You never know when a random encounter with a stranger is going to turn into an enduring friendship. Such was the case with Ashleigh Parsons. We met her a few years ago at Individual Medley in Atwater Village, and instantly hit it off!
Ashleigh is part of the genius behind Alma Restaurant. She helped open the restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles in 2012, running front of house while chef Ari Taymor ran the kitchen. One of the first aspects that made us admire Ashleigh (besides her contagious smile and bright energy!) was her commitment to making Alma about more than just the food and dining experience. Her ambition and success in creating Alma Community Outreach to support the community in Los Angeles was inspiring to us, and something we hadn't seen before in the food & hospitality industry.
Not to mention, she has a Masters from Harvard and an incredible taste in wine. We couldn't wait for Ashleigh to try some Canyon Coffee, so we brought a bag of Chochajau to her super-charming Silver Lake apartment. Over black coffee, we caught up with Ashleigh and her dog, Sage:
Do you have a morning ritual?
Yes. My morning ritual is my most sacred time. I try to take it entirely for myself so I can feel rejuvenated and ready to approach the day. I live in Silver Lake so the reservoir is in walking distance. I wake up early and take my dog Sage for a walk. I leave my phone at home so I can simply prepare for the day, without distraction. After the walk, I make Canyon Coffee (!!!) with my V60 and take a shower. I love everything about this moment – the quiet of the early hours before the onslaught of emails, the smell of the fresh coffee grinding, the sound of a hot shower running. This hour and a half or so goes by quickly, but it allows me to prepare mentally and physically so I can approach the busy day with ease.
How do you like your coffee? How many cups do you have a day?
I’m V60 black coffee, always—unless I'm in Paris! Then I prefer espresso. I have one cup a day. I like the taste of coffee so much that at one point, last year, I was approaching two or three cups. But that amount of it left me jittery and lacking focus, so these days I stick to just one cup. If I'm on vacation, though, I’ll indulge in a second and allow the jitters to run through me!
What do you love about your home?
My studio in Silver Lake is small, but I love it. I moved here relatively soon after I moved to Los Angeles, although I did spend the first 4 months in an hilarious retro-styled basement over on Peru Street. A stray cat would always sneak into my room and it felt straight out of a scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Silver Lake suits me. I really enjoy the east side, it feels like a respite from the bustle of the city and I appreciate the quiet of the mornings.
What do you love about Los Angeles?
Los Angeles is the first city I’ve lived in that feels like home. I feel the most myself living here in this diverse, pulsing, vibrant city. There aren't many places in the world where you can be exactly who you are and feel at home.
Los Angeles has a way of accepting our quirky selves and I appreciate that very much.
Let’s talk about Alma! You and Ari started Alma from scratch in two weeks in 2012, earned Bon Appetit’s “Best New Restaurant in America” the next year, were forced to close in October 2015, relocated to The Standard in West Hollywood a little over a month later, and are still there today! (A) What have you learned from the whole experience, and (B) how have you managed to stay healthy and balanced through it all?
Ah, Alma downtown. To be honest, that experience felt so manic – the highs were incredible and the lows felt like a complete nightmare. Because of this experience, I learned to stay steady. My greatest challenge during those 3 years was to keep my balance—and I certainly lost it at times. Since Alma has closed, I think my focus has been on creating a life that feels steady and balanced, where I celebrate the simple pleasures, no matter how small.
Balance was key during this experience, and honestly the stress was so intense at times that it made me sick. The key to staying healthy was to develop a daily wellness ritual. Things like walking in the morning, acupuncture, cooking in the evening (often recipes from 101 cookbooks, our favorite!) and making time for friends. These rituals or practices allowed me to stay steady through the highs and lows that Alma created.
We love what you do with Alma Outreach. Can you tell us a little about what inspired that and what your vision is?
Thank you! My background is in psychology and education and I’ve always been inspired by the incredible Alice Waters. When I finished my masters in education at Harvard, I was bored by research and Ari was in the process of opening a restaurant. I told him I wanted to run operations and front of house—but only if we established an outreach program that would support the community in tandem with the restaurant. He agreed (obviously!) and that was the beginning of ACO.
Now 4 years in, ACO is supported by a beautiful community of activists. We provide a weekly wellness curriculum to 150 low-income students that includes cooking, urban farming and mindfulness. It has been very incredible to watch this program plant its roots and grow ,and it is because of the community that it is thriving today.
Why is it important to align business with social causes?
Businesses have a lot of power. A good or trendy business has the ability to shape the way consumers behave. This is huge, and I think we underestimate that power in our entrepreneurial world. If a successful business then pairs itself with a social cause, the impact can be global and has the potential to positively improve the lives of many.
I believe that all businesses should align themselves with a social cause.
What have you been reading lately?
Great question. I recently read a fiction novel called Sylvia by Leonard Michaels, which was beautifully written and fed my desire for good storytelling. It also pulled me to daydreaming about NYC in the 1960s.
I’m currently reading Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright, a memoir that came highly recommended by my circle of friends. This is an amazing book on the exploration and understanding of identity that I highly recommend to everyone.
What are your favorite coffee shops?
Also a great question! My favorite coffee is brewed at GGET. But my favorite spot is Blacktop. I love the wooden benches and the lack of pretense there. I also love to order a black coffee with their Topo Chico! The combination of perfectly carbonated bubbles with bitter black coffee makes me happy.
What’s one of your favorite places in the world? Why?
Paris and Sayulita.
I would like to live in Paris someday. The food scene is beyond anything that exists in this country in terms of quality, design and service. The museums are wonderfully inspiring and the physical city of Paris has a history and architecture that are unmatched here in the US.
I went to Sayulita for the first time in June. I traveled by myself and learned to surf. I only spent 4 days there but the quaintness of the little surf-town was dreamy. I’d like to go back next year.