I wasn’t the only one outside Forsyth Seafood 5 minutes before they opened. Clearly, this place has some regulars. “What do you come here for?” someone asked me as we waited. I hadn’t made up my mind yet, so when we sat down together, I asked the owners for their recommendations-
Virginia Hardesty: Flounder, coleslaw (it’s creamy and sweet), baked beans and hushpuppies.
Ashley Hardesty Armstrong: The shrimp burger, an Eastern North Carolina classic, mac & cheese and collards.
When asked how they’ve come to sit side by side as co-owners of Forsyth Seafood, they began by describing a photograph of Ashley as a child, smiling with customers in her parents’ restaurant, taller than she ought to be because of the roller skates on her feet. She grew up there–her dad picked her up from school in his big white fish truck, straight to the cafe to do her homework. She spent her weekends in this space, entertaining herself by roller skating through the kitchen.
Virginia and her late husband Charlie moved from the coast to Winston-Salem and figured out how to bring the sea with them by opening a seafood business in 1984, offering high level seafood that is handled really well and cut and cleaned to order. The family seafood business was her parents’ identity, but as she grew older, Ashley was adamant that it was not to be hers. She pursued Fashion at NC State and found a textile job just out of college. She wasn’t happy there, though, and when her mom offered her a position at the restaurant months later, she took it.
Since returning, Ashley has grown passionate about cooking; she earned her culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University and interned at Kindred in Davidson. She has gradually developed new recipes for the cafe–the mac and cheese, she says, was requested by customers for years, and the gumbo was inspired by a beloved family recipe. Virginia credits her daughter for their business surviving the pandemic, as Ashley improved their marketing and moved quickly to create an online ordering system to facilitate their existing take-out routine.
Forsyth Seafood has always felt a commitment to the Winston-Salem community, and it’s abundantly clear that Ashley lives and breathes this. A few years ago, she created The Table Experience, an elegant farm to table pop-up dinner often featuring other local black chefs. Last January, her team of local chefs prepared a 5-course meal for 25 guests to honor Martin Luther King Jr., inspired by his favorite foods. Her guests described the event as unforgettable. While preserving her family’s legacy and imprint on Winston-Salem, it seems to me that Ashley has firmly found her own unique identity both at Forsyth Seafood and within our community.
July 1, 2021