueberry Hill Inn, a country inn located in Goshen, Vermont. Elsie wrote three cookbooks, the first of which was The Blueberry Hill Cookbook, published in 1959.
“It was a wonderful way to grow up,” Laurey says. “My mother was self-taught but she was a wonderful cook.” Laurey thought she’d always be at Blueberry Hill Farm. But tragedy soon struck her idyllic childhood when both of her parents died when Laurey was 12 years old. The inn sold by the time Laurey was an adult and she was left wondering what to do with her life.
She spent some time as a lighting designer in New York before visiting Asheville in 1984 to participate in the North Carolina Outward Bound School. She couldn’t quite get Carolina off her mind. In 1987 she was back to work at the school.
Meanwhile, that love for cooking that she learned from her mother never faded. Her dream was still to run the Blueberry Hill Inn, but that seemed to have slipped through her fingers. She had a comfort level in taking care of people and perhaps a desire to retrieve a bit of her past. “How can I have my mother back?” she asked herself.
She cooked … and cooked. At 32 years old and with no business experience, Laurey began a catering business out of her apartment. After three years, she got busted by the health department. It was decision time. Did she make her cooking business legitimate or would she go back to it being a hobby? She opened her first kitchen at 60 Biltmore Avenue where Lola Salon now operates. Laurey didn’t want to do retail but an assistant had some retail experience so they opened up with four seats. Laurey cried when she got her first cash register.
But gaining legitimacy saw immediate growth and success. She was catering heavily and after a while added more seats. The grind was tough, though. Asheville had not had its growth spurt. Her location was considered to be the edge of downtown. There was little nightlife and fewer tourists along that block of Biltmore Avenue. She says she was amazed the first time she could look up the street and not be able to count all the people. “This end of town was Deadville,” Laurey says. Her sister, a judge, had said, “Expansion is the kiss of death.” Laurey knew that she was going to have to quit or come up with a new vision. The new vision is what Laurey’s is now.
That includes being a good steward of the Earth and the community. Laurey’s collects all compostable materials; recycles all plastic, glass, paper, and cans; and sends its cooking oil to be made into bio-fuel. It partners with businesses such as Bluewater Seafood, Hickory Nut Gap, Highland Brewery, and Warren Wilson College Farm for ingredients.
While her role with the business continues to evolve, Laurey says the future of the establishment continues to burn brightly. Now with a thriving downtown district and the addition of new neighbors Aloft Asheville Downtown (the new boutique hotel) bringing additional foot traffic, Laurey says the venerable café will eventually look into expanding hours even later. Currently, the café hours are 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday.
Laurey has written one book (Elsie’s Biscuits: Simple Stories of Me, My Mother, and Food) and is working on another, this one dedicated to honey. (Laurey is a practicing beekeeper.) She’s comfortable with Laurey’s. “It’s a good business,” she says. But for now, Laurey adds, the business will concentrate on what it does best: gourmet comfort food.
Visit Laurey’s at 67 Biltmore Road in downtown Asheville. For more information, call 828.252.1500 or visit laureysyum.com.