Stone Soup: An Entirely Different Approach to Social Services

Asheville skyline at sunset, looking west, circa 1975. AA132.

One would have had to live in Asheville before July 1994 to have had a chance to eat at Stone Soup.  That’s when they closed, after a seventeen year run. Twenty-two years later, many people still mourn its closure. Their loss is as strong a memory as something long-gone from childhood.

The cheddar potato chowder was my favorite. My spouse, to this day, some Sundays will go on and on about Stone Soup’s  cinnamon buns, which she’d go get along with the New York Times, and head back to bed. I relished the cheese danish. No one makes pastries like their pastries. Their bread, nice thick slices, was all homemade from stone-ground flours. Then, there were their fruit pies!

Most people who were regular Stone Soup customers don’t know the origins of the restaurant and that it was started as a non-profit to help fund social services–to help make lives better in Asheville.

early allen center smaller version
Front row from L: Mary Gilbert, Margaret Johnson with daughter Dawn, Paula Egelson, Deborah Miles, ?.Back row: Dick Gilbert to far right, and David and Dee Marks to his left.



The group that created Stone Soup came to town in 1975, gathered from around the country by the United Methodist Church. The Church had first sponsored in 1887 the historic, private Allen Home School and then the Allen High School for African Americans. It was closed in 1974. This was a reprogramming effort on the part of the Church.

One of the buildings of the Allen School taken in 1952. The building complex is now the Asheville Office Park.
One of the buildings of the Allen School taken in 1952. The building complex is now the Asheville Office Park.

The group of ten people organized themselves as a non-profit worker cooperative and developed a non-traditional agency structure and programs. Salaries were equalized and decisions were to be made by consent not majority. They called themselves simply, the friends.

In partnership with a group from Central United Methodist, a new agency, Caring for Children, was organized with an emergency shelter that cared for about 100 children. A peer counseling program was also organized, and a low-profile project was begun to help East End residents take control of the future of their neighborhood. The Allen Center project had a three-year deadline to prove themselves. They needed funds. The group decided to open a lunch counter to serve the downtown business community. Stone Soup was born. It was 1977. This is what it looked like:

Stone soutp17p8AC-Photos1


Stone Soup was successful. A local musician, Andy Cohen asked if they’d like to run a coffee house in conjunction with the lunch restaurant. The group agreed; it was called Asheville Junction. They presented local and regional musicians and served sandwiches and slices of pie leftover from lunch.



The friends core values were theological and their lives were characterized by an attempt to live out their values in their activities. They wanted to go into business to support social service to children and families and to establish group shelters. These people were the administrators, the care-givers, the building renovators, the food preparers, the cooks, the wait staff, the managers, the maintenance staff and the dish washers. These people continued to be at the core of the program for the next seven years.


Pictured, from left, are Dick Gilbert, Howard Johnson, Betsy Murray (employee), Joelen Bell, Sarah Gottfried (employee) and Mark Gilbert. Photo is taken in Stone Soup’s second location at The Manor. Asheville Citizen May 1980. Other worker owners not pictured included Mary Gilbert, Deborah Miles, Lois Johnson, Paula Ericson, Roger Beal, Laura Allison and Carolyn Wallace.

If you want to know why Deborah Miles was bathing in a steam jacketed kettle, come to next Wednesday’s program and find out–she is one of the panelists.


Please join us!

Wednesday June 29, 2016 from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm

Pack Memorial Library, Lord Auditorium, lower level

Social Activism & Social Agencies.

The focus of the program will be on social issues pertaining to personal, family, justice and the environment.

Moderators: Ann Von Brock and Ellen Clarke

Panelists: Jim Barrett, Gaylen Ehrlichman, Jeff Fobes, John Hayes, Deborah Miles


Ann Von Brock started volunteering with the Rape Crisis and was the director of Helpmate from 1982-1986. She worked with the YWCA and then served as Special Projects Manager with United Way until retiring.

Ellen Clarke started here in 1975 as the co-director of a then new program sponsored by ABCCM to bring adult education opportunities to inmates in jail. She was the founder of Women at Risk and was the Executive Director at Western Carolinians for Criminal Justice before retiring.

Jim Barrett has been the executive director of Pisgah Legal Services since 1993 and has served on the staff for more than 30 years.

Gaylen Ehrlichman is the Health Promotion Manager with the Buncombe County Department of Health.

Jeff Fobes, current publisher of Mountain Express, published its predecessor Green Line, which had its start with the Green Party of WNC.

John Hayes has been the President of Asheville NAACP since 1999 and is the President and CEO of WRES FM 100.7.

Deborah Miles is the current Director of Center for Diversity and was one of the original friends who founded Stone Soup.

Photographs and text for this blog taken from a scrapbook donated to the North Carolina Room by Dick and Mary Gilbert which includes a history of Stone Soup written by Dick Gilbert, MS227.

Asheville in the 1980s:  A  Formative Decade Told by Those Who Shaped It

Pack Memorial Library, Lord Auditorium, lower level

All programs are from 6:00pm to 7:30 pm

Programs are free and open to the public

Programs are sponsored by the Friends of the North Carolina Room

 The series continues with:

Wednesday July 27: Arts, Theater & Music. Moderators: Deborah Austin and Phyllis Lang

Wednesday August 31: Downtown Housing & the State of Buildings. Moderators: Kevan Frazier and Erin Derham

Wednesday September 28: Politics and Civic Engagement. Moderators: Leslie Anderson and Becky Anderson

 Post by Zoe Rhine, North Carolina Room Librarian


  1. I was Stone Soup’s very last customer. They closed the door behind me for the last time. Many doors of the old homey Asheville have since closed and I miss those days. Gone forever

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