By Roberta Binder
This summer Laurey Masterton spent 35 days walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. For a number of years she has been dealing with cancer, so this was a true pilgrimage to spend time thinking about what she wanted and was ready to let go of in her life. There is a stopping point on the Camino where the pilgrim is invited to do such a release. By the time Laurey reached that spot she felt prepared. “I realized that I was ready to release Fear.” And so with a personal ritual of release she sent fear to the winds.
She says she is still afraid of things, but now feels, “I trust I can figure out the answer. I trust myself to say, ‘I’m resilient and I can get through this.’ It was very important to get my body to be able to do that extended exercise just when I had spent the previous two years in active treatment…sleeping and not working.”
Laurey’s life began in Vermont where her parents owned a Bed and Breakfast. She notes that she was literally born into the hospitality business, attending her first party when she was 16 days old, she remembers none of that event! She was the youngest of three, enjoying two older sisters, happy parents and delightful guests from around the world. Her mother cooked and handled registrations (Blueberry Hill cookbooks can still be found with a bit of searching, filled with stories and home cooking recipes) and her father maintained the property. As an eight-year-old, she remembers grabbing guests’ suitcases to deliver them to their rooms: “Suitcases were just as big as me!” It was a magical world that remains dear to her heart to this day. However, it was short lived. Her parents died when she was twelve and the three siblings moved to various other families and then boarding school. Laurey notes, “I had such a glorious rich childhood. I found myself always searching to get back to that.”
One day in college she stumbled into the theatre department, where she found home in the Theatrical Lighting Design department. Graduation in 1976 took her to New York City and into a hard-working career as a Theatrical Lighting Designer for the next decade. “I actually got sick of being in the dark… because you have to be in the dark to make it light [on stage].”
This was also the decade when the HIV/AIDS epidemic struck the theatre world. The arts were hit the hardest and Laurey found she was losing friends every week at its height. “I came of age during this time in New York when so many men in the theatre were dying of AIDS, including my best friend, Michael, so I saw it all first hand. The obituaries looked like my college yearbook.” She saw an ad in the New York Times to put an end to AIDS and she said “Yes.” That bike ride from Fairbanks to Anchorage Alaska was the first of three rides she did, raising close to $100,000 over the years for AIDS vaccine research.
Laurey’s first trip to Asheville was to take a course with Outward Bound. She met some remarkable women (the course was for women 30+). One in particular suggested that she showed great leadership qualities, which lead her to taking a series of leadership programs. During this time, she would work in theatre all winter, make enough money to take off for the summer and repeat the cycle for a number of years.
Ultimately, Laurey was hired by North Carolina Outward Bound School. She returned to Asheville and almost immediately decided this was not the job she wanted. Taking some time off in Asheville to search for a new direction, she realized that she had never forgotten cooking, and so she decided she was going to open a restaurant. One of her sisters, who is also an Asheville resident, suggested that she do catering, since it has a slower start-up. So in 1987, she went to a meeting of women in business, with a homemade flyer, stood up and said, “I’m new in town, my name is Laurey Masterton and I’m starting a catering company. If I can help you please let me know. And, somebody offered me a catering opportunity. That first job was a $17.00 brie and puff pastry and so it grew.” After three years it was time to move to a commercial kitchen.
In 1990, she moved her business downtown. By 1996 the business had outgrown that space and moved into a section of the building where Laurey’s Catering and Comfort Café remains today. The business grew and prospered. It isn’t an easy business and, as in any restaurant, there are many ups and downs. About eight years ago, she came close to closing the doors, some difficult life challenges had come about and it seemed that this might be the time to step out of the restaurant. She tired to sell the business, but came to realize that without her presence, there was nothing to sell. We’re all glad she didn’t; in fact Laurey’s has been voted Best Caterer in Asheville for the fourth year in a row!
Out of that time came a new vision, the one that is the business today. This vision was created by the entire team at the Café, many of whom have been with her for over a decade. The vision included what the new and larger space would look like, taste like, smell like and as soon as the vision was written, that very space opened and the money became available, nearly falling into her lap. The success of that vision, enabled Laurey to repay all of those monies and to see the business continue to thrive to even greater heights.
Laurey explains: “The North Star is our vision; which means we’re never going to get there, but it is our guiding light. It is a five pointed star. Our vision is to run a profitable business which makes wonderful food, has terrific service, takes care of each other, takes care of our customers and takes care of the Earth. That order is important, because if we aren’t a happy place to work then no one is going to work here and it doesn’t matter if you have customers. Since Laurey’s earliest days, we have always been responsible Earth citizens through recycling and composting.”
Everyone who works a Laurey’s Café knows the vision and helped to craft it and agrees to it or else they don’t last. The business has been Farm to Table since its inception. It is a Living Wage Employer, and full time staff gets insurance.
Laurey has long been a bike-rider, raising money for various non profit organizations. She has ridden across the entire United States to raise research money and awareness for ovarian cancer. As a three-time cancer survivor and still in treatment, she is a leader in the LiveStrong Foundation which offers free support, counseling and assistance for cancer survivors and their support people. LiveStrong Asheville meets at the YMCA and provides a free three-month cancer support group for survivors and their family. Last May Laurey did a fund-raiser and raised $31,000 which enabled 60 people to go through the program.
This busy lady is a beekeeper with happy active hives at her home property. We are all aware of the importance of bees in our lives for pollination and the suppliers of the honey we enjoy. Laurey recently wrote a book, The Fresh Honey Cookbook, filled with 12 chapters featuring 12 honey varietals with recipes for each varietal and/or featuring a main ingredient that would not exist without bee pollinators. Additionally, it is filled with lots of interesting bee, pollination and honey information. The book was introduced in September with a signing at Malaprops where it is available you can also find it at all independent booksellers in WNC.
In the middle of August, the Cooking Channel came to town to film an episode of Chuck’s Eat the Street. Chuck has been eating and cooking his way through well-known streets across the United States and, as we all know, Asheville is a Foodie’s haven! Laurey’s Café was one of the restaurants selected to showcase our town. There were two days of filming at both Laurey’s home, to visit the beehives and release the honey, and the Café, where a recipe using that honey will be prepared. As of press time, we don’t have a date when the program will air, so stay in touch with the Cooking Channel and enjoy a wander down Biltmore Avenue as three of our local restaurants are highlighted!
This year holds another high point for Laurey: she has been named 2013 Honorary Chairperson of Raise Your Hand Auction, which benefits Western North Carolina AIDS Project (WNCAP). Get your tickets for the auction early; I understand there are going to be some amazing opportunities up for bid. As Laurey closed in her letter as Honorary Chairperson she noted: “Bid early, bid often, and bid high.”
Hope to see you at the WNCAP auction, or at Malaprops purchasing Laurey’s new book, or perhaps our paths will cross at the Café; I love gourmet comfort food!
Laurey’s Café, 67 Biltmore Avenue, Asheville, 828-252-1500, www.Laureysyum.com.
Tickets for Raise Your Hand Auction, October 12, 2013, www.WNCAP.org
LiveStrong Programs, YMCA Asheville, www.YMCAWNC.org, or call 828-210-9622
Roberta Binder, Facilitating Clarity through Mindful Editing Keeping the Author’s Voice, Always at RobertaEdits.com. She is also a writer and photo-journalist who enjoys all of her writing adventures with WNC Woman – Women Nurturing Change.