Ashley Edwards was a journalism major at Indiana University. She was attracted to the field because she is intrigued and energized by peoples’ stories.
However, life took her in a different direction when she moved to Atlanta in 1994. She got a job as a food broker, and there began her passion for the restaurant industry.
Ashley discovered her love for getting inside restaurant kitchens, meeting the chefs, and learning about their operations. After living in Buckhead for a few years, she got married, moved to the suburbs, and had children. Upon arriving in Peachtree City, just south of Atlanta, she was perplexed by the lack of unique, independently owned restaurants. The city of 35,000 was comprised of a string of unimpressive and generic chain restaurants… a story played out in many suburban landscapes. She was missing the cool, vibrant, and creative restaurants that dotted the streets of Atlanta.
In 2008, after getting their three children through the all-consuming toddler years, Ashley and her husband acted on their dream and opened a restaurant. It was called Downtown Grill, and it quickly became a local favorite. It was at Downtown Grill, where Ashley realized her passion for connecting with people through food. She loved getting to know the guests, remembering what they ate, and where they went on vacation. She was energized by playing host and creating an atmosphere for people to connect over food. She felt like she had found want she was meant to do.
While Ashley and her husband enjoyed a great deal of success at Downtown Grill, life felt very stressful. They had three girls, ages 4 to 10, and Ashley’s husband had a very demanding full-time job outside of the restaurant. So they felt a bit like they were drowning.
In an effort to simplify life, they sold Downtown Grill in 2013. However, little did they know, there was another project looming on the horizon.
The pair had long admired an old, vacant KFC building in Peachtree City. It was perched beautifully on a hill, slightly removed from the main thoroughfare and surrounded by lush crepe myrtles. At this time, there was no restaurant patio in Peachtree city that was not in a parking lot, and they knew this would be a perfect spot! However, they had inquired about the building over the years, and had always concluded that the price was a bit too far out of their range. It had been several years since they had sold Downtown Grill, and while Ashley was enjoying the time with her daughters, she missed the hustle and bustle of the restaurant business.
In mid-2014, they heard from a friend that the owner of the old KFC was eager to sell, and that if they were still interested, they should make an offer. They lowballed… offering less than half of the previous asking price, fearing the seller would laugh at the offer. Much to their surprise, their offer was accepted, and there began the birth of Palmer’s. There were two years spent planning, gutting, conceptualizing, and building…and finally opened the doors in March of 2016.
While it was clear that Peachtree City was starved for a new and exciting gathering spot, Ashley and her partner were blown away at how fervently the community supported them, right from the beginning. The first few months they were open, there were lines out of the door. As exciting as that enthusiasm was, they were not prepared for the crowds.
“Many nights, the kitchen crashed, and servers were regularly caving under the pressure,” Ashley recalls. “My partner and I were both working 65 -70 hours a week, and there were countless nights where we both just went home and cried. It was a tiring six months. We were learning, flailing, failing, and persevering.”
However, they finally figured it out, developed a strong team, and put processes in place to create consistency, both in the kitchen and the front of the house. They learned to control the crowds by pacing the door. They learned the importance of hiring the right people and letting the wrong ones go.
“I still get anxiety when I think back to those early months, but also bask in the awareness of how far we have come.” Ashley says.
Learn more in our interview with Ashley below!
Our Interview with Ashley Edwards, Co-Owner of Palmer’s
What should people know about Palmers?
Palmer’s is a place where people feel a sense of warmth and familiarity when they walk in. We learn our guests’ names and use them. We go out of our way to make everyone feel special. We understand the value of a personal connection. People’s lives are stressful, and largely, I believe most people feel overworked and underappreciated. My partner and I strive to make Palmers a place where our guests feel special, unique, and appreciated. People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you make them feel!
From a food perspective, Palmer’s is approachable and relatable. You can go vegan with our Chopped Salad or go all-in with a Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich. From a price perspective, two people can order fish tacos and get out of there for under $25, or they can enjoy a nice bottle of Napa Cab and a Filet Mignon and spend more than a hundred. Additionally, we make pretty much everything from scratch. This really shows in the quality and integrity of our food.
Why are you passionate about the business?
I love everything about food. To me, cooking is like artistry. You take some basic ingredients and fuse them together to create something beautiful and magical. But what I really love about food is the way it brings people together.
Food fosters connection, and I believe what people crave more than anything in this world IS connection. Being in the restaurant business allows me to marry my love of food with my passion for connecting with people. I can’t think of a better way to spend my life.
What is your favorite meal at Palmer’s
I typically eat our Chopped Salad with Blackened Salmon. However, some days just call for decadence. When I am feeling indulgent, I order either our Fig and Prosciutto Flatbread or, if I can talk my partner into sharing them with me, Brisket Nachos.
What does success mean to you?
I feel a most palpable sense of success when I walk through Palmer’s on a busy Thursday night and see people enjoying themselves. I feel like we have succeeded when our guests are on the patio, laughing with their friends and families. Life is made up of a lot of small moments, and I am grateful that we have the opportunity to create for people a place for these small moments to turn into lasting memories.
How has COVID climate affected business? Have we had to pivot and rethink our strategy during this time?
I don’t think anybody in the hospitality industry has escaped the effects of COVID. However, we have been more fortunate than others.
When we were forced to close the dining room in mid-March, my partners and I sat, with heavy hearts, to strategize our next move. These were unchartered waters. There were so many difficult decisions to make, and we wanted to be intentional about prioritizing both the financial well-being and the safety and comfort level of our employees. We ultimately decided to be open for dinner takeout only, with curbside pickup. We were overwhelmed by the instantaneous show of support from the community. Our evenings were suddenly spent packing up and labeling hundreds of to-go boxes every night. We often wrote little love notes on the boxes to our regular guests, who were ordering several times a week.
There were nights where our guests, starved for the connection they were accustomed to feeling at Palmer’s, would gather in our parking lot and have socially distanced tailgate parties with their to-go food. It made my heart smile that people missed Palmer’s so much that they dined in our parking lot, just to feel a sense of normalcy.
As sad as it was to see our normally bustling patio empty on a sunny April afternoon, some really cool things came out of the COVID shutdown.
We partnered with some incredible people in the community, who raised money to provide meals to the healthcare workers. There were many mornings where my partner Billy and I would spend hours packing up and labeling boxes of Fish Tacos and Southwest Salads, which we then delivered to the hospitals. It’s just really cool when you see your community rise up and work together to make a difference in peoples’ lives. I received so many messages from the hospital workers about how much they appreciated these meals.
We also were seeing a lot of heaviness in our guests as we took food to their cars, and we wanted to find a way to give them some levity amidst the uncertainty that was facing us. Armed with a little more free time, a Tik Tok app, and a playful spirit, we started doing music videos and posting them on our social media. The positive feedback we got was astounding, and our guests, to this day, ask us to please never stop doing these videos. A little levity, we found, goes a long, a long way. And needless to say, our social media presence has grown tremendously.
Lastly, during this new COVID climate, I have been blown away by how our staff has banded together to adapt to the new environment. They have cheerfully donned their masks, spent their free moments sanitizing surfaces, and taken the job of maintaining a safe environment for our guests at Palmer’s seriously.
How do you practice self-care
I am a firm believer that you cannot care for others if you do not first care for yourself. I start every morning with a reasonably intense workout, which usually includes a combination of Pilates and running. I have eggs and avocado, sprinkled with Turmeric for breakfast… pretty much every morning. I am extremely disciplined about getting eight hours of sleep, working out, and eating healthy. I am my best self when my body feels good.
In moments of uncertainty or doubt that you have in yourself, how do you keep yourself focused and build yourself back up?
We all feel like a fraud sometimes. We all get down on ourselves and feel like we are not enough. I am particularly hard on myself, and never feel like I am living up to my potential. This is not a healthy way to live and can create crippling anxiety. There are several ways I overcome this feeling, the first being that I surround myself with positive, inspiring people who build me up and encourage me continually. If you don’t have these people in your life, FIND THEM.
Second, I have a mild obsession with inspirational podcasts. When I am running, or in the car, I am constantly listening to motivational Ted talks, podcasts, and sermons. Brene Brown is one of my favorites, and much of her wisdom has been life-changing for me. Letting go of who I think I am supposed to be, and embracing who I am, has been especially powerful. I spent many years focusing on all the things I didn’t do well. I don’t do spreadsheets, analyze numbers, or keep up with sports scores. But I do make people feel good with my positivity. I encourage those around me and go out of my way to make them feel loved and worthy. For me, that will have to be enough.
What does your day to day routine look like?
No day is the same in the restaurant business! The best days are those where nothing breaks! There are so many moving parts in our business, so any day that the AC is functioning properly, our deliveries show up on time, all the coolers are temping below 40 degrees, and all the staff shows up ready to work, is a good day.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love the restaurant business because it allows me the opportunity to pour into people and make them feel loved. There is no better serotonin release then when you know you have brightened someone’s day. Whether it is a bringing a guest Brisket Nachos on the house, writing happy birthday in chocolate on a plate, or just listening while someone tells me about their new job… I get to make people smile with small gestures of kindness. Connecting with our guests makes me feel alive.
I am fortunate to have a numbers-savvy business partner who brilliantly handles all the tedious administrative aspects of our business. I am so grateful for him. Because of what he does, I can focus my energy on the guests.
If you could go back and give yourself 3 pieces of advice from when you started your business, what would it be?
The first is that I can’t ever make everyone happy. There are just going to be some people who don’t get what we do, and I have to be okay with that. I am learning that I can’t take that personally. A bad Yelp review would sometimes almost bring me to tears. I am working through that, and I just try to focus on making sure we are the best we can be every day.
Second, I have learned the importance of putting great thought and consideration into every employee we hire. Our front of house is representative of who we are and what we have worked hard to build. They are the faces of our business. If I have a bad feeling about someone, I have learned to trust my instinct! Hospitality is almost impossible to teach. It’s all about hiring the right people!
Third, I have learned that in my decision making, I need to do what is best for the restaurant, even if it disappoints a guest. That 20-person to-go order that comes in for 6:30 pickup on a Friday night is not going to be a good scenario for anyone… so I have learned to just politely tell the guest no, or suggest an earlier pickup time. My partner Billy has really helped me with this.
What’s next for Palmer’s?
Palmer’s is a relatable concept that I believe we could successfully plop just about anywhere. American food, slightly elevated, in a fresh and hip environment, with a warm and welcoming staff. However, success in any business is contingent upon having the right people and processes in place. We have certainly discussed future locations but have nothing concrete in the works at this time.
What’s next for you?
There are so many things I want to do. I am passionate about wellness. I believe what you eat should make you feel good. On that note, I would love to open a concept that serves fresh, clean, healthy food by day, and turns into a quaint little neighborhood wine bar by night. My youngest daughter has two more years at home. I want to spend all the time I can with her. When she spreads her wings, I will spread mine!
On a personal level, I am working on living with intention, staying in the present, and embracing the growth mindset. My goal is to keep learning and growing!