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Raleigh, NC /
AC Restaurants

Since making Raleigh her home, Ashley Christensen has sought to foster community through food, philanthropy and the stimulation of the city’s downtown neighborhood. She is the owner and chef of AC Restaurants, a hospitality group that operates three restaurants, a bar, an events company, and a commissary kitchen.

Ashley began cooking while in college, throwing dinner parties for her friends and family. These intimate gatherings helped her recognize her passion for cooking and sharing food and ultimately led to her first professional cooking job at the age of 21. Upon taking the position, she knew she had found her life’s work.

After working in some of the Triangle’s top kitchens, Ashley opened Poole’s Diner in 2007, which takes its name and décor from the building’s original tenant—one of downtown Raleigh’s first restaurants. The shotgun space offers an evolving chalkboard menu of comfort-food classics, re-imagined through a philosophy of locally grown, seasonal ingredients and French-influenced technique.

In 2011, Ashley opened her next projects, all housed in a corner building once occupied by a Piggly Wiggly. Beasley’s Chicken + Honey is an ode to fried chicken and classic Southern sides; Fox Liquor Bar, housed in the building’s basement, features a menu of rotating craft cocktails, as well as beer, wine and bar snacks.

In the spring of 2015, AC Restaurants introduced Death & Taxes, a restaurant celebrating wood-fire cooking with Southern ingredients, and Bridge Club, a private events loft and cooking classroom. Death & Taxes was a 2016 James Beard Award finalist for Best New Restaurant, and Food & Wine listed it as one the Best New Restaurants of the Year.

When she’s not in the kitchen, Ashley focuses her time on a number of local and regional charities. She has served as a board member of the Frankie Lemmon foundation and is a co-chair of its annual fundraising event, Triangle Wine and Food Experience. She is currently on the board for the Dix Park Conservancy and Shepherd’s Table Soup Kitchen, which serves 200-300 meals daily to downtown Raleigh’s food-insecure population. She is an active member of the Southern Foodways Alliance and founded the biannual event Stir the Pot, in which she hosts visiting chefs in Raleigh to raise funds for the SFA’s documentary initiatives.

Ashley’s work has gained national attention from such publications as Bon Appétit, Gourmet, The New York Times, Southern Living, Wall Street Journal, and Garden & Gun. She has appeared on Food Network’s popular series Iron Chef America and MSNBC’s Your Business. In 2014, Ashley was awarded the James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Southeast,” and in 2019, she was awarded the James Beard Award in the “Outstanding Chef” category. Ashley was named Chef of the Year by in 2017. In the spring of 2021, Ashley received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from North Carolina State University. She is the author of two cookbooks, Poole’s: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner (2016) and It’s Always Freezer Season (2021).