Part entrepreneur, part activist, Ashleigh Parsons is the epitome of a power woman. Ashleigh opened Alma with her business partner in 2012, and has helped it grow to the LA staple it is today. Experiencing heart for her community, her genuine touch for hospitality and, not to mention, her infectious laugh made this shoot a true delight. Read on and get inspired by this awesome OHK girl below.
Photography: Rosanna Peng
Styling: Cissy Huang
Interview by: Audrey Tyau
Let's start with the basics. How did you and Ari start Alma?
Alma means soul in Spanish and when Ari and I met 7 years ago in San Francisco we shared a similar interest in and passion for food, wellness and community. We were only in our early 20s at that time but we spoke about how if we ever opened a restaurant it would embody those characteristics and embrace the community in which it was embedded. While Alma has transitioned now from a pop-up in its early days in 2012 to a brick and mortar restaurant in downtown from 2012 to 2015 now back to a pop-up at the Standard, Hollywood, the philosophy behind the project remains the same.
How long have you been in LA now, and how has the city inspired you?
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for three and a half years, always keeping my roots on the east side. I find this city to be incredibly inspiring with its burgeoning music and art scene, its talented local fashion designers and artisans, its incredible diversity and its awe-inspiring geography. I notice I’m constantly learning from this city and the community of people around me, which keeps me fresh and curious. I’m a bit of an introvert so some of my favorite moments in Los Angeles occur on my drive home from work at midnight when the streets are empty and quiet or early in the morning when I rise and take a long walk around the reservoir in Silver Lake. It is during these quiet moments that creative ideas come to me.
Did you have any experience running a business or a restaurant before Alma?
While I spent much of my 20's creating my own schedule through an array of creative jobs, opening and running Alma was my first experience of operating a business.
Can you tell me more about your work with Alma Community Outreach? How did that start, and what does that entail now?
Alma Community Outreach 501(c)(3) was founded in tandem with ALMA in 2012 as I believe deeply in merging education and outreach with a business model. Alma CO teaches weekly cooking and gardening classes to low-income students in Los Angeles. Students learn about the process of growing, harvesting, sourcing and cooking food and examine their own neighborhood food system. Alma CO is a skills-based program, which emphasizes experiential learning, promotes urban transformation and provides systematic ways to support the physical, social and emotional wellness of students. Today we are administering weekly cooking and gardening classes to the three schools. Two of our 3 sites have their own edible garden with raised beds and hydroponic towers. We use the harvested produce to inspire the recipes we prepare – a true garden to table experience.
How are Alma's values reflected in the restaurant and in the food?
ALMA is defined by its dedication to sourcing and sustainability. In the world we live in today with the many political and environmental issues we face, I believe it is irresponsible to open and operate a business that does not consider these two issues. On a tangible level, we are able to track every product we provide at the restaurant – food, wine or cocktails – to its source. But we also consider sustainability on a more philosophical level. For example, how can we create a work environment that supports the social and emotional well being of our employees and provides a space for creative thought and inspiration? These are the types of conversations we are constantly having.
What's been the most rewarding part about this entire experience so far?
Honestly I feel very grateful to work with a cohort of individuals that are creatively inspired and curious beings. Whether I’m collaborating with Jess Rather, our illustrator on designing a new poster for ALMA or working with the board of ALMA CO on how to grow a new aspect of the program, I feel fortunate to be able to engage with such intelligent and talented people and use our similar passions to create something that is inspiring and beautiful.
You have so much going on all the time - how, where and when do you find the time to relax?
Mornings and Sundays are my designated "me" time. I rise early and I usually either go for a long walk or practice ashtanga yoga at my studio in Silverlake. After, I’ll indulge in a hot shower and a big cup of black coffee, either made from my V60 at home or Blue Bottle in Echo Park. I try to make this all happen before the rush of emails occurs. These quiet morning hours are sacred to me because I believe deeply that in order to nourish others, we must first nourish ourselves. On Sundays I try to turn my phone off for much of the day, visit the farmers market in Hollywood and enjoy coffee with the Sunday Times, reading and writing.
Favorite pair of sneakers right now, and a go-to outfit to pair with them?
My white EYTYS with either a Band of Outsiders dress or my A Piece Apart pants and a white t-shirt. Since often I dress early in the morning for a day that weaves through outreach and ends at the restaurant, it’s important for me to strike a balance between casual and dressy. The sneaker/dress combo is a perfect look in that way. I also seem to have a white sneaker/shoe fetish which makes no sense to me considering I’m almost always working and my shoes almost always get super dirty :)
Do you have any dreams or goals for 2016?
Ah, great question. 2015 was challenging, probably my most challenging year of my life thus far. But I learned so much during those challenges. My goal for 2016 is to continue to seek out balance in my life within the ambition. I also want to integrate the lessons I learned last year into my work so I can create something that is sustainable and gives back to those involved.
Pass along the best piece of advice you've received to other girls who might be thinking about making the leap to starting their own projects.
Trust your intuition. I think somewhere in school we as women (perhaps men too) are taught to ignore our passions, our curiosities, our intuitions. At lease I know this happened to me. But these are our greatest assets and are what define us as individuals. If you can, take time to yourself to be quiet, whether that’s through meditation or a walk. Sit with yourself and listen to the voice within you. That voice will tell you what it wants and it’s your responsibility to listen carefully and to nurture the creativity that exists within.