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Waynesville is getting its Main Street bakery back, but not just any bakery.
City Bakery, a well-known café and bakery with two locations in downtown Asheville and a successful wholesale product line, will move in to the space formerly occupied by Whitman’s Bakery. The community mourned the loss of Whitman’s as a beloved local institution that anchored downtown Waynesville for decades but is now rejoicing the arrival of City Bakery.
“It is just amazing. People are jumping up and down literally. We are blown away by the excitement in this town. Just blown away,” said Jeff Smith, who will manage the Waynesville location along with his wife, Megan. “I know what a need there is for a bakery and café like this.”
Megan, 35, and Jeff, 41, both live in Waynesville not too far from downtown. Their miniscule commute is a serious perk given the hours bakery managers typically have to rise in the morning.
“We are no stranger to what kind of grind it will be and we are OK with it,” Jeff said. “Megan and I is who you will see day in and day out.”
Megan’s parents are the owners of City Bakery. She has worked for the family business in the past, running both of their Asheville stores.
Pat Dennehy, the owner of City Bakery, said he constantly heard from customers and friends wanting the family to open a Waynesville store.
“When I see people I know around town they say ‘I love you guys. When are you coming to Haywood County?’” Dennehy said. “We wouldn’t be doing it unless we thought it would work.”
Be forewarned: Waynesville isn’t just getting a bakery. City Bakery does a booming café business, serving up healthy but scrumptious sandwiches, wraps and soups for lunch, plus stellar breakfasts.
“We have a cheddar scallion biscuit with bacon, egg and cheese,” Dennehy hinted.
While the City Bakery menu clearly has items that cater to the adventurous tastes of their urban Asheville customers — like apple chutney and brie on focaccia and tempeh reubens — Waynesville actually has pent up demand for a specialty bakery and café.
“I think it is time,” Jeff said. “They are ready for this kind of menu.”
There’s one thing missing from the City Bakery menu, though, that Jeff says he plans to create, in part to pay homage to a favorite Whitman’s mainstay.
“I’m working on the right pimento cheese recipe,” Jeff said.
Pimento cheese isn’t the only thing Waynesville’s location can take credit for when it comes to City Bakery’s menu. Watch out Asheville: here come donuts.
Whitman’s was perhaps best known for its donuts, but they take special equipment and lots of space to make, something City Bakery’s stores in Asheville don’t have. Trucks that come to Waynesville baring bread will return back to Asheville with donuts made here.
City Bakery will employ 20 to 30 people with plans to open by March.
The interior of Whitman’s is currently undergoing a facelift. While the 1970s-era blue wallpaper and wood paneling is being stripped, the Waynesville store won’t have the completely urban-look of Asheville stores that feature lots of stainless steel and glass. The older wooden bakery cases are being replaced as well, which the former owners plan to preserve as a keepsake.
Whitman’s was run by the same family for three generations until 2006, when the Howell family sold it. The bakery quickly declined in popularity and lost its standing as a Main Street institution however, and the new owners were forced to close the doors for good two months ago.
Ownership reverted to the Howells, who began looking for a new buyer.
Jeff believes the business Whitman’s formerly enjoyed under its original owners can easily be rebuilt.
“I think people will at least give us a shot, and if we don’t drop the ball, I think we will be fine,” Jeff said.
City Bakery purchased Whitman’s old equipment and is leasing the building. The family has enjoyed working with the Howells to get a bakery up and running on Main Street again, Dennehy said.
“It was a family owned business similar to ours. I like that continuity,” Dennehy said.
All five of the Dennehy’s children have worked for them on and off.
“At one point or another, every one of them has been involved in various capacities of the business,” Dennehy said.
City Bakery’s evolution
Dennehy came to Western North Carolina in 2000 to take the job of general manager at the burgeoning Harrah’s Casino in Cherokee. It was a perfect landing spot after a long career in the casino industry, known for moving its managers from one casino to another every few years.
“Why do people want to retire to WNC? It is a beautiful relaxed area, and the people are wonderful,” Dennehy said.
Finding a home in Haywood County, Dennehy and his wife were exactly where they wanted to be as they headed into retirement — only to find themselves owning a successful trio of bakeries with a growing wholesale side. Since Dennehy was still managing Cherokee’s casino, his wife ran it in those early years.
“She always wanted to have a business,” Dennehy said. “We also wanted a business our children could be involved in.”
The Dennehy’s children were already grown, but all five followed them to the mountains one by one.
Ruth’s brother had started City Bakery shortly before the Dennehy’s moved to WNC. They took over the bakery from him and immediately began growing the beloved neighborhood bakery into a widely known brand in the greater Asheville area.
They opened a separate production facility to free up more retail space in their Charlotte Street location and later opened their signature store on Biltmore Avenue in the center of the Asheville’s downtown heartbeat.
The reason? They simply couldn’t keep up with demand, Dennehy said.
About 75 percent of City Bakery’s business comes from its existing two retail locations. The other 25 percent is wholesale, with their products appearing in 25 restaurants and grocery stores like Earth Fare, Greenlife Grocery and Ingle’s grocery stores in Buncombe.
Jeff hopes to expand the wholesale market in Haywood and other counties further west.
“I know there is potential there,” Jeff said.
It won’t exactly be new territory to him, as he’s worked the past three years in sales for Sysco Food Distributors, the largest food delivery company for restaurants in the region.
Smith plans to tap farmers and the local food scene in Haywood for their produce, following in the footsteps of the Asheville stores, which use local goat cheese, local honey and local roast beef in their menu items as well as local produce.
“I am excited about the tailgate markets and using local folks that actually grow stuff. It is sustainable and local. It is just the right way to go,” Smith said.