Mars Hill shop offers a unique combo of organic food store, tea room
MARS HILL — Few businesses can offer their customers a smoothie bar, tea room and local health food store all in one store, but one business in Mars Hill does.
Michele Clark opened Wild Violet in February 2020 after purchasing the building in August 2019. The two-story building offers bulk natural foods and housewares, an herbal apothecary, as well as a juice, smoothie bar and vegan milk in its main building. Upstairs, his tea room and cafe are temporarily closed while Clark searches for more kitchen workers.
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“Our intention has been to acclimate staff to a smaller menu and then we’ll go from there,” Clark, 53, said.
Although there are many health-conscious grocery stores in Asheville, Madison County lacks these options. According to Clark, many residents strive to follow a healthy diet and seek healthy food options at Wild Violet.
“I feel like there’s an abundance of people in the community who have that attitude and interest (in eating healthy),” Clark said. “I feel like we’re probably one of the first stores to do what we do, to the extent that we do, and to be able to offer what we offer on such a purist level. We’re kind of sort of pioneer a bit.”
The Mars Hill community, in particular, has been receptive to Clark and the company, according to the owner.
“I think we’ve had a very positive reception,” she said. “Not a day goes by that at least one person doesn’t say, ‘Thank you so much for being here. Thanks for what you do. Its very important. The community seems very supportive of this vision – especially for having options in Mars Hill. I know Marshall has options that just weren’t available to people who are a little closer to Mars Hill.”
According to Clark’s daughter, Sydney Keating, who co-owns Wild Violet with her mother, the goal is to be a place where the community can connect.
“When we’re able to connect with that, it’s really nice to feel very involved,” Keating, 24, said.
Keating said she even received wedding gifts from Wild Violet clients after her spring wedding.
“I’ve received gifts from many of our customers,” Keating said. “I was like, ‘Wow. It’s like family. You really care about me.’ It was really nice, I felt very loved.
Vision of local suppliers, affordability/zero waste aspirations
The idea of starting a new business was a practical one, Clark said.
“It’s pretty much been my lifestyle for decades, and one thing I’ve recognized is that finding these options is really hard. It takes a lot of research,” Clark said. “So I recognized that I could provide a service to my community by making it easier to get here. Anything anyone might want to buy, they know will be the best. Everything here is organic.
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“These are the best options currently available – both in terms of what’s good for your body and what’s good for the environment. So I’m really happy to be able to provide this service to allow people to do what’s vision was to address all areas of health and wellness.”
This vision is to serve the community with organic, sustainable and local foods, products and gifts, in line with the company’s mission statement. Clark is proud to be the state’s first zero waste market.
“Our commitment is to sustainability, but it’s within our local community and our world,” Clark said. “We’re trying to create a space that really incorporates a lot of locals, because it’s eco-friendly, and we’re also keeping money in our community. We feel good about that — supporting local makers. There’s an abundance of local residents doing all sorts of good things, which is amazing. We’re lucky to live in the area we live for that. Probably 95% of our bath and body products are local We are really excited to be able to do this.”
Local vendors used by Wild Violet include Red Wing Farm, Sister of Mother Earth, Goddess Ghee, AppalaChai, Shanti Elixirs, Serotonin Ferments, Fermenti and a number of local honey vendors.
“If we can get it locally, we do,” Clark said. “I even specifically had items that I knew someone locally could probably make. I’m going to find them and ask them to do it. It makes me feel good that this is a collaboration that can exist I’ll find a local maker, they start making it, then they start selling it at their farmers markets, it’s really nice to have more local produce in the shopping options here.
According to Clark, Wild Violet aims to keep plastic out of its store as much as possible.
“I would say zero waste is more of an attitude than a goal,” she said. “No one ever truly does ‘zero waste’. But as long as that’s what we aspire to do, and every item we buy significantly reduces or even eliminates the use of plastic, then it’s fine. I do. at our company level, so a lot of the shelving we have is bought second-hand.”
Clark said while a high-quality product is important to her, providing access and affordability to her customers is even more important.
“I think I have things to offer Asheville residents that they don’t have a choice in Asheville,” Clark said. “I’m not sure there are too many places in Asheville that offer vegetarian and all-organic options. There may be a few, but not many.
“Honestly, there’s nothing like it in all of North Carolina. We’re the only people in North Carolina doing what we do — not just in this area.”
The owner said she’s very proud to call Wild Violet a “woman-owned business.” Her youngest daughter Sadie, 10, works with her and Keating, and both girls are heavily involved in store operations.
“It’s very special. There are many aspects that are really amazing (working with my daughters),” Clark said. “I support them, and they support me. I think you get a different level of support when it’s a family member, versus someone who may be here for a while, or maybe not. We’re really able to be there when they need it. Plus, they have great ideas. They’re kids who care about their own health. They care about the well-being of the planet.
“When I can spend that time with my daughters, I love it. I love the idea of them getting excited about the same things I am, and that we can share the vision together.
According to Clark, that excitement she and her daughters share is still as palpable today as it was when she opened the business in 2020.
“It’s always exciting,” she said. “I feel excited every time I look around and see it. We’re just at the forefront of Mars Hill really blooming.”
See the Wild Violet website here. Wild Violet is located at 14 North Main St. in Mars Hill.