Melinda Vetro began baking at the age of three, rolling dough beside her grandmother in their small village of Annavolgy, Hungary. She spent her afternoons in the kitchen, honing her skills, and after high school enrolled in a pastry school [what school?] hoping to someday share her grandmother’s recipes with the world.
But she wouldn’t be living out this dream alone. In 1989 she met Zoltan (better known as ‘Z’) a political refuge recently returned to his home country of Hungary from the U.S.
They got married and immigrated to the United States with their own American Dream ahead of them - looking for a place to settle and share their love of Hungarian European Pastries; they knew Asheville was their city the moment they set their eyes on it.
The first Old Europe cafe opened in 1994 on Battery Park Avenue. This location didn’t have a kitchen, so everyday Melinda would bake at the building they purchased in Woodfin, and drive the pastries 5 miles to the Flat-Iron building in downtown Asheville. Times were hard for the couple, and the city, but just as they considered closing up shop and moving on, their son Bence was born. Melinda was back to baking 3 days later.
Old Europe was one of the few established businesses in downtown Asheville in the 1990s, but the lease on their Battery Park location ran out just as Melinda was diagnosed with breast cancer and they were forced to move out. Since business was strong and the economy in Asheville was growing the couple purchased a building on the corner of Lexington and Walnut (now the Southern) and reopened with a bigger vision than just pastries and coffee - they expanded into a restaurant and a nightclub. Melinda beat cancer and they were living out their American dream. Then… the economy crashed. The enterprising couple lost their beloved restaurant and nightclub and met their end in an amicable divorce.
But Melinda’s passion would not be taken down by a few set-backs. After fifteen years of watching the city build itself up Asheville was now her home and the locals and visitors her adopted family. Striking out on her own and getting back to the basics - great coffee and delicious pastries - Melinda re-opened Old Europe for the third time on Friday, August 13th 2010, at 13 Broadway in Asheville.
It is exactly what she envisioned a lifetime ago and a world away as a little girl covered in flour in her grandmother’s kitchen in Hungary - a cozy little cafe where people can come in off the streets and get a warm cup of coffee, a delicious treat, and feel right at home, no matter where they’re from.