Former UNC Asheville men's soccer player Greg Garrison wasn't sure where he wanted to go to school when he was a senior in high school.
However, his decision quickly changed as he came into Asheville on a recruiting trip and experienced his first view of the mountains that surround the city.
That decision was made 13 years ago and he's never left. He enjoyed a solid career for the Bulldogs, worked as an assistant coach for both Asheville soccer teams for several years and then went into business. He and his wife, Ashley, own the most popular ice cream stores in Asheville - The Hop.
"I wasn't sure where I wanted to go to school. I really had no idea," commented Garrison recently. "My family was living in Texas and we decided to check out Davidson, Winthrop and UNC Asheville.
"We were coming from Davidson and it was nice. And then we were on our way to Asheville as we came down the mountain on I-40 from Old Fort. I looked at those mountains and just fell in love with this area. Right away, this is where I wanted to go," declared Garrison. "And I haven't left since."
Greg enjoyed a fine career at UNC Asheville as he was a four-year letterman from 2000-2003. He was one of the top midfielders in the Big South Conference during his tenure as he earned first-team all-conference honors as a sophomore. The Texas native finished his career with 11 goals and 8 assists for 30 points. His top year was his sophomore campaign when he scored five goals and added two assists to help lead the Bulldogs to the 2001 Big South regular-season championship.
The 2001 season was a special one for Asheville. The Dogs were picked last but fooled the experts with a regular-season title that included wins over league powers Coastal Carolina and Liberty and non-conference opponent Evansville.
"I had a great time my entire playing career, but the 2001 season was special," admitted Garrison. "That season was a true team effort with everyone contributing. I was fortunate enough to score some goals and contribute a little bit.
"And that season has stayed with me in the business world. When everyone contributes and you play like a team, you get success whether you're on the soccer field or working in an ice cream shop."
Greg's last year of playing was the 2003 season. He still had some work to do to get his degree in mathematics. Former Bulldog women's coach Michele Cornish talked to him about helping coach her team.
"Michele asked me if I would help in the spring of 2004," stated Garrison. "I was able to do that and really enjoyed coaching. Luckily for me, Steve Cornish (men's coach) asked me to help with the men, as well. So I was able to finish up my degree while helping coach both teams. It was a wonderful experience, and I was lucky to have the opportunity to coach those teams."
Greg went from being a part-time student assistant to a full-time assistant after he graduated. In 2006, he got to be a part of another championship. The women's team, which had come close to winning titles in 2003, 2004 and 2005, broke through and claimed the Big South Tournament title. The fifth-seeded Bulldogs knocked off three teams that they had lost to during the regular season. In the championship match, Asheville had to face a high-scoring Liberty squad. The match would remain scoreless until penalty kicks. A young Bulldog team would make big kick after big kick to win, 4-2, and become the first women's team at UNC Asheville to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Six years later, Greg still gets excited talking about the day the Bulldogs won the championship.
"The 2006 team was special like our 2001 men's team," commented Garrison. "We had graduated some pretty good players from the year before, but we really came together late in the season.
"I remember the day we won the championship very well," added Garrison. "When we scored the final goal in the PKs, I was the first one on the field to celebrate. What a great memory."
Greg began his foray into the ice cream business after the 2003 season. His girlfriend at the time, Ashley, got a job at The Hop and helped get Greg on board, as well.
"I started working at The Hop after Ashley had a job there," said Garrison. "I worked for a while before I got into coaching. It was hard to both after a while so I had to give up working at The Hop. However, Ashley stayed on and became a manager and became very close to the owners.
Ashley and Greg were married in the spring of 2005. As his coaching career was blossoming, an opportunity arose in 2007.
"Kelly and Rusty Bell owed The Hop and wanted to sell. We decided we wanted to buy the store," declared Garrison. "Both Ashley and I loved Asheville and didn't want to leave. We wanted to live in Asheville.
"It was really an easy decision for us to go forward with trying to buy the business," added Garrison. "Ashley has been running the store for a number of years anyway. She knew what to do and we were both confident we could pull it off.
"The loan process was the toughest. It took eight months and it was right before the recession hit," Garrison also said. "We were one of the last people in the country to get a Small Business Loan."
Greg and Ashley quickly dived into the job as business owners. Greg was also coaching both Bulldog soccer teams, which came in handy with the new business.
"We survived the recession and came out pretty good," declared Garrison. "My coaching background really helps me all the time in the business. I'm the head coach and I have 15 to 20 employees, who are like our players."
Owning a business is something that takes up a lot of time.
"You're on call 24 hours, seven days a week," admitted Garrison. "You have to be ready at all times to leave and take care of something if someone doesn't show up to work or something goes wrong. The business needs attention all the time."
Greg and his wife wouldn't have it any other way.
"On the plus side, we really get to enjoy all of our successes," he said.
In 2010, Steve and Michele Cornish left their positions at UNC Asheville to move to Minnesota and work at Shattuck St. Mary's Two new coaches would be hired, and it was at this time Greg decided to leave coaching.
"It was a tough decision to get out of coaching, but when Steve and Michele left that just seemed to be the time to do it," said Garrison.
The Hop is located at 640 Merrimon Ave., not too far from the UNC Asheville campus. Though Garrison is no longer coaching Bulldog soccer teams, he is still part of the Asheville campus.
"I'm on campus every chance I get. I tutor in the math lab a few days a week and when something is going on campus, if we can get The Hop there, we're there," explained Garrison.
"We try to be a presence on campus because we're so close," added Garrison. "It's been fun working the basketball games at Kimmel Arena and getting to know the students on campus when we're there for other events.
"I loved my time at UNC Asheville both as a student and as a coach. And with this job, I still get to spend plenty of time there."
The Hop has become a fixture at UNC Asheville events and in Asheville. And just a few years after acquiring The Hop, Greg and Ashley decided to expand. They opened a store in West Asheville on Haywood Road.
"It was just a perfect situation. The store was in the heart of West Asheville. We knew the people who owned the store and decided to go for it," explained Garrison. "Ashley and I are opportunists, and this just worked out perfectly."
Greg believes that two stores are plenty.
"We're not looking to expand," stated Garrison. "Two stores are more than enough to keep us busy. We want to make both of those stores as good as we can make them. You start adding a few more and that might be a little more difficult.
"And we don't want to expand out of Asheville," he added. "We love Asheville. That's where we want to live and work forever."