The husband-and-wife duo of Ashley and Greg Garrison have turned their passion for ice cream into a tasty treasure in Asheville and Western North Carolina.
With emphasis on locally sourced fresh ingredients, their mission is to “make the best ice cream we can,” said co-owner Greg Garrison.
It’s labor intensive and oh, so good. Standards are high at The Hop Ice Cream.
The Hop makes as many ingredients in-house as possible to ensure quality and ethically sourced product. To swirl into ice cream, The Hop makes its own jams, fudge, whipped cream, peanut butter sauce, and chocolate syrup. It even produces its own milk from nuts for dairy-free offerings.
How It Began
It started as a love story for the Garrisons. Ashley moved to Asheville in 2003 and she and Greg wandered into the original Hop on Merrimon Avenue after a date. Their first scoop was Kahlua Fudge. They married in 2005.
While Ashely was in school at UNC Asheville, she worked at The Hop, eventually becoming the manager; Greg worked at The Hop, as well. In 2006, the owners decided to move from the original building to a new space on Merrimon Avenue, but the business was struggling.
Ashley had a degree in microbiology and Greg in mathematics. She found herself drawn to food and desserts, dreaming of owning a small bakery.
In 2007, the owners put the business up for sale. While the Garrisons didn’t have business degrees, they decided they wanted to revive The Hop, purchasing the business in 2008.
The Garrisons worked hard turning the business around, working every shift they could with just a handful of employees.
Ashley created the recipes and made the ice cream herself. She also created recipes for the toppings, so that The Hop could make almost everything themselves.
It Took Off
The Garrisons reached out to local business, sourcing as many fruits, vegetables and honey from local farms as possible.
Accolades started rolling in. The Cooking Channel’s “Unique Sweets” featured The Hop in 2013; The Huffington Post named The Hop one of the “12 Best Ice Cream Shops in America;” and Saveur Magazine named The Hop’s blueberry kale one of “5 Great American Ice Creams.”
The Garrisons were running out of space. In 2014, they opened The Creamery on what’s called “The Sweet Slope” in West Asheville. The new production space allowed them to expand flavors and product offerings and hire more people to help Ashley with production. There are now six other employees helping Ashely make products, and still more doing ingredient prep. Think about the labor involved to prep 20 pounds of mint.
In addition to ownership responsibilities, Ashely oversees production and wedding catering; Greg handles marketing and is the event manager.
Ask people what they think of The Hop products and many will exclaim how much they love the salted caramel ice cream. It outsells other flavors 2:1, Greg said.
The Hop offers a full line of dairy and dairy-free products. The inclusion of dairy-free stems from Ashley (and their two children) being lactose intolerant. The non-dairy business is building.
For the dairy-free products, The Hop has created milks from cashews, pepitas, rice and peanuts.
“Everyone is welcome at The Hop,” Greg said, noting the product line for the non-dairy community.
The Hop’s full product line is influenced with local ingredients and artfully handcrafted from scratch.
“We’ve had a lot of conversation with people in the food industry and came away with many agricultural ideas,” Greg said. “Then we decide what would make good ice cream. Ashley has the ability to know how things will taste, then she works backwards to develop the recipe.”
Visitors to The Hop will enjoy by-the-scoop ice cream and sorbets with toppings, milkshakes, sundaes, banana splits, floats and ice cream cakes.
Flavors include salted caramel, mocha Oreo, Nutella, Kahlua fudge, mint chocolate chip, Aztec chocolate, butter pecan, lavender vanilla, rum raisin and unicorn poop — and the more exotic death by chocolate (oat milk); peach (pepita milk) and a collaboration with Highland Brewing, black mocha stout.
The savory flavors, such as blueberry kale, were preceded by a runaway hit, avocado ice cream.
“As soon as I posted on Twitter that avocado ice cream was for sale, it was an instant hit,” Greg said. “It was well thought-out and had all the creaminess you would expect from an avocado.”
When Greg saw people putting spinach and kale into smoothies, he asked Ashely whether the trend could be made into ice cream.
“We go after interesting flavors,” Greg said. “But we’re not gimmicky. We have to research how it works.”
The Hop also has ventured into doggie ice cream with Happy Tails Doggie Ice Cream, a handcrafted peanut butter banana frozen yogurt (with no added sugar) for the pups.
The Retail Stores
In addition to the 640 Merrimon Ave. location, The Hop has retail shops in West Asheville (The Hop West and The Creamery) and in Black Mountain.
The Hop’s newest location is in the renovated S&W Market in downtown Asheville.
“S&W is a great venue for The Hop. It’s awesome,” Greg said. “It’s turning into a popular place for locals to have lunch and get good local food, plus we get the afternoon tourists.”
The Hop is taking advantage of the S&W curated set of vendors and plans to offer collaboration products, such as Buxton Cheerwine sorbet swirled in a vanilla float, a peach lemonade flavor (from Farm Dogs’ lemonade), Thai tea flavor from Bun Intended and Cold Mountain hazelnut fudge swirl using Highland Brewing’s iconic winter ale.
The Hop reopened its retail shops in June, after serving through the front door during the pandemic. It’s no easy task with new staff, training 50-60 people “in doing things right, including how to best scoop ice cream and relating to customers.” Greg said.
The part-time retail staff is made up mostly of high school and college students, working summer jobs. It’s a staffing trend seen in many retail businesses right now. Greg already has contingency plans for when the teenagers go back to school.
The Hop is considering hosting private parties in the winter.
The Online Store
The pandemic allowed The Hop to push the pause button, focus on the best flavors and streamline business practices. A new addition is The Hop’s Online Store, which gives people the chance to order ice cream, non-dairy products, ice cream cakes, merchandise and more.
Instead of having to visit a retail store, people wanting ice cream cakes or non-diary cakes can order easily online.
As a fun bonus, The Hop’s Online Store offers Ashley’s Scoop Series, bringing limited edition, small batch flavors, with new updates every few weeks.
The flavors offered at The Hop retail stores are rotated, serving “the best of the best,” Greg said.
“So, if you come in, and your favorite flavor isn’t being served at the time, you can go to the online store and order it,” Greg said. “With one week’s turn around, we’ll make it for you and ship it to you.”
All of this makes for happy customers and an ice cream lover’s dream.
Visit The Hop at www.hopicecreamnc.com/.