Food writer Jonathan Ammons shares his view of Laurey Masterton

I’ve been trying to find a way to summarize what Laurey Masterton brought to Asheville, but hers was such a dense life, with so much contributed, that I don’t even know where to begin. She was a stalwart in the Asheville community, and though I never knew her well, I had met her briefly several times. But you didn’t have to know Laurey to be affected by her or just see the effects of her life and the incredible hand she had in making our town better.

Her amazing and impeccable Laurey’s Catering & Gourmet is a small, downtown-Asheville café and sandwich shop, which she opened in 1990 (and it’s the only shop in town that seems to know how to make great soup). Her approach was Farm to Table from the beginning, as well as being certified Living Wage for her employees, many of whom have worked there for more than a decade. All of the full time staff also receives health care, something exceedingly rare for an Asheville restaurant.

Masterton was involved with Michele Obama and the Chefs in Schools program. She sat on the board of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, the YWCA board, the Outward Bound board, and more. She also spearheaded the YWCA’s Children’s Garden Project and was an activist who rallied for LGBT rights and helped address childhood obesity. This woman rode a bike across the country — over 3,000 miles for a campaign to raise awareness of ovarian cancer! She was also involved with the Livestrong organization, providing counseling for cancer victims. She was active in her church at Jubilee. She authored several books, including Elsie’s Biscuits and the Fresh Honey Cookbook (did I mention that she was an avid bee keeper?). All of this while battling cancer herself, three times.

The way I see it, she was able to squeeze more good deeds in her 59 years than virtually any canonized saint.

Her youth was filled with loss, her parents both passing from cancer when she was very young. Then more loss in college: While studying in the theatre department, she saw many of her close friends pass and wither away as the AIDS/HIV epidemic spread. She told WNC Magazine, “The obituaries looked like my College yearbook,” which inspired her to engage in three bike rides across Alaska, raising $100,000 for AIDS research. That was her first involvement as an activist, and as the litany of accomplishments listed above depicts, it was certainly not her last.

Her motto was “Don’t Postpone Joy.” You see it all over Asheville on those ubiquitous blue Laurey’s Café stickers.

I remember sitting in traffic one day, driving home from New York City and seeing that sticker on the car in front of me. I had just come out of a brief stint in the music industry and was trying to figure out what the hell I would do with my life. I was always a rather brooding individual, but I remember reading that motto and thinking, “She’s right. There is no reason for me to be anxious or worried. I am surrounded by loving friends and family, and the things that keep me down are concerns about problems that haven’t yet occurred. Maybe I’ll just postpone the anxiety until they do, and try to be happy now.”

And then I waved goodbye to nearly a decade of depression. Thank you, Laurey.

So I think I’ve figured out what Laurey brought to Asheville from Vermont all those years ago. You will notice that I used the word “involvement” a lot in this piece. That was intentional. Because if her life showed me anything, it was how important it is to be active and involved in the lives, well-being and work of our neighbors. She demonstrated perfectly how meaningful and fulfilling it is to others and to yourself to be involved in simply helping people, and how easy it is to become addicted to it. Well done, Laurey, well done. Thank you.

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About Jonathan Ammons
Native Asheville writer, eater, drinker, bartender and musician.

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