Ashleigh Parsons has built a life around wellness—both for herself and her community.
In 2012, chef Ari opened Downtown LA’s Alma Restaurant, where she continues to work front of the house six days a week. But it’s Alma Community Outreach—her gardening and kitchen skills program for young people—that allows her to link her yoga certification, master’s degree in education from Harvard and experience in restaurants from Arles, France to Oakland, California.
Here, Parsons explains why trusting ones own instincts is crucial to transforming ideas into realities:
Live The Process: After studying education and yoga, what led you to work with food?
Ashleigh Parsons: To me, the common thread that ties together my work and my interests in yoga, food, gardening and education is the notion of wellness. It’s a concept I’m really interested in addressing, especially within our education system. Often we think of and approach our bodies, our minds and our intellects as separate, when, in reality, these parts of us are intricately connected and must be nurtured in order for us to be our most authentic and capable selves.
LTP: What inspired you to use Alma as jumping off point for community outreach?
AP: In an ever-increasing educational climate of cutting programs that support the arts within our school system, I’ve become really interested in creating and implementing a high quality program that uses urban gardening and cooking to encourage creativity and empower young people. From the moment we opened Alma Restaurant in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, it was important that the restaurant be intricately connected to the community. I established Alma Community Outreach 501(c)(3) in 2012 when we opened the doors of the restaurant and we have been working with local schools since. At the restaurant, we have access to a pool of individuals that are highly talented and also genuinely interested in helping to educate and empower the next generation. This model—of connecting a restaurant with an educational component—is something that I believe deeply in and want to encourage for other small business owners.
LTP: When you’re not helping others, how do you replenish your own body and spirit?
AP: When I opened Alma and began the outreach program, I realized immediately that in order to do my job, and do it well, I first have to take care of my own mind and body. The mornings are essential to me. I wake around sunrise and practice yoga or go for a long walk around the reservoir where I live in Silver Lake. I love these quiet hours, before the emails and texts start filtering in. I also really value Sundays, the one day of the week I take off from work. On this day, I go out into nature, whether it is a beach day along the central coast or a day trip somewhere I have never visited. During this day away from work, I look to nature and my close circle of friends for inspiration. I read fiction and I write. I think it’s deeply important to take space from our careers and the chaos of our days. Sometimes by taking a step back, we are able to see our work and our lives more clearly and approach them with more balance and intention.
LTP: At Alma, your responsibilities are myriad—what advice would you offer to those who struggle with decision-making and confidence?
AP: Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. The few times I have made bigger mistakes, it has occurred because I experienced self-doubt; I questioned myself. I also recommend sitting with yourself and admitting to both your strengths and your weaknesses. Take on the work that you are capable of and lean on a talented, trustworthy pool of others to help you in the areas of work where you struggle. I am not an accountant, for example, and hiring someone who is an expert in this field has helped me and the business in tangible, incredible ways.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
Balance—in what we do, who we interact with and how we are. To be wholly and completely happy means to be balanced in ourselves.
LTP: What does it mean to you to "Live The Process" and how do you do that every day?
This is such an important question; I think about processes all the time. In our world that is so focused on the end result, we have moved away from valuing and noticing the process of what we do. In the outreach program, in the restaurant and in my life, I am constantly reminding myself and others about being in the process. For me, it’s about being present in each moment. If I can live my life in the present, living the process, I will be a fulfilled and balanced being. Find more information on Alma Community Outreach here.