On a recent September morning at a cozy market nestled in the River Arts District, chef Ashley Capps gives her baby girl a bottle while her husband Chef Travis Shultz brews a fresh pot of coffee. The front door is open to let in the fall sunshine, and soon the first customer slips in for a cuppa joe and some morning chatter. Wylie, Ashley’s nine-month-old, who has sweet blue eyes and cheeks like apple muffins, is soon crawling around as Mama prepares for a photo shoot with the reporter.
It’s been one year since Newstock Pantry, an upscale market located in the River Arts district opened its doors, and the small business has quickly become a beloved hub of the surrounding arts community. Offering everything from scratch-made pantry staples like salad dressing and Worcestershire sauce, to fresh and frozen entrees like eggplant parmesan and sausage-stuffed peppers, Newstock has worked its way into the hearts and kitchens of Asheville foodies who appreciate their mix of house-made and local farm-made goods.
A customer surveying the pristine shelves stocked with locally sourced tomato sauce and pickles and the smiling woman with an apron tied around her waist, and baby on her hip, may get the feeling like they’re in a Lifetime movie. But Ashley openly shares a different story. The 39-year-old, who graduated A-B Tech’s Baking and Pastry program in 2004, admits that juggling first-time motherhood with starting a first-time business has come with an unexpected challenge. “I haven’t slept for six months,” she says, explaining that these days Wylie rarely lets Mom and Dad sleep a full night. “I thought that being a mom would be easy because I had worked as a line cook and was a good multitasker. Then I had a baby. And now I want to high-five every single mom.”
In 2019, Ashley and Travis launched Newstock as a high-quality dinner delivery experience.” The couple rented a commercial kitchen where they prepared fifty meals a week and delivered them within the local community. At that time Ashley was eight months pregnant. She smiles when she recalls what it was like to move around the kitchen with her burgeoning belly. “Being pregnant was hard for me,” she says. “I was used to being quick in the kitchen; I like to move. I worked up till a week before I had [the baby] because we needed the money.”
In 2022 the couple launched their brick-and-mortar space. Ashley, who was nominated in 2019 for a James Beard award for her pastry-making, says that she had ideas about what the shop would look like based on what she’d learned in a professional culinary program. These ideas included a gleaming space, a buttoned-up chef in a white jacket, and pristine equipment. When Wylie was born, her world changed overnight. “I thought to myself I will never have a Pack ‘n Play in this place; I won’t breastfeed. In my mind a baby doesn’t belong in the workplace,” she says, adding. “But that didn’t last.”
With only one employee at Newstock to run the front-of-house, Ashley and Travis do all the cooking and meal deliveries themselves. They choose not to bring Wylie to daycare as they’re focused on remaining debt-free and living within their budget. This translates to a homier environment- that includes a Pack ‘n Play tucked behind the counter and a baby who sometimes requires breastfeeding while Ashley is ringing in a customer.
Ashley has learned to embrace this new reality. Newstock, she says, has often been compared to a European market where Mom, Dad, and children live their lives amidst the day-to-day business. And the artists in the River Arts district seem to come just as much to see her fledgling family as they do to buy food. “They ask to hold [Wylie], talk to her, and play with her while I’m finishing a task,” Ashley says. “I didn’t realize how helpful this would be even for a few minutes. She’s a very happy kid and seems to enjoy the social environment.”
Hearing what Ashley is up to these days, it’s clear the pretty North Carolina native has regained her pre-natal speed in and out of the kitchen. With more than twenty years of experience working as a pastry chef in North Carolina and New York, including Buxton Hall BBQ, Ashley is mostly focused on cooking savory food alongside her husband.
When asked why she’s chosen to step back from full-time baking, Ashley says it meant a lot to be able to cook with her partner. “Travis is a cook, and we wanted a business we could share,” she says. “We wanted to offer labor-intensive pantry staples that are building blocks of a restaurant so people could have that at home.”
Along with cooking, running a business, and being a mom, Ashley will soon add teaching to the mix. Having taught at A-B Tech for several years in the pastry department, she’s now launching a new series of classes at Newstock on Sunday afternoons that include a pie-baking class and one on croissants and layered pastries. She hopes to also offer classes taught by other local chefs and farmers in the community.
While she’s picked up much of her culinary experience on the job, Ashley credits A-B Tech’s pastry program for giving her a much-needed foundation that she draws upon still. “[It gave me] the confidence to try new things,” she says. “I think fondly of the instructors I learned from and worked with because it became a model for the crews I like to work with.”
The community focus that lies at the core of A-B Tech’s classrooms, Ashley notes, is the same one she strives for in her business, in the locally sourced products she sells and the food and atmosphere she has created. True, she does not have the pristine business once imagined, but Ashley is content to have joy and challenge, family and business woven together like crust atop an apple pie.“I still make time to go into the kitchen and put on an apron,” she says. “It’s my happy place. [And] We made it a year. With a newborn. And we are still smiling and love what we do…”
Learn about A-B Tech’s culinary programs at Culinary Arts and Hospitality.