On the most notorious of prankster days, April 1, the West End Bakery — the West Asheville landmark opened by Cathy Cleary and Krista Stearns almost 15 years ago — changed ownership. The new proprietors, Cary Hitchcock Jr. and Catherine McConachie, slipped into West Asheville quietly, but the new ownership is no joke.
Hitchcock says the reason for the silent switch was that he and McConachie want customers to expect the same service, food and atmosphere they have always had when visiting the bakery.
“Our main goal is to carry on the legacy [of the business],” Hitchcock says. “This place has been around forever, and it is an icon in the community.”
Hitchcock says no major changes are planned, but he and McConachie are considering trying some new products and possibly adding some new bread and dessert items to the menu. “West End Bakery has always been known for great food and good service, and I think we can push that a little bit further,” he says.
They plan to continue filling wedding cake and retail bread sale orders, and the staff will remain the same. “The staff has been here for a long time, and we are glad they are going to stay with us,” he says. In fact, the new owners hope that any changes will involve staff input. “We plan to take a creative approach to the menu and let the staff help come up with ideas and give them the tools to make it happen,” says Hitchcock.
One difference bakery patrons might notice is a current lack of alcohol sales. But, don’t worry — it’s not a permanent change. Hitchcock says they are waiting for their Alcoholic Beverage Control permit to come through. Once that happens, the bakery will begin selling beer and wine again.
Another change was the installation of a pay-to-park lot. The plan for the new parking arrangement was put into motion by the previous owners but only came to fruition recently. Through the new system, patrons of the bakery are exempt from the parking fee. Employees provide tickets that customers put into the parking terminal instead of cash.
The bakery’s previous owners, Cleary, Stearns and Lewis Lankford, decided unanimously that the time was right to sell and move onto new adventures, Cleary says.
“It had been a really good run, and we were all starting to feel that there were other things that we wanted to do and other experiences that we wanted to have,” says Cleary.
Cleary says she plans to put even more energy into FEAST, the nonprofit organization she cofounded, and she is in the process of writing a new cookbook. (Cleary published The West End Bakery Cookbook in late 2014.)
Stearns, who was involved with special education before opening the West End Bakery in 2001, plans to revisit her roots by teaching English abroad. She and her family are considering relocating to South America.
“We were there for the beginning of Haywood Road’s sort of renaissance, were greatly a part of it, and now it’s time for a new guard to come in and put new energy and ideas into the bakery,” says Stearns.
Lankford was unavailable for comment.