A generous helping: Activism is the main course for some WNC cafes and breweries

MENU WITH A MISSION: Dandelion eatery in Hendersonville serves fresh, locally sourced breakfast and lunch options to the public while operating as a job training program for clients of Safelight, Henderson County’s domestic abuse help agency. Kat Nevel has managed the café since it opened in 2013. Photo courtesy of Dandelion

A dedication to championing charities and causes of all kinds is widespread among Western North Carolina’s breweries and restaurants. It’s nearly impossible to scroll through social media on any given day and not encounter multiple community fundraising and awareness events — everything from dinners to concerts to canned-food drives — being hosted by Asheville-area food and beverage businesses in support of an array of worthy efforts. And a few local restaurateurs and brewers have even developed their entire business model with a specific higher calling in mind.

“We started out doing adoption events, and within our first year and a half, we adopted out over 100 dogs and cats,” says Lisa McDonald of the beginnings of Sanctuary Brewing Co. in Hendersonville. While Sanctuary is clearly focused on crafting excellent beer — since opening in 2015, it’s already garnered three North Carolina Brewers Cup medals — the heart of the business is proclaimed in its name.

Before opening Sanctuary, McDonald was a corporate attorney, and her partner, Joe Dinan, worked at the Thirsty Monk and as the cellarman at Wicked Weed Brewing. She and Dinan have advocated for animals for several years, including operating their own facility, Sweet Bear Rescue Farm, which the couple bought after they happened into Hendersonville following a hike in the DuPont State Forest.

The 3-acre farm achieved official 501(c)3 nonprofit status in November and is now funded by the for-profit brewery. The split allows McDonald and Dinan to have complete control over the brewing business, while a board of directors oversees the animal rescue aspects. Sweet Bear currently shelters five cats, five chickens, four dogs, two goats, two turkeys and a pig named Ollie. In addition to supporting Sweet Bear with its profits, Sanctuary sticks to its mission by hosting vegan food events, regular pet adoption fairs, Yoga with Cats classes and a host of fundraisers for animal charities.

And although Sanctuary has always supported animal rescue efforts, its focus has grown to encompass humans as well. “We really wanted it to be a sanctuary for all living beings, and from there it catapulted into a community center,” she says.

Outside the brewery, a long metal wire bends under the weight of a dozen or so coats strung on hangers, free for the taking. McDonald calls it the Kindness Wall. “You can leave stuff out there and take whatever you need,” she says. “That way someone who is really down on their luck doesn’t have to come in and ask for things that they need. It’s so simple to do something nice in everyday life. It’s not like you have to go out of your way. If you are coming over for a beer, and you have a can of food, just put it in the pocket of one of those coats.”

The brewery also offers a free vegan meal every Sunday afternoon featuring plant-based variations on everything from hot dogs and chicken salad to spaghetti, gumbo and shepherd’s pie. “We’ll do anything that feels comfortable,” McDonald says. “But we want to be sure that we are also breaking stereotypes about what vegan food is.“

In May, Sanctuary will further its efforts to promote vegan cuisine as it rolls out a new restaurant in its taproom, the Jazzy Vegetarian Vegan Café. The fast-casual style eatery, to be run by chef Laura Theodore of the “Jazzy Vegetarian” public television program, will feature a menu of pub-style vegan dishes, including burgers, pizzas, salads, sandwiches and desserts.

A hand up

Just up the road, another Hendersonville business peddles more than just good eats and drinks. On the surface, Dandelion eatery looks like any other quaint, small-town café — it features a short menu of healthy Southern staples like tomato pie and shrimp and grits, with a glowing five-star TripAdvisor rating to boot.

But scratch a little under the surface, and you’ll discover the cafe’s affiliation with Safelight, Henderson County’s domestic abuse, sexual assault and child abuse agency with more than 33 years of history working in the community.

“Approximately five years ago, the [Safelight] board decided that a work opportunity would help some of the women get away from their abusers and continue to grow and live their lives,” says Kat Nevel, who has managed the cafe since it opened in 2013. “We have a job training program that allows the women to work here for a short amount of time, build up some confidence and steam, and then we contact businesses in the marketplace trying to find them the right job for the right person.”

Dandelion has connected over 140 women and a handful of men who have passed through the program with jobs at Champion Hills, Kanuga Conference Center and the Biltmore Estate. “I think the concept of giving people a hand up, not a hand out, is something that every nonprofit, every organization, should adopt,” she says. “We think people come the first time for the mission, and then they come back the next time for the meal. Everything is fresh-made here; we make everything from scratch.”

Doggone dedicated

A bit farther into the mountains, Pam Abare started the Rescue Dog Café in Burnsville last year to benefit area animal rescue organizations. “It’s really hard not to help,” says Abare, noting that each month, she donates 5 percent of the shop’s coffee sales to animal-focused charities.

“And I always urge the people that want to tip me to just put it in the donation box,” she continues. “Between my donation and the donations from the customers, it comes out to about $150 a month to a different organization.”

The small venture has become a much larger project thanks to a frostbitten rooster named Joe. Having previously run Illinois Doberman Rescue Plus, Abare had planned for a less stressful career as a mountain coffee shop owner, but the little bantam pulled her back into the game.

Poor Joe found himself in Abare’s care after losing some toes and a whole foot to freezing temperatures on a home farm with no chicken coop. After he joined Abare’s family of seven special-needs dogs and, more recently, a one-eyed duck, she was prompted to apply for nonprofit status for her newly established Lost Cove Animal Sanctuary.

She says she wants to avoid allowing the project to become as overwhelming as her Illinois dog rescue organization did. But she does have plans to install shelters for larger animals, and she’s developing a solution for Joe’s dilemma. “We’re actually working with a group of 10 students from the Early College program at A-B Tech to design him a prosthetic foot,” she explains.

The Rescue Dog Café operates as a coffee shop with limited hours on the weekdays, closing before noon to allow Abare to tend to her rescue animals. But on weekends, the business is open all day as a restaurant and wine bar. The menu offers frittatas, egg casseroles and breakfast sandwiches in the mornings and small plates, wraps, sandwiches and spring rolls at night.

And, of course, canine guests are welcome. The cafe’s Facebook page notes that furry visitors can expect free house-made treats or a “puppy latte.” Plus, customers can take the opportunity to chat with Abare about their pets. “I even have it on my menu,” says Abare. “‘Dog advice free.’”

Sanctuary Brewing Co. and the soon-to-open Jazzy Vegetarian Vegan Café are at 147 First Ave. E., Hendersonville. Dandelion Café is at 127 Fifth Ave. W., Hendersonville. The Rescue Dog Café is 240 E. Main St., Burnsville.

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About Jonathan Ammons
Native Asheville writer, eater, drinker, bartender and musician. Proprietor of www.dirty-spoon.com Follow me @jonathanammons

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