Old Europe’s Bence Vetro catches us up

Bence Vetro wasn't just raised in Asheville — he was raised by Asheville.

“I was taken care of by the whole city,” says the 17-year-old, whose parents, Melinda and Zoltan Vetro, founded Old Europe coffee shop in 1994. “I would be at the shop, and people would just take me for the day.”

He remembers creating art projects and building model rockets with the Russian painter, Vadim Bora. One day, they built motorized boats and set them loose in the pond at Pack Square.

As Bence got older, he continued to look to Asheville for support. Last year, he raised $5,000 to travel to the Global Young Leaders Conference in China. Now, he's back in town and ready to catch up with the people who helped him. “I was really blown away by the generosity of some people here,” he says.

Instead of returning to Asheville after the conference, Bence went straight to Hungary, where his parents grew up. He stayed with his aunt and uncle and attended a year of high school.

He also grew to appreciate Asheville more. “People are very, very friendly here, and I don't think I can really say that enough,” he says. “[Hungary] is a very tough place to live.”

In January, Bence's father, Zoltan, passed away suddenly, and Bence had a tough decision to make: Come home or finish the school year.

“He was a really big supporter of me going to Hungary to study,” Bence says. “He would always be the one that told me, 'Get lost. Go somewhere. Run around the block a couple of times.'”

Bence finished his studies and recently returned to Asheville, but he hasn't had a chance to observe his father's death.

In fact, many people are still unaware it happened, explains Melinda, who separated from Zoltan several years ago. “Old employees would stop me in the street and ask me, 'Hey, how is Z? I hear he moved away.' And I'm like, 'No, actually he passed away,'” she says.

On Friday, Sept. 13, the Vetros will host a celebration of Zoltan's life. They'll begin at 5 Walnut Wine Bar, where they'll share memories from 4 to 7 p.m.

“We are just going to get together,” Melinda says. “Anyone is welcome to come by and say hello, celebrate his life. Z loved to party.”

At 10 p.m., they'll move to the rooftop area of the Social Lounge and Tapas to dance.

The gathering is a good opportunity to catch up with Bence. He's applying for colleges as he finishes his senior year at Asheville High, and he hopes to study business or economics. He sees himself as a small-business owner one day — maybe he'll even start a coffee shop, he says.

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