WNC restaurants make dining out a family affair

KIDDING AROUND: Ingrid Cole and Kirsten Fuchs of Baked Pie Co. delight in entertaining kids and families. Photo courtesy of Baked

Vintage cookbooks, floral-patterned pillows and the smell of homemade pie greet customers at Baked Pie Co., inviting them to relax, “just like they’re at grandma’s house,” says owner Kirsten Fuchs.

The homey decor and vibe are intentional nods to the comforts of food and family, Fuchs explains. Baked was born in 2017 when she and her daughter had a hankering for pie and a cozy place to sit. When attempts to find just the right place in Asheville were unsuccessful, Fuchs decided to create her own family-friendly destination in Arden.

Now with a second location in Woodfin, both shops have large play areas filled with toys and coloring books, and Fuchs delights in providing a playful experience, particularly for children. “We love kids — they’re sort of our passion,” she says, adding that she relishes making personal connections with customers.

She describes facilitating pie-induced moments of bliss by holding babies for weary parents, and she invites each child who visits the restaurants to choose a stuffed animal to take home. The gift, says Fuchs, has been a part of her business model from the beginning and reflects her intention to make each child feel valued. To this end, Baked now offers in-store scavenger hunts, puppet shows and after-school discounts to make homework sessions and play dates sweeter.

Adding sweetness to life is also part and parcel of Greg and Ashley Garrison’s plan for their business, The Hop Ice Cream Café. “Our vision is to help create moments for people that make their day better — whether a 16 year old celebrating a birthday with a friend, a 3 year old who can’t contain themself or a dog out with their owner,” says Greg.

The Hop welcomes visitors at its three locations with frequent family-focused events such as poetry nights, youth art shows, puppet shows and concerts. “Kids can run around, spin on the floor, and it’s all OK. There’s never lots of fuss,” he says, adding that creating a laid-back atmosphere where folks feel comfortable is as much a part of the business plan as selling ice cream. “The ice cream is really, really good, but it’s the vessel of all these other things.”

The Garrisons, who worked at The Hop when they were students at UNC Asheville, bought the business in 2008. They’ve since become the parents of two young children, which, Greg says, has given him a deeper commitment to making space for special moments and a growing appreciation for community. “[My children] are starting to enjoy all these events,” he says. “Now I’m seeing it from the parents’ side. Now I’m in it, and I love it. We are very lucky, and I can’t help but feel that.”

For E.C. Clary, owner of Blue Ridge Biscuit Co. in Black Mountain, the idea to create a kid-friendly restaurant started with his own family. “As a parent myself, it was hard to find a place we could eat breakfast and start the day together. We always want families to feel comfortable here,” he says. Known as “Biscuit” to regulars, the eatery is furnished with a couch and rocking chairs, frequently displays artwork by local children and features an indoor play area and outdoor seating space with a view of a nearby working railroad track.

Clary’s desire to serve and support children extends beyond welcoming them in; Biscuit also has a habit of reaching out. The restaurant regularly makes donations of food, gift certificates and financial support to area schools as well as to the Black Mountain Home for Children, Youth and Families. He even helps local students prepare for bake sales by providing in-store bread-making lessons.

Last year, students from a nearby school appealed to Clary with letters and a speech on the environmental impact caused by plastic straws. He immediately responded by discontinuing use of all plastic straws, opting for compostable ones instead. “It really made me happy to know they feel like they could ask,” says Clary. “It’s good to know that they think of Biscuit as part of their community.”

Welcoming families is also a goal for WakuWaku Eatery owner Naomi Mikami. The North Asheville Japanese comfort food restaurant hosts a slew of kid-friendly seasonal events to share traditional Japanese celebrations and arts. At recent gatherings, families have been invited to try their hand at calligraphy, origami and even playing Mikami’s koto, a Japanese stringed musical instrument.

THE WRITE STUFF: Diners display their Japanese calligraphy work at a recent family-friendly event at WakuWaku Eatery. Photo courtesy of Naomi Mikami

“There’s something every season to share,” says Mikami, describing a recent event at WakuWaku commemorating Japanese Girls Day, or Hinamatsuri. Like many others she has hosted, this event was interactive, with customers decorating their own cups of sushi and taking part in traditions dating back to Imperial Japan.

WakuWaku offers affordable prices for kids, says Mikami, in order to encourage young people to try new things while eating healthfully. Children younger than 4 eat for free, and a $5 mini-buffet is available for ages 4-12. Students up to age 25 with identification are allowed free refills of rice and miso soup with any purchase.

The altruistic intentions behind Mikami’s approach to business are grounded in her desire to share what she has learned from generations before her. “Kids make our future, old people share wisdom. We are getting old!“ she laughs, “So it’s time to share important things. Food is definitely one of those things — not just the food but the whole experience of eating together.”

Creekside Taphouse in East Asheville also provides a multifaceted experience for families. The Haw Creek neighborhood joint, known for its play structure, arcade, yard games, wade-able creek and volleyball court, is a full-service restaurant with a taproom pouring local brews.

When veteran restaurateurs Kim Murray and Anthony Dorage took ownership of Creekside in September, they went from being customers who appreciated the family-friendly space to co-owners committed to making it even better. “Our vision has always been to take what we love and just move the needle up,” Dorage says.

The pair’s vision, he adds, is to create an even more kid-centered experience by improving outdoor spaces and adding kid-friendly events. But while the proposed changes are intended to appeal to a broad audience, Dorage acknowledges that it can be difficult to strike the right balance. “[There’s] nothing wrong with adults drinking beer and playing volleyball, but we do want it to stay kid-friendly,” he says, noting intentions to carve out more green space for kids without alienating those who are kid-free.

A recent shift toward locally sourced ingredients and the addition of vegan options was made largely in response to requests from parents seeking to relax while enjoying healthy, family-friendly fare. Ultimately, Dorage hopes, the changes make for a better experience for everyone.

In addition to its own offerings, Creekside happens to be within walking distance of two parks, a greenway and the East Asheville Branch Library. It’s a combination that’s proven to be a hit with families over the years, including Murray’s, who live in Haw Creek. “We have always dreamed of having our own restaurant and for it to be a neighborhood spot — somewhere that offers a little something for everyone but with a strong emphasis on families,” she says.

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