Steeped in Charm

New coffeehouse in Horse Shoe exudes cozy ambience

Mei-Ling Varnell’s Hidden Trails makes Horse Shoe less … hidden.
Photo by Karin Strickland

People have it wrong about Horse Shoe, a hamlet wedged between Laurel Park and Brevard. The community’s name has nothing to do with equines and everything to do with a horseshoe-shaped bend in the French Broad River. And this tiny town on Highway 64 is waking up, thanks to Mei-Ling Varnell and her Hidden Trails Coffeehouse.

On October 1, Varnell opened her business in Horse Shoe Gap Village, a collection of old-timey buildings off Brevard Road. The village got its start several decades ago when former owner Doug Shipman improved the existing 1939 general store and started moving small structures — including a candy store originally located on Hebron Street in Hendersonville — to the premises. The property fell into disrepair until John Graziano, Shipman’s son-in-law, rehabbed the buildings and rented them out to antiques dealers, blacksmiths, jewelers, and other artisans.   

Photo by Karin Strickland

Hidden Trails is situated in a gingerbread-inspired cottage with board-and-batten siding and dusty-blue shutters. It’s the village’s only food-and-beverage option (the last café closed more than a decade ago), and the only true java shop for miles. 

“It’s a coffee desert,” says Varnell about the area. “There’s absolutely no coffee here unless you want to go to the gas station.”

Varnell noticed the paucity of espresso three years ago when she and her husband, Kevin, moved to Hendersonville from Florida. Varnell was teaching gymnastics before the two relocated and had never considered making lattes for a living. But after experiencing the charm of Horse Shoe Gap Village, about a mile away from her home, Varnell started daydreaming about opening a quaint coffeehouse.

It wouldn’t be easy, though. When Varnell first stepped into her soon-to-be business six months ago, it looked and smelled like a dilapidated storage shed. “I had this vision that other people didn’t see,” says Varnell, who worked with her family to transform the space into what now looks like a chic grandmother’s living room, complete with plushy antique furniture and funky windows.

Photo by Karin Strickland

Tucked into the far left corner of the building, the coffee bar serves up chocolate cherry scones, apple galettes, dark-chocolate buckwheat cookies, and other assorted pastries from Pullman Bread Co. in Hendersonville. As for drinks, guests can pick from several flavors of lemonade and more than 60 organic tea blends.

The showstopper, however, is freshly brewed coffee and espresso drinks made with beans from ShareWell Coffee Co. & Roastery, another Hendersonville business. Varnell partnered with ShareWell because their signature Mad Mountain Mama blend is the only coffee she can drink black. Plus, the local roaster was willing to teach her how to make the perfect cup.

“You can get a good bean but end up with a crappy cup of coffee if you don’t prepare it properly,” says Varnell. “An excellent grinder is key.”

Though Hidden Trails is fresh on the caffeine scene, it’s already attracting locals. After all, this coffee is arguably the best Horse Shoe has ever tasted. But Varnell has also created a charming ambience that elevates the roast, much like cream and sugar. 

Asked about her aesthetic, Varnell says, “A lot of people come in and say, ‘I’ve never seen a coffee place like this.’ That’s why I call it a coffeehouse and not a shop. It’s just cozier and more inviting.”

Hidden Trails Coffeehouse, 3630 Brevard Road, Hendersonville. Hours are Thursday through Monday, 9am-3pm. For more information, visit The coffeehouse can also be found on Facebook and Instagram. 

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