Jill Wasilewski opened Arden’s Ivory Road Café & Kitchen in order to share her favorite things: great food, great dessert, and great conversation.
Nestled comfortably in a woodsy section of Arden, on Brevard Road, is Ivory Road Café & Kitchen. This intimate, casual drop-in of a restaurant serves breakfast (all-day) and lunch—and also boasts a secret weapon in the form of Saturday afternoon teatime, which has steadily grown in popularity to the point that, due to space limitations, reservations are required.
The venture has proven immensely gratifying to owner Jill Wasilewski, who opened it in August of 2016 following stints at kitchens in New Orleans, Melbourne (Australia), Guatemala, and Washington, D.C., among others. Wasilewski grew up in Maryland, going on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America in 2011 with a Bachelor’s Degree in baking/pastry arts and business management. “Upon graduation,” she recalls now, “I traveled as much as possible in an attempt to learn about and expose myself to as many different culinary perspectives and techniques as possible.”
One glance at the mouth-watering photos of dishes and pastries on the Ivory Road website, Facebook page, or Instagram feed (@Ivoryroadavl), should be sufficient to convince you that Wasilewski’s earlier quest was successful. And she doesn’t take the overall dining experience for granted, either. “I opened Ivory Road in order to share my favorite things with others,” she says. “Nothing makes me happier than sharing great food, great dessert, and great conversation with people. What I hope sets us apart is how we make people feel when they come to visit us. We try very hard to make everyone feel at home, relaxed and comfortable. There is a lot of great food in Asheville, but I think it’s the whole package that makes a food experience truly great.”
Wasilewski also brings a personal, familial quality to her café that customers have noticed and commented on. “Many of our menu items are tributes to friends, family, or random food memories of mine. Ivory Road itself is the name of the street I grew up on as a kid. We have a cookie in our pastry case called an alfajore. I learned the recipe from an Argentinean girl I worked with in Ecuador. It was her grandmother’s recipe. It has sparked some fantastic conversations with local customers whose family may be from South America—their eyes just light up and they can’t believe we make alfajores!
“Another aspect of our business that I believe sets us apart is our Afternoon Tea service. As far as we know, we’re the only place serving real Afternoon Tea in Asheville besides The Biltmore. We take the traditional, English-style Afternoon Tea service and add our own Southern twist—we serve Appalachian-Inspired finger sandwiches and desserts, tea that’s been blended using ingredients grown in the immediate area surrounding Asheville, and we provide Southern hospitality in place of the fancy, formal stereotypical tea service.”
In February Ivory Road hosted two special tea times. February 10 was a “Self Love Tea Talk,” and the $10 ticket included tea and snacks plus talks and interactive demos from area health and wellness professionals. Then on Valentine’s Day evening they held a “Candlelight Valentine’s Tea + Tasting,” the $27.95 ticket including full tea service, a tasting of seasonal tea blends from Asheville Tea Company, and live classical guitar music. (Wasilewski’s big on partnering with as many local businesses as possible; in addition to Asheville Tea Company, they work with Whisperholler Farms, Mountain Foods, Annie’s Bakery, Mountain City Coffee Roasters, Gourmet Chip Company, Sunburst Chef & Farmer, and Mills River Creamery.) She says she’s also hoping to expand to offer a few dinner services each week: “There seems to be a demand for it in the area, seeing as we are surrounded by numerous chain restaurants and so few locally-owned places down here in South Asheville. We would love to organize regular chef collaboration dinners—family-style and festive.”
Wasilewski notes, however, that the restaurant business remains a difficult and tricky—and frequently all-consuming—industry. “The greatest hurdle I have overcome is surviving, thus far, as a truly independent business owner. Without ever having investors or a business partner, managing stress and balancing a personal life has demanded a serious learning curve. I used to feel guilty for taking a day off or scheduling a late morning to catch up on sleep, but I have learned how important those self-investment days are.
“While it can be a struggle at times, I wouldn’t change a thing about it!”
Visit Ivory Road Café & Kitchen Monday-Saturday, 9AM-4PM, at 1854 Brevard Road in Arden.(www.ivoryroadavl.com).
The full article continues below. (Story written by Fred Mills.) Click to open in fullscreen…