Ashley Christensen

Forging a Foodie City

In December 2022/January 2023, Eat by Melissa HowsamLeave a Comment

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In 15 years, Poole’s has recast the Raleigh culinary landscape.

A “modern diner with reimagined comfort food,” Poole’s elevated more than our palates when it splashed on the scene 15 years ago on a sleepy section of McDowell Street. With its Southern staples (nod to that coveted mac and cheese—aka crackaroni!), craft cocktails and rotating seasonal dishes chalked up on the signature chalkboard, Poole’s easily put Raleigh on the map as a dining destination. And landed Raleigh its first (and only) Beard chef—and now 2x winner as 2014 Best Chef Southeast and 2019 Outstanding Chef—in the top toque behind it all, Ashley Christensen. 

Since its inception, Poole’s has unequivocally evolved and elevated the local culinary landscape. Christensen and Poole’s are now surrounded by a celebrated cast of epicurean greats who rival some of the best chefs and restaurants in the country—as, all the while, Christensen’s star has skyrocketed. 

But to put it all in context, accomplishing 15 years with one restaurant alone is no small feat—never mind the Poole’s proprietor’s business boom. Roughly 60% of restaurants fail in their first year alone, according to the National Restaurant Association, and 80% within five years. 

The magnitude of Poole’s success isn’t something Christensen takes lightly. “It means so many things, many of which I am still processing daily,” she says. “First, it means our team created something that has stood the test of time—and a pandemic. This is thanks to 15 years of amazing contributors and an incredible community of supporters who have grown with us. Fifteen years under our belts reminds me of the importance of continuing to learn and grow with the world, and to remember that change is not failure, it is evolution.” 

So, on Dec. 13, to commemorate a benchmark 15 years, Christensen and her team will spend the evening cooking a special dinner at Poole’s to benefit the Shepherd’s Table Soup Kitchen of Raleigh. A fitting fete, as arguably the chef’s recipe for success is her community engagement, both in her dedication to the city she feeds—body and soul—and in her direct mentorship of her peers. Over the last decade-and-a-half, some of those “contributors” to whom Christensen nods are part of a powerhouse pool of Poole’s talent whom she has mentored—and who have emerged as hospitality titans in their own right.

And beyond that wide net and still-rising star, Christensen still has big plans for Raleigh. To extend the anniversary celebration, 2023 will see monthly curated events focused on the entire ACR company straight from Christensen’s bucket list that will host some big names. “Kait and I are excited to bring some amazing hospitality leaders from around the country to Raleigh,” says the ACR namesake. “We are thrilled to share these folks and experiences with our city—but also to share the awesomeness of Raleigh with our visitors.” … I think I speak for all of us when I say, let’s get this party started.

Now sitting at the helm of a culinary empire that shows no signs of slowing—as you likely know—Ashley Christensen’s AC Restaurants group notably houses highly acclaimed sup spots including the likes of Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Death & Taxes, and Poole’side Pies. Not to mention her 2021 ubersuccessful leap into the fast-casual realm with rapidly expanding BB’s Crispy Chicken. And, beyond the borders of her bistros, she’s also added acclaimed author to her restaurateur résumé, with an AC Events arm to boot. NTM serving as mentor to 15 years of amazing contributors—all stars in their own right.

The Talent Pool

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