I’m not a financial advisor; nothing I write in Superpowers for Good should be considered investment advice. You should seek appropriate counsel before making investment decisions.
Remember, you can watch the Superpowers for Good show on e360tv. To watch the episode, download the #e360tv channel app to your streaming device–Roku, AppleTV or AmazonFireTV–or your mobile device. You can even watch it on the web.
Devin: What do you see as your superpower?
Kenyatta: My superpower is my grit and my persistence.
Chef Kenyatta Ashford is so talented he won the Food Network’s Chopped. He’s primarily been working as a caterer for the past seven years, but his success is leading him to pursue his vision for a restaurant that serves food from his roots, combining African and Creole flavors.
When I look at investment crowdfunding, I focus on three flavors of impact: local or community-based businesses, social entrepreneurs and diverse founders. I love opportunities to consider investments in one business that represents all three. I think of these as impact trifectas.
Obviously, a local restaurant is the epitome of a community-oriented investment. As an African American, he is also a diverse founder. Kenyatta explained his social mission:
I want to be able to lift as I climb. It's really important to me to do that for anybody, but in particular underserved communities. One of those is local high school culinary arts programs that I try to support through my four-courses initiative, where we have celebrity chefs of color come to Chattanooga.
We put on a four-course meal for people to dine with us and to also just talk about different subject matter and bring awareness to culinary arts and also allow the young people from those programs to come and rub elbows and participate in the event so they can see the options and opportunities that might present themselves that they may not have thought about.
With that social mission, he brings the third part of that impact trifecta.
Kenyatta shared his request for support for his Wefunder campaign:
Restaurants are expensive, and capital is very hard to raise. Any business venture is expensive to begin, because you're starting from nothing most times. We have a goal of raising $450,000 as capital to help us open our own brick-and-mortar restaurant.
trying to be wise and looking for places to open our brick-and-mortar, but also want to bring attention to what we're doing with our campaign and make people aware that our business is worthy of the investment that we're asking you to put into it.
We're more than just a restaurant. We want to be a really integral part of the community and not just reap the benefit of doing business with the community but also to pour back into the community.
Pouring back into the community is the thesis for local investing. Having Kenyatta open a restaurant that keeps profits in the community rather than having a national chain open one where profits are pulled out of the local economy is a big difference.
In his past successes, Kenyatta has demonstrated his superpower: grit.
AI Episode Summary
Chef Kenyatta Ashford is launching his first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, called Neutral Ground.
The restaurant concept was born during the pandemic as Chef Kenyatta was furloughed from his previous job and used the opportunity to pursue his dream of owning his own restaurant.
The restaurant is influenced by Chef Kenyatta's upbringing in New Orleans and his African and Creole culture.
Neutral Ground recently collaborated with a local family-run farm called Sequatchie Cove to host a dinner event showcasing their high-quality products, like grass-fed ribeye and lamb meat lollipops.
Chef Kenyatta's vision for the restaurant goes beyond just serving food and aims to become an integral part of the community, supporting local culinary arts programs and offering opportunities for underserved youth.
Neutral Ground is currently raising $450,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on Wefunder to open their own brick-and-mortar restaurant.
This investment represents a trifecta opportunity for impact investors as it supports a local business, social mission, and a diverse founder.
Chef Kenyatta's superpower is his grit and persistence, which has helped him overcome challenges and reach his current level of success.
He advises others to live in the present, stay focused, and take one step at a time to strengthen their mental resilience.
To learn more about Neutral Ground and Chef Kenyatta Ashford, visit their Instagram and Facebook pages, and consider investing in their Wefunder campaign to support their vision and mission.
How to Develop Grit As a Superpower
Kenyatta says, “My dad told me a long time ago that, ‘You know, son, you got to learn how to curve with life.’ I believe I've taken that to heart”
He credits his wife and kids with supporting him and enabling his grit. As he’s made the transition from being a full-time teacher to a chef, his family has had his back. That includes the stretches when he was working as a line cook for just $9 per hour. With their help and support, he muscled through the most challenging times to build a thriving business.
He says the key to building grit is to live in the present. That helps you build your mental strength. Focusing on the past or the future tends to create anxiety that can be self-defeating. “Put one foot in front of the other to continue the path because it will get better,” he says.
By following Kenyatta’s example and advice, you can strengthen your grit. With practice, you can make it a superpower that enables you to do more good in the world.
Kenyatta Ashford (he/him):
Chef/Owner, Neutral Ground Chattanooga
About Neutral Ground Chattanooga: Neutral Ground Chattanooga
Company Facebook Page: facebook.com/neutralgroundchatt
Other URL: wefunder.com/neutralground
Biographical Information: Raised in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans as one of seven siblings, Kenyatta Ashford found his love for food at a young age over lingering family meals hosted by his mother, Sharon, and Uncle Walter. Never one to follow a typical path, Ashford became a high school teacher after playing basketball at Lee University. After building a robust teaching and coaching career, Kenyatta’s summer sessions spent helping in a catering kitchen awoke his childhood passion for the tastes of home.
Lead by the memories and the tastes of his childhood. With a constant commitment to excellence, Ashford happily accepted his admission into the Culinary Institute of America, where he built technical expertise and interests in the foodways of his ancestry. After continued study in top-tier culinary institutions in New York, Rhode Island, and Louisiana, he went on to study scaled preparation techniques in the hospitality industry through the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like much of the hospitality industry, Kenyatta’s role was furloughed early during the pandemic, leaving him with a sound set of skills and a family to help feed. Within weeks, he created the concept for Neutral Ground and set up a shop in Chattanooga’s Proof Incubator. The name Neutral Ground is an homage to the strip of land between neighborhoods in New Orleans that originates as the trade and gathering area across identities. Ashford carries this spirit into creating common spaces where people can come together across backgrounds and beliefs.
The menu at Neutral Ground is a product of Ashford’s “afro-creole” identity and vision, where he’s constantly reflecting on and reimagining cuisine that reaches back to his ancestors who were enslaved in West Africa and brought to the Americas and journeys through the rich and often over-simplified culinary traditions of his hometown New Orleans. Dishes on the menu range from bean and rice dishes with African influences to interpretations of working-class staples from New Orleans, like po’boys and yakamein, which reflect his understanding of Afro-Creole cuisine.
Kenyatta recently won Food Network’s Chopped, and he and Neutral Ground have been featured in Conde Nast, Eater, Travel Noire, the New York Times, and more. Beyond the kitchen, Ashford is passionate about providing pathways for emerging culinary leaders into the industry. His first team member to join Neutral Ground is a former student and player from his coaching days.
Personal Facebook Profile: Facebook.com/kenyattaashford
Instagram Handle: @neutralgroundchatt
Superpowers for Good is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.