A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

We’re an ice cream family. When I was a kid, our freezer was always stocked with two half-gallons — one of mint chocolate chip, my favorite, and one of chocolate,

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

We’re an ice cream family. When I was a kid, our freezer was always stocked with two half-gallons — one of mint chocolate chip, my favorite, and one of chocolate,

The Scoop on Ice Creamville

We’re an ice cream family.

When I was a kid, our freezer was always stocked with two half-gallons — one of mint chocolate chip, my favorite, and one of chocolate, my sister’s — plus a box of Ingles’ Laura Lynn-brand ice cream sandwiches for Dad. Ice cream before bed was part of our nightly ritual. The gravest of punishments: “No dessert tonight.”

When my sister and I were old enough to determine our own after-school snacks, the choice was simple: ice cream. And another bowl before bed. We’d go out for ice cream as a special treat: Straight A’s? Ice cream. Post-hike? Ice cream. Scored a goal in soccer? Ice cream.

You get the idea.

All of this to say: We love ice cream. So, too, it turns out, does my hometown of Hendersonville.

Coincidence? I think not.

Passing down a love for ice cream is easy in Henderson County, where more than a dozen shops ­— including Baabals — serve up cups, cones, and sundaes on the Hendersonville Ice Cream Trail. photograph by Tim Robison

In June 2023, the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority launched an ice cream trail to celebrate this favorite of summertime desserts. To be on the trail, a business must have a permanent location in the county and either make its ice cream from scratch in-house, offer more than 12 flavors, or make at least half of its income from ice cream sales. So far, 13 locations have earned the distinction.

So what is it about this area that makes so many people want to open an ice cream shop?

“It’s a family destination,” says Roy Dickerson, who owns and runs Baabals Ice Cream Shoppe & Family Grille out of a 1906 homestead in Fletcher. Henderson County attracts those looking for outdoor adventures and small-town mountain charm — both complemented well by ice cream in the afternoon.

Roy Dickerson outside of Baabals Ice Cream in Fletcher, NC

Roy Dickerson serves up happiness inside of his circa-1906 homestead. photograph by Tim Robison

Baabals is Dickerson’s retirement gig. He started the business in 2012 as a way to spend time with his own family while bringing joy to others. He created the name using the first initials of each of his children, his first grandchild, and his wife — “like a babbling brook, but spelled my way,” he says. Inside the historic house, customers choose from 36 flavors of Hershey’s ice cream. Then they bring their cones and cups onto the wide front porch, where rocking chairs and fresh mountain air lull them into blissful relaxation.

“I wanted to do something that had no stress and people were always happy with it, and ice cream kept coming to the forefront,” Dickerson says. “I sell happiness for a living.”

Kim Hogan and her kids, Austin and Maddie, bring the flavor of Kerry, Ireland, to the Ice Cream Trail with recipes born on the Emerald Isle, including Celtic Coffee and Irish Butter Pecan. photograph by Tim Robison

About 20 minutes south of Baabals, in Hendersonville’s Seventh Avenue District, another family business serves up happiness in the form of rich, creamy ice cream made from scratch. At Celtic Creamery, owner Kim Hogan and her kids make about 15 flavors using recipes handed down from a family friend in Ireland.

For Hogan, ice cream is all about nostalgia. “When you think of ice cream,” she says, “it just brings back memories of summer and family.” She remembers her grandparents hand-churning ice cream on their farm in Kansas, where the family would visit each year. They always ended their meal with ice cream, made with whatever fruit was in season.

• • •

Ice cream is multigenerational, bringing smiles to the faces of kids, parents, and grandparents alike. As much as Hendersonville is a popular destination for visitors, it’s also a place that attracts those looking to retire, or to settle down and raise kids — which is why my family moved to this area when my sister and I were toddlers. That blend of retirees and young families means that people are constantly looking for ways to connect over shared experiences, across generations.

“Maybe that’s why [there are so many ice cream shops here],” says Elaine Thompson, who co-owns Harry’s Grill and Piggy’s Ice Cream with her husband, Michael, “because ice cream is a good thing to do with your family.”

Serving up ice cream at the counter at Piggy's in Hendersonville, NC

For the past 45 years, countless memories have been made at Piggy’s ­— inspired by the shop’s eclectically decorated interior and exterior, as well as its dozens of ice cream choices. photograph by Tim Robison

Established in 1979, Piggy’s is one of Henderson County’s oldest ice cream shops. The Thompsons see evidence of the multigenerational joy of ice cream on a daily basis: Many customers visited for the first time as young campers in Hendersonville or nearby Brevard. Now, they bring their own children to Piggy’s for that sweet nostalgia.

“Some of our biggest days are the days that, like we always say, ‘everybody’s coming to visit Grandma and Grandpa,’ ” Elaine says — Labor Day weekend, which coincides with the weekend of the North Carolina Apple Festival; the Friday after Thanksgiving; Good Friday. “Everybody’s come in to visit their parents, and it’s a good place to bring a bunch of kids. Some of them remember coming as a kid.”

Hand holds a cone of ice cream outside of Piggy's in Hendersonville, NC

People recognize Piggy’s for the eclectic figurines adorning the roof. photograph by Tim Robison

I certainly remember: Piggy’s was my family’s ice cream shop of choice while I was growing up. We were drawn by the dozens of different flavors, along with the countless antiques and collectibles covering the walls, and the larger-than-life fiberglass figures on the roof. We never actually called Piggy’s or Harry’s by their names. It was always “the place with the animals on the roof,” said in one quick breath. We would take our cake cones — mint chocolate chip for me, chocolate for my sister — and search for interesting license plates or signs on the walls, or sit in the rocking chairs out front.

Maybe my family somehow knew, subconsciously, that Henderson County would become the unofficial ice cream capital of North Carolina. Or maybe all of those ice cream shops popped up because they knew that my family could single-handedly support their business if it came down to it.

What’s more likely, though, is that these business owners and their customers have figured out what my family has known all along, a sentiment summed up in the sign that hangs over the cash register at Baabals: “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy ice cream and that’s kind of the same thing.”

Taste the Trail: Visit these 13 locations on the Hendersonville Ice Cream Trail.

This story was published on Jun 18, 2024

Katie King

Katie King is a managing editor at Our State.