Please come out and support Katie and Aaron before they leave. They’re awesome people and they make some damn good pizza. Here’s an update from Baird and Gibbs:
Two months ago, the foreclosed property housing Hi-Fe Café changed hands from First Bank to Charlie and Troy Ball, of Troy and Sons Distillers. Although initial plans for revitalizing the building included the eatery, the Balls decided against extending a lease to the small business owners. Losing a location can be a fatal blow for any business; location directly correlates with cash flow and business value. After carving out their niche amid various challenges, the pair can’t stomach starting over.
Initially, Gibbs and Baird viewed the loss of location as a sign to leave Asheville and begin their travels, albeit nearly empty-handed after more than three years’ investment into their business. Almost immediately, the couple was surrounded by community support, and formed plans to relocate. Fund-raising efforts, however, fizzled before getting far off the ground.
Baird explains, “as is often the case in Asheville, support was mostly verbal, and didn’t translate into money like we needed it to.” Far from their goal amount, Gibbs and Baird realized that allocating the finances to move their café would be much more difficult than anticipated, and began to ask themselves hard questions. Upon reflection, the business partners found that their customers formed the main reason to relocate.
“We’ve built a locals’ spot, and really wanted to see it continue for them. I also couldn’t imagine losing what we’ve built and fought for all these years. But playing not to lose, and for others, isn’t how we want to play. When we’re honest with ourselves, rebuilding just isn’t what we want,” says Baird.
In an ever-burgeoning food town, relocating Hi-Fi Cafe, even with its loyal following, is risky business. There are no guarantees in the restaurant industry, and with new establishments opening regularly in a small city already home to more than 600 restaurants, competition is fierce. Factoring in the tide of rising rental rates, recent changes in regulations, and necessary equipment upgrades, and the total price tag increased significantly for the small business owners.
“If this was still our dream, we’d make it happen. But we’re both tired of fighting against this town’s saturated market,” says Gibbs, who’s been cooking professionally for 13 years. He continues, “it would take years for us to build our business back up and become debt-free again, and we’re both ready for something new.” Baird adds, “as hard as it is to close our successful business in response to the hand we were dealt, the biggest lesson is letting go and creating peace amid the turmoil.”
The closure comes on the heels of national publicity for the tiny café. Chelsea Batten, an independent writer, stumbled upon Hi-Fi Cafe in November and wrote about her experience in her travel blog, The Connoisseurs. Batten stayed in touch with Gibbs and Baird, and, upon receiving the opportunity to write for a new food magazine, suggested Hi-Fi be part of the inaugural issue highlighting “remarkable” recipes, people, and places. In April, Let’s Gather, a national publication, featured small eatery and paid special attention to Gibb’s chai recipe. The accolades reflect what the couple say their customers express regularly.
“We know what we’ve created is special, and that our people get what we’re about,” says Gibbs. “No one can take that away from us,” Baird adds.
The pair plans to maintain their current hours through the end of July and encourages frequent visits; “get your fill while you can, and help us build up our bank account as much as possible!” quips Baird. In August, the couple will move to Efland, N.C., to be near Baird’s family.
“My mom, my brother Matt, and my nephew Jaxon live on the old homestead, and we all want to work together and get the farm going again,” says Baird. “We’re excited to get our hands in the dirt and work on different projects we just haven’t had the time or opportunity to do,” adds Gibbs.
Hi-Fi Café is open Monday – Friday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.