Chick Fil-A team member Zach Butner, owner/operator Ashley Derby and manager Rey Ventura.
Photos by Zon D’Amour
Ashley Derby is the Owner and Operator of the Chick-Fil-A Restaurant in downtown Los Angeles near the University of Southern California (USC). Derby, now 29, has been with the company since she was a fifteen-year-old high school student in her hometown of Marietta, Georgia. Derby initially went to Spelman College as a theatre major. She comments, “I thought I was going to dance and sing my way through life. At the time, theatre was a passion of mine.” While in college, she was introduced to career opportunities within the company and changed her major to Economics to hone her business savvy. Upon graduation, Derby was accepted into one of the pipeline programs that Chick-Fil-A has for aspiring business owners. After an intensive interview process, Derby was selected to be a franchisee and spearhead the immensely popular Chick-Fil-A USC In-Line location, which opened in August 2010 (I took over the restaurant in August 2011 at the age of 26).
With the goal of expanding her empire in the near future, Derby speaks with The L.A. Sentinel about her responsibilities as an owner, her philanthropic endeavors outside of Chick-Fil-A and she shares her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
LA Sentinel: What should people who have interest in ownership know about the business? How have you grown as a person by working for the company?
Ashley Derby: Entrepreneurship is a beautiful thing. It has allowed me the flexibility to also have other interests aside from the business, give back to the community, work on self-improvement, and spend time with friends & family. I’ve developed a team that I’m really proud of. I would advise anyone that’s interested in entrepreneurship to just go for it! Often time people doubt themselves and hide behind their fears but there are numerous opportunities out there, especially for women and people of color. It’s really about you deciding what you want to pursue and putting your best foot forward.
LAS: Did you ever want to give up in the midst of the interview process? My interview and selection process was about 18 months long…
AD: Chick-Fil-A is very selective with who they want to bring into the company and who they want as franchise owners. Not only do they want to ensure you’re a good fit with the brand and the values we up hold, they want to make sure you’re a great fit for the community as well. The interview process can last anywhere from three months to up to over a year. There were times when I got discouraged, I didn’t think things were going my way; I thought everything was taking too long. But I had to rely on the power of my faith. I look back on that time and it was definitely challenging but it all ended up working out perfectly and as God intended. I’m in the right place at the right time.
LAS: How was your transition from Atlanta to Los Angeles? Of all of the potential locations, why was LA of interest to you?
AD: When I was going through the interview process I had my heart set on staying in Atlanta and owning a restaurant there. The process was taking so long because I was turned down for restaurant after restaurant because that market is very competitive.
A former Business Consultant, Juliet Hall, (now Sr. Manager for Community Affairs) for Chick-Fil-A’s corporate office suggested I take a look at this [Los Angeles] location. I came to visit for about three weeks to really get a feel for the city and to decide if this was somewhere my husband and I could live. Within that time I really fell in love with the city and its diversity.
LAS: Would you like to own more Chick-Fil-A restaurants?
AD: Yes. However, there’s a process if you want to have… more than one restaurant. There’s a list of criteria you have to accomplish, your current store has to be performing well and you have to have been an owner for a minimum of five years. When that time comes, I hope to pursue it.
LAS: What are some of your interests and endeavors outside of Chick-Fil-A?
AD: I’m involved with the Alumnae Chapter of Spelman College here in Los Angeles. I volunteer and assist with their community service efforts. I’m also on a committee for Hollywood Young Life. It’s an outreach program for high school youth. Our leaders get together weekly and introduce kids to the idea of Christianity and what it means to have Jesus be a part of your life, and in a fun & cool way. Being an entrepreneur has definitely allowed me the opportunity to continue to be involved in the community and I’m very proud of that.
LAS: Any business tips that you want to relay to aspiring entrepreneurs?
AD: The most important quality to have as an entrepreneur is effective leadership. I’m not able to be at my store twenty-four hours a day, six days a week. So I rely heavily on my upper level and mid-level leaders as well as my team members to really run the restaurant the way it’s supposed to be run. I take a lot of pride in them because they do a great job, and represent well in my absence. We spend a lot of time on training, setting goals, and reiterating our processes and systems that we have in place. Because I’m able to empower them, they’ll in turn able to run this business efficiently. Organization is also important, I think. I’m very meticulous and detail oriented. I live by my calendar and that’s also something that’s proven to be beneficial to me as well. I could easily spend eighty hours here at the restaurant trying to do everything but I prioritize, delegate and take responsibility for what I do best. In the areas that I may not excel in, I have an amazing team around me to help and support me.
LAS: For those in the Crenshaw area that may not be familiar with Chick-Fil-A, what do you want people to know about your location?
AD: We pride ourselves in creating a hospitable environment where people can come in and really feel cared for. We aim for top of the line service, similar to what you would experience in a fine-dining establishment. We don’t want this to be just a stop for fast food; I want you to feel like this is a home away from home. We’re really in the business of service and providing each guest with a memorable experience.
LAS: What advice would you give to your younger self?
AD: Be more adventurous, take more risks and don’t hide behind my fears. I would tell my younger self to be bold, make a name for yourself and stand up for what you believe in.