New owners don't want to change a thing about Veranda Cafe & Gifts

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
From left to right: Kathryn and Ray Nightingale and Eric and Kathy Robinson took over as owners of the Veranda Cafe & Gifts on June 5.

Many factors have established The Veranda Cafe and Gifts as a favorite lunch destination in downtown Black Mountain. 

There is the quaint atmosphere punctuated by colorful umbrellas adorning one of the exposed brick walls in the historic building on Cherry Street. A menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, desserts and more features dishes beloved by regular customers, who consist of a mixture of locals and repeat seasonal visitors alike. 

The new owners don’t want to change a thing. 

The Veranda opened primarily as a gift shop in 1996 in the space occupied by the popular music venue McDibbs. The business changed hands and shifted its focus as a brunchery in 2000, when it was purchased by Jeff and Palette Butler. On June 5, the Butlers sold the business to Ray and Kathryn Nightingale and Eric and Kathy Robinson. 

“It’s kind of hard to fill their shoes,” said Kathy of the previous owners.

“They did a fantastic job here for 19 years,” said Eric, who runs the kitchen with his wife. “But I think they were ready for their next thing, just like we were ready for ours.”

Both couples have lived in Black Mountain for over a decade. Eric and Ray met through the Watershed Soccer Club and recently conversations between the longtime friends began to develop a theme. 

“Eric and I had been looking at different opportunities,” said Ray, who has operated his own information technology company, Grey Eagle IT, since 2009. “I was looking for something that I could give a little more of my time and energy to.”

Eric worked at My Father’s Pizza over two decades.

“Kathy and I owned our own restaurants before we had children and put that aside to raise our family,” he said. “We hadn’t worked together in a long time and it was time for us to do something together.”

Ray’s business background and the kitchen experience of the Robinsons felt like the right mixture of skills to operate a restaurant. 

“The other part to it was that we all love Black Mountain,” Kathryn said. “Ray and I met here, moved to England, and always knew we’d be back here. It’s always been our goal to put down roots here, and this was another way of doing that.”

The group contemplated the idea of opening a new restaurant, but when Eric learned the Veranda was available they were intrigued. 

“Fifteen years ago I looked over here one day and saw Jeff and Palette working in this building and thought ‘that’s what I want to do,’” Eric said. “I wanted to run my own restaurant that serves really good lunch and has the kind of environment you can go have fun with your family.”

Not a lot has changed in the Veranda Cafe & Gifts on Cherry Street after new owners Ray and Kathryn Nightingale, left, and Kathy and Eric Robinson took over last month.

The opportunity was “perfect,” Kathy added.

“The community loves the Veranda,” Kathryn said. “We really want to build onto what is already here.”

The menu was refreshed, according to Kathryn, but nothing was changed.

“We’ve tried different specials lately and introduced a few new soups,” Ray said. “But we have things on the menu here that people have always loved, and we don’t want to change any of that.”

Eric and Kathy cooked up bangers and mash, a traditional British dish consisting of sausages and mashed potatoes, in honor of Ray’s birthday. 

“I’d never cooked that before,” said Kathy, who trained for two weeks under the previous owners before the sale of the restaurant was final. “It’s a lot of fun to get to try new things in the kitchen.”

Many of the soups, which are a signature item for the restaurant, are identical to the ones created by Palette, Kathy said. 

“But a lot of her soups she created herself,” Kathy said. “She was very creative in the kitchen so it’s not easy to make everything exactly the same.”

The food isn’t the only thing that continued to look familiar under the direction of the new owners. 

“We’ve kept over 90 percent of the staff,” Ray said. “We have four people in the kitchen everyday, a dishwasher who has been here under all three owners and we have an excellent wait staff.”

Linda Swaty, a familiar face to Veranda regulars, is still operating the cashier at the front of the business. 

“She knows everyone and everyone knows her,” Kathryn said. “The first time I hosted, the first customer in had been out in the rain and when she came in she was cold and Linda went and got her a blanket. She treats everyone like family.”

Family is actually another theme under the new owners. Three Robinson offspring and the Nightingale’s son work at the Veranda. 

“We’re all having so much fun,” Kathy said. “I think this move has really kind of energized us all.”

Her husband calls buying the Veranda the best decision he’s ever made. 

“I’ve worked in this business forever, and right here in this town for a long time,” Kathy added. “It gives me a real sense of pride when people come in and ask me if I’m working at the Veranda now and I get to tell them I own it with my husband and our friends.”

The biggest change the owners have made since taking over is giving the public more opportunity to eat lunch. 

“We decided quickly we were going to start opening on Sunday,” Eric said. “That’s really the biggest change we’ve made and so far people are really happy about that.”