When Laurey Masterton opened her restaurant and catering company storefront, Laurey’s, in 1990, most of Asheville was still degenerate. Barley’s wouldn’t start slinging pizzas until four years later, but Laurey’s sandwich shop paved the way for an entire section of Biltmore Avenue to be revitalized.
“Cooking was a big part of their family, and that was where she got inspired as a kid,” says Howard Hanger, pastor of Jubilee, where Masterton attended services until her death in February. “She would sit there while her mother would cook and taste as it went along, and it just became one of those big inspirations for her. When she cooked, she felt like her family was present. It was a very intimate and personal thing; it wasn’t just a job.”
The Vermont transplant served farm-to-table food in the most unpretentious and homespun way possible. “She had her own unique style, but her food was always primo,” continues Hanger. “You always knew that if you were going to one of Laurey’s events, to be prepared for some good honkin’ food! And yet, it wasn’t this gourmet hootie-snooty stuff, it was like food from your grandma’s kitchen, and it was just really good.”
Masterton released several books, including her cookbook-meets-memoir Elsie’s Biscuits, about her life growing up at Blueberry Hill Inn, cooking with her mother and father, who authored several Blueberry Hill cookbooks.
At her memorial service in March, John Atwater, owner of Mamacita’s, spoke about when Masterton decided to clean up Eagle Street armed only with kindness and a serving spoon. At the time, despite being just around the corner from the police station, the street was notorious for drug trafficking. “Everyone was complaining about all the crime, but she started serving free meals down there once a week, and before you knew it, the riffraff was gone,” he told us.
“That was just her style,” explains Hanger. “We would do these events for Jubilee called a Room at the Inn, where we would host homeless women. And many times she would bring over a meal for all of them. She was so generous, and yet she was such a sharp businesswoman.”
That business savvy allowed her to run a shockingly affordable restaurant while still providing living wages for her employees. “She was doing that before that was even a thing,” says Hanger.