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Loretta’s Cafe, legendary Asheville sandwich spot, to close this month

Loretta's Cafe announced its last day will be July 26.
Photo by Laura Hackett
Loretta's Cafe announced its last day will be July 26.

A 26-year-old sandwich shop in downtown Asheville has announced it will close at the end of the month.

The last day of service for Loretta’s Cafe will be July 26, the restaurant shared in an Instagram post. Loretta Woolley, the restaurant’s owner and namesake, said the decision to close the beloved sandwich shop was tough.

“It’s very bittersweet, very emotional, very angst-producing,” she told BPR in a phone interview Wednesday. “It's been some great years and it's just time to move on. It's time for me to retire.”

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Woolley originally opened the shop in 1998 on Patton Avenue, back when Asheville was a much quieter place and there were only a few places downtown to eat lunch.

“It had no AC. It was 13 feet at its widest and 75 feet. So it was elbows to elbows, but it was a really sweet spot and it was one of my favorite jobs of my entire life,” she recalled.

“It was much more intimate. It was bustling. Downtown was pretty quiet at that time and so lunch was a needed thing.”

In 2010, Loretta’s moved to its current location, a three-story building on Lexington Avenue. The building, owned by Woolley, is listed for sale at $2.9 million.

One of Loretta’s main goals as a restaurant has been to provide locals with something “fresh, fast and affordable,” Woolley said. She and her husband, David Pizzolatto, never had children, so Loretta’s was their way of pouring out to the community, she explained. “I’ve loved meeting people. I'm a pretty shy person. So I'm not great with the public. But if I have a task, I'm okay with it.”

The Loretta's Cafe building is listed for sale at $2.9 million.
Photo by Laura Hackett
The Loretta's Cafe building is listed for sale at $2.9 million.

The restaurant never advertised, relying on word-of-mouth recommendations, she said.

One of Loretta’s star menu items is the Heartbreaker, a toasted wheat bread sandwich stuffed to the brim with homemade chicken salad, bacon and provolone cheese.

Woolley, a vegetarian, said she doesn’t know how the sandwich came about, but her theory is that it’s a tongue-in-cheek joke about her vegetarianism. “Like, okay, this is gonna break your heart, here’s adding some bacon to it.”

There is one silver lining for the chicken salad fanatics: store manager Marisa Hamilton said she plans to share the recipe this month.

Other Loretta’s favorites include the Cajun BLT and the chorizo corn chowder. The menu also includes homemade soup, salads and a creative spread of vegetarian sandwiches, including a cashew and green olive sandwich and tempeh reuben.

While the menu has remained relatively the same, the business climate for restaurants has changed quite a lot, Hamilton shared.

“She's kind of had a hard year this year with business levels dropping, not making as much money to keep it open,” Hamilton said. “When she opened in ‘97 or ‘98, there were three restaurants downtown. So now there's quite a bit of competition.”

The community has been pretty distraught over it, according to Hamilton.

“They seemed pretty disappointed. There's a lot of people we get in here every single day of the same people that come in and get sandwiches for their lunch.”

Asheville resident Jesse Boeckermann has been eating at Loretta’s on a regular basis for the last five years.

“It's just really sad to see one of our go-to places go away. We're five minutes away, the selection that they have, the quality of food that they have here and just the service. It's a blessing in this community and I'm very sad that it's going to be leaving,” he said.

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.
Jose Sandoval is the afternoon host and reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio.