Entrepreneur Spotlight: Kenyatta Ashford
“Having the support [from LAUNCH] and knowing you have people out there on your team who you can go to when you don’t feel like making that call or doing that thing - it’s HUGE.”
Kenyatta Ashford is building a “neutral ground” in this most tumultuous time.
Kenyatta Ashford was destined to be an entrepreneur. After earning his masters and working as a high school teacher and coach, Kenyatta’s entrepreneurial goals became clearer than ever. He shifted to the culinary arts with a love of cooking boiling within him. Kenyatta’s culinary career has taken him all over the world. He has served on the kitchen staff of high-end restaurants across the country from his home town of New Orleans to New York to right here in Chattanooga, TN. His experience in the kitchen has influenced his cuisine, but nothing has formed Neutral Ground quite as much as his childhood in New Orleans and journeys to Africa.
In 2017, Kenyatta was the beneficiary of a Jean-Louis Palladin Professional Work/Study Grant (JLP grant) from the James Beard Foundation, which he used to learn from chefs around the world, most notably West Africa. During his first time on Africa soil, Kenyatta began to understand and connect with his heritage like never before. While here, he made connections: eating the food, seeing the land and people, and learning how they treat their land. Kenyatta highlighted his experience absorbing his heritage in a piece for the James Beard Foundation deemed so significant they posted it here.
Between trips to Africa, Kenyatta joined the LAUNCH CHA program. He made valuable connections with his cohort and the LAUNCH staff that he says were “key to his experience.” Entrepreneurs face a myriad of obstacles, not least of which is the toll on their mental health. This emotional and moral support was remarkably important to Kenyatta. “Having the support and knowing you have people out there on your team who you can go to when you don’t feel like making that call or doing that thing - it’s HUGE.”
Like so many Americans, Kenyatta was furloughed in the early days of the pandemic. Despite the unknowns of our erratic economy, he took stock of his talents and put them to use, opening Neural Ground on Juneteenth of 2020. This bold venture gained support from his family and community. Kenyatta is a recent beneficiary of a Kiva crowdfunded 0% interest loan in which he raised $9,000 for his business. Passion and persistence have formed this business’s foundation.
Before there was Neutral Ground, there was “4 Courses and.” Kenyatta co-founded this dinner series with Alex Curry and Carmen Davis. “4 Courses and” gives back to the Chattanooga Culinary Arts Community in a profound way and is planning to develop an apprenticeship/mentorship program with the intent of participants earning an ACF certification. To learn more about, “4 Courses and” events and updates on the program be sure to follow them on social media ( FB: @4coursesandsupperclub & IG: @4coursesand).
Neutral Ground is a place for anyone serving food for everyone. When you dine with Kenyatta, you are met with fine food without the pretense. With house-made Louisiana hot sausage PO-boys, smoked brisket meatball Yakamein, and Chef-driven seasonal specials, this modern New Orleans style restaurant will have your mouth watering. Satisfy your next craving by visiting Neural Ground at 422 E M.L. King Blvd inside Proof Bar + Incubator.