If you would have asked me three years ago, ‘Where do you think you’re going to end up?’ this probably would have been the last city on the planet I would’ve thought,” says the owner/operator of the downtown L.A. Chick-Fil-A, located on the USC campus.
“God works in mysterious ways and presents opportunities behind some doors that you just have to be bold enough to walk through.”
Since moving to L.A about a year and half ago to open the eatery, Ashley Derby says that she has fallen in love with the city. But more than an opportunity to establish herself in a new city, Derby sees her position as a chance to make a difference.
“I love being able to provide someone with an income,” says Derby, “to provide someone with their first job, and being able to help mold and grow them.”
Interestingly, Derby could be describing her own growth with the fast food chain. The Spelman alum, who’s been with Chick-Fil-A since she was fifteen, turned that preverbal first, low-on-the-totem pole job into an opportunity that launched her career as an entrepreneur.
“My job description was pretty much taking orders on the registers and cleaning up in the dining room,” Derby says of her start with the company.
At that early age, she learned “the basics” of making a better future for herself: coming to work on time, wearing the proper uniform, and doing what was asked of her.
“It was an invaluable thing that a lot of kids don’t get today, but I really benefitted from,” says Derby.
The Atlanta-native stayed with Chick-Fil-A through high school and into college during which time she was promoted to the supervisory role of team leader. Seeing her strong work ethic and drive, the restaurant’s operator asked her if she’d ever considered owning her own Chick-Fil-A.
“Oddly, I’d never even thought that was something that I could do,” says Derby. “I didn’t know that was an opportunity available to me.”
After explaining to her what it took to do his job, the restaurant operator stressed that she should think long and hard on whether or not this was something she wanted to do. It would take a big time commitment. But he also offered to help her.
She decided to go for it and switched her major from theatre to economics.
“After I graduated from college, I started working fulltime, dedicated to getting my own store,” Derby explains. “I went through an intern program for about a year and a half where Chick-Fil-A sends you out to run some of their corporate-owned stores around the country.”
Next came a round of over ten different interviews before she was given the green light to start the process of purchasing her own store, which would cost an initial investment of only $5,000. A colleague suggested that she look into opening a store in Los Angeles.
Derby was reluctant to leave her hometown.
“I was like there’s no way I’m moving to L.A. That’s crazy.”
After doing her research and talking it over with her husband, with whom she celebrates her two-year anniversary this month, Derby made the leap. It proved a wise decision. As one of the few Chick-Fil-A locations in the county, the SoCal market is rife with potential.
“If it weren’t for [the restaurant] operator that I worked for, I would never be in this business,” says Derby. “If he hadn’t seen something in me.”
Now the 28-year-old looks to pay the opportunities she received forward to her own employees.
“I know that most of my team isn’t going to be with me in the long term,” she says. “A lot of them have their own aspirations and dreams to become doctors and EMTs and lawyers. I’m here to support them 110% just like I was supported. That was something that was given to me and I feel to obligated now give back in return.”
Recently, Derby’s story has come full circle as a young man she mentored for a year is now taking part in training program to become a Chick-Fil-A operator.
Says Derby, “It’s really great to be able to provide that expertise and guidance for someone who wouldn’t have it otherwise. It’s very rewarding.”
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