Greg Garrison knows exactly what makes people happy.
“Ice cream,” he said. “Whether you come in here happy or come in here to become happy, it’s about creating a happy atmosphere and making a delicious product.”
Sliding a cup of red and golden beet swirl (with, of course, local beets) atop a scoop of salted caramel ice cream across the table, Garrison is all smiles when asked about his business, The Hop Ice Cream Café, a longtime staple of sweet congregation in Asheville.
“Our job here first and foremost is to provide our customers with happiness,” he said. “We’ve got our ice cream recipes perfectly dialed in, where we’re able to really focus on making this location more of a community center. Come in, hang out, bring your friends and family.”
The company’s flagship shop on Merrimon Avenue heading out of downtown into North Asheville has been a beacon of fun and festivities since it opened in 1978. And yet, for Garrison, who purchased the business with his wife, Ashley, in 2008, ice cream was quite possibly the last thing he envisioned himself doing as a career.
Originally from Houston, TX, Garrison was meandering around Western North Carolina in search of a college at which to play soccer. He eventually found himself at UNC Asheville, a place he knew immediately was where he wanted to be.
“I remember distinctly coming over that rise on I-40 west into Black Mountain,” he said. “The moment I saw Asheville and these mountains, I knew this place was exactly for me.”
Garrison felt a connection with the people in the city and outlying areas. There was a sense of genuine sincerity he’d never come across before.
“Everybody here seemed very willing to say hello, to have a conversation, and not just people I was supposed to meet, but just people in general,” he said. “You’d walk into the door somewhere, anywhere, and everyone would say hello with a smile on their face, where they were wanting to engage with you. Asheville attracts that open-minded, welcoming personality.”
At the time, Greg and Ashley were Texan high school sweethearts attending college in different states. Ashley then transferred from Alabama to Asheville. And to make a little income on the side of academic and athletic endeavors, the couple found jobs at The Hop. With what started as a gig aside from school soon became something of a lifestyle for the Garrisons.
“You’d walk into the door somewhere, anywhere, and everyone would say hello with a smile on their face, where they were wanting to engage with you. Asheville attracts that open-minded, welcoming personality.”
—Greg Garrison, co-owner, The Hop
“After college, Ashley stuck with The Hop while I was an assistant soccer coach at UNC Asheville,” Greg said. “I did various jobs in the summer, but was always somehow involved with The Hop.”
Ashley became manager and the original location moved a few blocks up Merrimon Avenue to its current location in 2007. Around that time, the owners had mentioned the idea of selling the company. The Garrisons saw an opportunity and bought The Hop in 2008. Since then, they’ve opened a second spot in West Asheville (2010), as well as a creamery where 85% of their ice cream is made (2015) right up Haywood Road from The Hop West.
“We’re a small business in the community and we look for ways to work with other small businesses around here,” Greg said. “A lot of our ingredients are local, where we work hand-in-hand with our neighbors who support us. And we want it that way to make the best possible ice cream.”
Alongside the classic standbys, The Hop offers a wide (seemingly endless) array of styles, with vegan selections listed right next to a honey or coconut style. Greg looks at his business as one piece of a larger puzzle of camaraderie and joy within greater Asheville. It’s about opening your door and bringing people together for a unique and enjoyable experience, where the laughter and conversation is just as delicious as the ice cream in their hands.
“The Hop has been in Asheville for so long. It’s something special to the city,” he said. “It was something special long before we bought it, and we’re going to keep it that way pushing ahead.”
Ice cream photo by Micah MacKenzie.