As COVID-19 closed her restaurants' doors, Christensen stepped up to support industry employees in her community and across the state.

By Betsy Cribb
June 17, 2020
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Credit: Travis Dove

When the coronavirus forced James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen to temporarily shutter her six restaurants, she and her wife, Kaitlyn Goalen (the executive director of Ashley Christensen Restaurants) began brainstorming ways to serve industry workers in the Raleigh area.

They teamed up with the Frankie Lemmon Foundation, which had the infrastructure and know-how, to set up a fund for food-service employees within 24 hours. “It felt nice to be able to do something in that true community sense,” says Christensen. “People giving money to the Triangle Restaurant Workers Relief Fund were going to help folks living and working in the Triangle.”

But even as donations poured in (to the tune of nearly $250,000), the need was still overwhelming. They partnered with the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association to extend their efforts statewide, establishing the NC Restaurant Workers Relief Fund. By the end of April, it had raised an additional $750,000.

“The restaurant industry is uniquely distressed right now,” says Christensen. “We probably put 95% of what we make back into the economy through the employees we pay and the supply chain we support. Restaurants are places where people find confidence in their community and in the economy.”