Written by Jennifer Fitzgerald | Photos by Anthony Harden
Jeff Herold was planning on retirement, then he saw the building that would become The Greenhouse Moto Café.
Herold and his wife, Lee, moved to Western North Carolina from Tampa, Florida, last August. Lee was a Florida native, while Jeff originally hailed from Indiana—“I am a Hoosier,” he declares firmly—and they had fallen in love with the region for its geography and cool climate while vacationing in the mountains.
By that point, their children had left home and gone off to college, and Jeff, who’d retired from his career as an industrial lubricants salesman (Lee was a florist), further liked the area because it was considerably less crowded than Florida, and he found it to be a great place to indulge one of his great loves, motorcycles—the Blue Ridge Parkway traditionally being a popular destination for motorcycle enthusiasts of all stripes.
Herold had initially discovered motorcycles at the age of 13. His first, a Suzuki Motocross, started his passion for the sport. Then, for various reasons, he stopped riding after turning 20, but when he was 40 he rode a friend’s Royal Triumph and the bug bit again. He had to go out and get a motorcycle. Soon enough, he owned several.
After his retirement and subsequent relocation to the area, he needed a place to store his motorcycles. He could put them in a warehouse where they would never see the light of day and where he would never ride them. Or, he could think outside of the box and find a home for them where he could share them with others.
Even before moving, he’d spotted the vacant former Carolina Roses greenhouse located at 4021 Haywood Road in Mills River. The peaked glass roofs reminded him of a conservatory he’d seen when visiting Scotland. It also made him think of the times he’d visited the Ace Café, a one-time transport café near London, England, well-known in motorcycle culture. There was something special, he says, that drew him to the building.
Herold decided to buy the greenhouse and reinvent the space, which clearly had potential but would need a fair amount of work; windows had been left open and birds were even living inside. But Herold recognized that potential and began the transformation. Now, the building may still look like a greenhouse on the outside, but inside, the appearance has changed radically, with a music stage, bar, and tables spread throughout the interior. This is how The Greenhouse Moto Café was born.
“I won’t share the particulars [of the purchase], but it wasn’t that big a deal,” he says modestly, adding that, initially, starting a bar wasn’t part of the plan, and that he didn’t even have a background in operating a small business, much less a bar or restaurant. “I think we wanted to do something,” he continues, referring back to his motorcycle storage dilemma, “but the bar idea was not on the list. I think the building and location are correct to do something like this, however—[it’s a] local need.
“And the bones were there. We recycled and repurposed much of what was [already] there. The bar is structurally some old tables and a transaction counter. The band stage is made mostly of some old greenhouse plant tables. The motorcycles hang from some reclaimed steel columns we painted up.”
Indeed. The Greenhouse Moto Café now is home to his 60 motorcycles— the oldest from 1966, the newest from 2012. He bought the motorcycles from individuals, all over the place.
How did the unique name come about? Herold explains the interesting combination thusly: “It’s a greenhouse; ‘moto’ is European for motorcycle; and café—our intent is to have coffee, beer, wine, liquor, and some kind of food. We are not a restaurant.”
The business opened earlier this year on March 15. Herold is still experimenting and adding to the business. He originally invited a variety of food trucks to be on-site. That has proven to be inconsistent, however, so he is launching plans to have his own food truck with food available for purchase. He will also be open seven days a week starting in August.
There are 26 taps and 80 beers available, with a focus on local beers. Herold plans to become a private club in the future in order to be able to legally sell wine and liquor. Pizza delivery from a local pizza spot is also available. There is a courtyard, as well as plans for a deck.
Listen to the Music
Music is a key ingredient to the success of the establishment. The music stage is full every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with live music, and an open mic night has recently been added on Thursday nights.
“We like to have more classic rock, country, bluegrass—local flavor music with local musicians. There are a lot of musicians here,” Herold says. “As we get established, we will have some larger acts from Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte. There are some big acts that live in the area.”
Herold describes his Greenhouse Moto Café as being like the “Far Side” meets “Land of the Lost.”
“It’s just a cool place. Unusual, unique, unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else,” he says.
The café’s Facebook page describes it as an “eclectic moto café bar music venue with food trucks and vintage motorcycles on display. Cool stop on your ride in beautiful Western North Carolina.” When entering The Greenhouse Moto Café, one immediately spots the motorcycles. They are hanging on the walls, sitting around the interior space, and even present on the music stage. Herold welcomes people to stop in and take a look.
His passion for motorcycles is obvious as he walks through the café. There is a story behind every bike and every piece of memorabilia in his collection. Your eyes will dart between the eclectic collection that includes motorcycle parts and helmets, a shrine to the popular show The Sopranos, and a mannequin complete with a wedding dress, motorcycle helmet, and gas mask. Herold has plans to use the wedding dress mannequin as part of a T-shirt design for the café. A large sculpture of a man sits on top of the piano near the music stage. Created by a local artist, it is a crowd favorite along with the wedding dress mannequin. There’s also a sign left from the previous owners stating, “Thank you for coming to Carolina Roses.”
Herold visited the local Salvation Army thrift store and purchased jackets that are hanging from the ceiling. They add to the décor of the huge space but are also used for sound baffling to make the space acoustically correct.
“You can’t turn your eyes without seeing something new,” customer John Lynn says, after walking in the door for the first time.
Every Saturday night is bike night, and this evening the parking lot is full of a wide variety of motorcycles from both locals and tourists who might be passing through the area.
Herold says tourists make up ten to fifteen percent of his customer base, which he thinks is growing as word spreads. Riders from as far as Atlanta, Florida, Illinois, and neighboring states have stopped in for a visit.
“People come to the area from all over the East Coast to ride, and they are finding out about The Greenhouse Moto Café and stopping by. We’ve been well received by everyone who has walked in here.”
Inspiration & Innovation
As noted above, Herold’s design and vision of The Greenhouse Moto Café came in part from places like the Ace Café, which has been redeveloped as an entertainment venue. It originally operated from 1938 until 1969, then re-opened on the original site in 1997. When the Ace Café first opened in 1938, it started to attract motorcyclists because it was open 24 hours a day. The café was rebuilt in 1949 after being destroyed in a World War II air raid. The Ace gained steam after the war when the British motorcycle industry was at its peak.
Herold says the big deal at transport cafés was record racing—a record was played and the rider would dash out the door and ride his or her bike to a designated spot and be back by the time the song is over.
Popular during this time were café racers—a lightweight, lightly powered motorcycle optimized for quick rides over short distances. The term developed among British motorcycle enthusiasts of the early 1960s, where the bikes were used for quick rides between cafés.
Herold’s bikes are not for sale, and no repair work is done at the café. Herold does, however, offer motorcycle rentals for people flying into the Asheville Airport.
“Our future plans are to bring tourists from out of the country that want to come and see Western North Carolina and ride motorcycles. We would put them up at the Grove Park Inn or the Pisgah Inn and really show them a good time—all the local flavor—music, food, the Biltmore, Sierra Nevada, kayaking, tubing.”
Herold finds that word-of-mouth is the best advertising right now, especially among locals, who play a key role in his future goals for The Greenhouse Moto Café. (He maintains an active, lively Facebook page for the business.) The idea, he says, is to develop “a good local base that keeps it operating profitably. During the riding season, people put this on their list of places to stop. Like Maggie Valley or Tail of the Dragon—we think this is a good stop.”
Herold says his wife, Lee, was critically important in getting the business going and running. “She has an eye for aesthetics and has made the place mass appealing and tasteful, although it is [still] pretty industrial and utilitarian.” In the end, their vision to repurpose the space was both creative and innovative. The location, just miles from the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, is also a prime spot with easy access.
“This is an investment for me, and this area [Mills River] is going up,” he says. “This is a popular road.”
Herold has learned that being a business owner is demanding, with little down time. In the months leading up to and following the opening, he has spent hours familiarizing himself with North Carolina rules and regulations.
“It’s really not that complicated. It’s hard work. You just have to use your head and common sense. Know that you will be dealing with things that are like the DMV on some issues. Relax, and get through it—try and enjoy it. The more enjoyable you are to people you are dealing with, the better things tend to go.”
Herold says that the only real downside to operating the business is that he can only find time to ride a motorcycle maybe once a week now, so he recently added a general manager to his staff to lighten his load. “I’ve got it up and running—now I want to turn it over to someone else to run.”
A Place for Everyone
Everyone is welcome at The Greenhouse Moto Café. The colorful pink ’55 Desoto that sits in the parking lot is a preview of all that is waiting inside. The roses in bloom in the front of the building are a colorful reminder and tribute to the history of the building.
“I’m retired, and I’m going back and doing it again,” says Herold, reflecting on his new, unanticipated role as a small businessman. [But] I have two children in college, so I needed to go back to work. And we’ve really met nice people here—fantastic. They like us, and they like the people they meet here.
“We are a pretty casual place. We are never going to be chic. We just want to run a respectable business and have fun.
“And see the bikes!”
Tomato Cans, Pyramids, & Hog Boys
Motorcycle Facts From Across the Ages
*The first Harley Davidson motorcycle built in 1903 used a tomato can for a carburetor.
*In 1917 the United States entered World War I and needed motorcycles for the war effort. The United States military purchased over 15,000 motorcycles from Harley-Davidson during World War I.
*Harley-Davidson motorcycles nickname “hog” began in the 1920s when a team of farm boys, who became known as the “hog boys,” consistently won races. The racing team’s mascot, a pig, was carried on a victory lap after each race won by the team. During this time period, Leslie “Red” Parkhurst broke 23 speed records on a Harley-Davidson 61 cubic inch racing motorcycle.
*Steve McQueen didn’t do the famous 65-foot motorcycle jump in the 1965 movie The Great Escape. American Triumph dealer Bud Ekins did it in one take.
*The largest parade of Harley Davidson motorcycles consisted of 2,404 motorcycles and was achieved by Roberto Macdonald, The RRiders, and the Harley Davidson Club Hellas (Greece), in Patras, Greece, on May 22, 2010.
*Tommy Clowers of Ramona, California, achieved a motorcycle jump height of 25 feet from the top of
a 10-foot ramp after a run up of 40 feet at Van Nuys Airport, California on January 21, 2001.
*The tallest rideable motorcycle measures 16 feet, 8.78 inches tall from the ground to the top of the handlebars. It was constructed by Fabio Reggiani from Italy, and the motorcycle was ridden over a 100-meter course at Montecchio Emilia, Italy, on March 24, 2012.
*The longest distance riding a motorcycle in 24 hours is 2,019.4 miles and was set by American L. Russell “Rusty” Vaughn at the Continental Tire Test Track, Uvalde, Texas, on August 10, 2011.
*One of the most expensive motorcycles in the world is the Ecosse ES1 Superbike with a price tag of $3,600,000.
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