A 12-year veteran of her profession, Amy Hobson doesn't miss a beat when asked a perennial question. "Basically, an aesthetician is someone who does not only facials, but every aspect of skin care," she explains.
The skin-care diva emphasizes a natural approach that incorporates ayurvedic traditions. (And if that weren't impressive enough, Hobson also holds a doctorate in naturopathy.)
Before moving to Asheville nearly a year ago, Hobson divided her time between Vrindaban, India, and a spiritual community near Wheeling, W.Va., where she served as lead aesthetician at the on-site spa.
Now that she's out in the world, however, Hobson allows herself the same boost that perks up a lot of drooping faces around town: a steaming cup of java.
You can contact Amy Hobson by calling 667-4176. -- TR
Possessing both elegance and efficiency -- a rarity in any profession -- Kathy Taylor adds her signature flair to the Charlotte Street Pub while keeping her many regular customers happy.
Xpress readers have repeatedly voted Taylor as Best Bartender over the years, though she was, in fact, promoted to bar manager several years ago. Titles aside, however, in her 17 years at the comfy neighborhood pub, she's taken her job to the level of fine art.
Of course, Taylor knows what brew you'll have. Of course, it will be delivered with trademark charm. Of course, she will good-naturedly call you and your drinking buddies "babies."
Asked how she keeps everyone's favorite drinks in her head, the modest Taylor will say only this: "I'm blessed with a good memory. It's just a gift."
We'll drink to that. -- TR
Kathy Taylor serves 'em up at the Charlotte Street Pub, 157 Charlotte St., Asheville, 252-2948.
It's little wonder that man's best friend heads the list of critters lovingly cared for at Top Dog Kennels.
But Top Dog also looks after cats, as well as the occasional cockatiel, owner Nick Frost reveals. He's even boarded a pot-bellied pig or two in his time.
"We draw the line at snakes," Frost reports, only half joking.
Top Dog boasts 45 dog runs and offers boarding and grooming services for dogs and cats (plus basic obedience training for dogs).
"[Cats] train you, don't they?" quips Frost.
A love of dogs led Frost to the kennel business back in his native England. Eight years ago, he jumped into Top Dog, though he's careful to recognize the efforts of manager Kim Austin and his other employees. "It's very much a team effort on everybody's part," Frost insists. -- TR
Top Dog Kennels
680 Old U.S. Highway 70, Swannanoa
Toney Vance has been working on equipment nearly all his life.
The West Virginia native first followed in his father's footsteps as a coal miner, but he realized there wasn't much of a future in the mines. Vance's knowledge of mining equipment, however, translated into construction-equipment-related jobs in Florida and Texas.
After moving to Asheville, he struck out on his own, opening Toney's Car & Truck Repair in 1994. Three years later, Jeff Edwards joined the shop, which fixes "just about anything" on both foreign and domestic models. That includes timing belts, brakes, shocks, electrical components, fuel-injection systems, engines, head gaskets and clutches -- as well as doing tune-ups and oil changes.
"You really need to take care of the people and the people will take care of you," Edwards observes. -- TR
Toney's Car & Truck Repair
97-1/2 S. Lexington Ave., Asheville
With her blinding smile and easy laugh, it's easy to see why Marlene Clevenger ranks so highly among patrons of Jewels That Dance.
A native of Asheville ("one of the very few," she observes), Clevenger works behind the counter -- and behind the scenes -- to manage the downtown Asheville jewelry emporium (which also scored a win in its own right for Best Jewelry Store) and create a light, welcoming atmosphere.
"We laugh a lot in here," declares the 10-year veteran of the shop.
The jewelry maven admits that she's great at remembering names. She also takes the time to get to know her customers -- and listen to their stories.
"She's got a lot of energy," reports co-worker Becky Ayers, musing, "Marlene's just so nurturing -- she carries everybody's weight on her shoulders."
An honorable mention goes to the cheerful Sterling Belsito of the Province 620 Restaurant, who also garnered reader praise. -- TR
Glimpse Marlene Clevenger's smiling face at Jewels That Dance, 63 Haywood St., Asheville, 254-5088. Sterling Belsito can be found at the Province 620 Restaurant, 620 Hendersonville Road, Asheville, 277-0355.
When Rebecca Alexander was logging 60 hours a week in restaurant management, she decided to hire a cleaning service to give herself more time with her husband and two young sons. But she couldn't seem to find one that offered the personal touch she wanted along with the security provided by a franchise.
And so Upstairs Downstairs was born.
Her 5-year-old business (which specializes in residential cleaning) thoroughly screens its employees -- and also strives to successfully match workers and clients, who are mostly retirees or two-income couples with children.
Alexander betrays a passion for creating order out of chaos -- as well as providing a good working environment for her staff of eight.
"It's all about balance," Alexander declares. "As long as the quality's there for everybody, the reward usually comes along with that." -- TR
44 Merrimon Ave., Asheville
When I reach Greg Mayer, he's troubleshooting his way through a modern-day crisis: a pernicious "worm" is attacking computers worldwide -- including those of his customers in Western North Carolina.
At such times, people like Mayer prove indispensable to the PC-dependent masses. His Charlotte Street Computers focuses mainly on personal-computer repair.
Mayer's education was in computer networking. After leaving the classroom, however, he realized that before he could network a computer, it usually needed to be repaired. Subsequent work in computer-repair shops in Waynesville prompted him to open his own establishment in July 2002.
"I've made a lot of customers really happy," says Mayer. And if anybody doubts his words, get this: "They bake me brownies and cupcakes and cookies," he reveals. -- TR
Charlotte Street Computers
195 Charlotte St., Asheville
After 25 years in the business, J. Sherman has learned that a hair stylist needs to listen to his clients -- and understand what they really mean.
Sometimes, customers want Sherman to give them a reality check on a particular style. He's also learned that "short" doesn't mean the same thing to all people.
Sherman hails from a family of South Dakota "hair people," he reveals (including his father, mother, three sisters and even his son). After a stint in the Marine Corps, he decided to follow in the family tradition. An eight-year Asheville resident, the hair guru opened his own shop, Muse Hair Studio, last September.
"The bottom line: I'm really passionate about hair," proclaims Sherman. "That's why I named my salon Muse. Because Muse is a passion." -- TR
Find J. Sherman at Muse Hair Studio in the Haywood Park atrium, 46 Haywood St., Asheville, 225-7777.
The medicinal and culinary herbs Dianna Lee offers at the Grove Arcade may be the most visible evidence of her devotion to the healing arts. But that's hardly the full extent of her work.
A practicing herbalist and iridologist for 15 years, Lee notes that she also specializes in cranialsacral therapy and energy integration. In a prior career, she worked as a lay midwife in Spruce Pine and in northern New Hampshire. And in her newest endeavor, Lee plans to facilitate workshops at the Water Rock Gardens Retreat Center in Cherokee.
"We can only heal the planet by each one of us doing our own healing," muses Lee. "It's only illusion that we're separate, anyway."
And speaking of healing, Xpress readers created a stunning three-way tie for honorable mention in this category -- a pair of acupuncturists (Cissy Majebe and Susan Paul) finishing in a dead heat with Jesus. -- TR
Dianna Lee can be found at Wickets and The Spice of Life in the Grove Arcade, 1 Page Ave., Asheville, 254-3127. Reach Cissy Majebe, O.M.D., at the Chinese Acupuncture & Herbology Clinic, 369 Montford Ave., Asheville, 258-9016. Susan Paul (who's also a registered nurse) works at Asheville Family Acupuncture, 70 Woodfin Place. Suite 307, Asheville, 236-1704. As for Jesus ... well, you probably don't need any help from Xpress on that one.
In a warm, Swiss-German accent, Arthur Schiess says he tries to listen to what a client's body tells him about how best to release the tension.
Schiess studied massage techniques in his native Switzerland and then at the Esalen Institute in California. He uses the Esalen massage (which emphasizes relaxation) as his framework, then focuses on whatever part of the body needs attention.
"I really respect the body," Schiess explains. "I think there's a lot of wisdom in our bodies."
A number of Xpress readers also cast votes for Sensibilities as the best place to get a massage (though this was not an actual category). One blissed-out soul even declared that "anybody at Sensibilities" should get the nod. -- TR
Arthur Schiess can be found at The Haven, 141 Merrimon Ave., Asheville, 777-3622. Sensibilities Natural Body Care and Day Spa, 59 Haywood St., Asheville, 253-3222.
A mere five points separated the first, second and third-place finishers in this category: Justin Kaiser scraped out a narrow win as Best Pet Sitter, with Caren Harris right on his tail (a mere two points behind). Carol Houghton came within scratching distance of Harris in a strong third-place showing. Unfortunately, both Kaiser and Houghton evaded Xpress' best efforts to track them down. Caren Harris, however, proved to be a mere barkandcall.com away: "[My] clients know how much I care, because they come home to happy pets," she told Xpress. Since her teen years, Harris has cleaned kennels, provided therapy on horseback, and served as an animal humane officer. "Animals have always been there for me, and this is my way of giving back," she reveals. -- MW
Before "merger" became a household word, two Asheville real-estate agencies -- Beverly Realty and W. Neal Hanks and Associates -- joined forces back in 1976. Nearly 30 years later, Beverly-Hanks & Associates is ranked among the top seven real-estate firms in the state and the top 250 nationwide. Like so many of our Best Of winners, though, it's still a family affair, locally owned and operated -- Neal Hanks Jr. runs the place, and George Beverly serves as secretary/treasurer.
Another favorite with Xpress readers is Appalachian Realty, which nipped at the big guys' heels in the bidding contest. Between them, they've got the market cornered. -- MW
Beverly-Hanks & Associates
300 Executive Park, Asheville
1940 Hendersonville Road, Arden
Appalachian Realty Associates
23 Arlington St., Asheville
Trevi Pasta Seafood & Pizza has been grabbing some portion of our dining crown for years -- Best Italian, Best Chef (or was that sexiest chef?), you name it. This year, the spotlight shines on staffer Bob Clausen, who collected Best Restaurant Server honors. A co-worker joked that the Chicago native is slick, getting customers to vote for him ... or maybe it's his savvy as a communications major. But seriously, Clausen has been serving diners at Trevi for two-and-a-half years. He's personable, attentive and makes the wine list sing. But going apron to apron with our man Bob is Molly Allen of the Province 620 Restaurant. Guess you'll just have to whet your appetite and go see both of them in action. -- MW
Bob Clausen, at your service at Trevi, 2 Hendersonville Road, Asheville, 281-1400. Catch Molly Allen at the Province 620 Restaurant, 620 Hendersonville Road, Asheville, 277-0355.
There's something special about Asheville: Even as we rack up the big-city amenities, we keep attracting people who appreciate (and actively support) that friendly, small-town feel. Like when the folks you do business with actually remember your name, for instance. Dr. Michelle Richardson figures that might be one reason Xpress readers picked the Charlotte Street Animal Hospital as Best Veterinarian. She and husband Mark Ledyard founded the clinic in 1998, not long after they both graduated from the University of Tennessee. Ledyard worked in Hickory while Richardson finished school, and throughout all the travel it took for them to get together during that period, "We just kept finding ourselves in Asheville," she recalls. Their clinic has grown like a litter of puppies ever since, and Richardson credits their success to "a great support staff ... good quality veterinarian care ... and making the effort to communicate with our clients. We still recognize people when they come through the door." -- MW
Charlotte Street Animal Hospital
180 Charlotte St., Asheville
What do pharmacy and yoga have in common? Cindy Dollar, this year's winner for Best Yoga Instructor. With a background in both Western and Eastern healing traditions, Dollar says that "yoga feeds my soul on many levels." Besides the physical side (improved health and flexibility), there's the mental and emotional side (feeling more peaceful and more accepting), she explains. Dollar has been teaching since 1985, showing folks of all ages and fitness levels "how to lead more open and flexible lives through the practice of yoga." She practices and teaches Iyengar yoga, a system that's "quite precise about body alignment" but that lets students use props: "If you can't extend your arm and touch your toes, you can use a strap," she says by way of example. Dollar also notes that Asheville has no shortage of good yoga instructors, and Xpress readers attest to that: Fewer than four votes separated Dollar from the No. 2 picks in this category: Lillah Schwartz of Lighten Up! Yoga Center and Barbara Hall of Asheville Yoga Center. -- MW
191 Murdock Ave., Asheville
Lighten Up! Yoga Center
60 Biltmore Ave., Asheville
Asheville Yoga Center
239 S. Liberty St., Asheville
Sure, Asheville is an artists' haven. But how many of them can boast of having had their work profiled in at least six national magazines over the past two years? Heather Lindemuth and Zoe DiMiceli can. The two women (who own and operate Man's Ruin Tattoo and Piercing) are the studio's resident tattoo and piercing Picassos, respectively, and their stellar reputation is now spreading coast to coast. With full-color spreads in such glossies as Skin and Ink, Tattoo Planet and Prick Magazine, Lindemuth and DiMiceli are making their mark (as they say) in the world of ink and surgical steel. "We've got customers -- men and women -- coming from Tennessee and Georgia, and we just got off the phone with a woman in Washington state who wants to come to Asheville just to be tattooed by Heather," DiMiceli noted in a recent interview. Lindemuth, like any artist worth her weight in ink, maintains that a tattoo from Man's Ruin is well worth the money: "Good work isn't cheap, and cheap work isn't good."
And according to Xpress readers, Man's Ruin is as good as it gets. -- BS
Man's Ruin Tattoo and Piercing
857 Merrimon Ave., Asheville