Lots of people want to make a living doing what they love. Ashley McMakin made that dream a reality with her Ashley Mac’s cafés, catering and gourmet-to-go business. It all started with her hobby of cooking for those she loves.
McMakin grew up in a large, food-loving family, and she learned to cook alongside her mother and grandmother. “I remember making the desserts when I was 12,” she says.
After graduating from the University of Alabama, where she majored in marketing and advertising, she began cooking for friends and family, thinking it would be a nice hobby until she had children. Her husband, Andy, an accountant, realized the hobby could become a business. “People really love your food,” he told her. “It would be a shame to stop it.”
Ashley Mac’s started as a catering company in the couple’s Homewood kitchen in 2005; it was called A Taste of Birmingham back then. And McMakin sold strawberry cake at a booth at Pepper Place Market the first few years. Today, there are four Ashley Mac’s cafés around Birmingham, and the company employs more than 100 people.
I sat down with McMakin for a story for Alabama NewsCenter.
You can read the entire piece here.
Ashley Mac’s offers modern interpretations of traditional Southern recipes that call for fresh, simple ingredients–whether you eat at an Ashley Mac’s cafe, pick something out of the grab-and-go freezers, order and pick up a fresh family dinner for four or hire the company for catering.
McMakin has grown her business right along with her family, and she often shares her inspirational, working-mom story with others.
“Every time we put in a store we’ve had another kid,” she says. “So we have four kids right now. We went through infertility for several years when we were trying to start Ashley Mac’s, and looking back, I’m just grateful that that was God’s timing. I really don’t think there would be an Ashley Mac’s if I had gotten pregnant right away.
McMakin was pregnant when she and her husband opened their Cahaba Heights store. “Opening that first store, I had to take a step back and really trust people, which is a big learning curve for a business owner, to learn how to delegate,” she says.
“When we opened our second location (in Inverness), we had our second son, through fertility treatments again. And then we were opening our third store in Riverchase, and we adopted our little girl from China. Then last Christmas, we were about to open our Homewood location, and, by some divine circumstances, we ended up with our foster son. He’s 17 and will be with us for two-and-a-half years.”
One reason for Ashley Mac’s success is that McMakin knows what her customers need because she is one of them – a busy mom who wants to put good, healthy food on the dinner table each night.
“A lot of the things we do were born out of … what I need,” she says, laughing. “Many of the things that are on our menu came out of something I’ll make for dinner.”
There is a certain element of goodness at Ashley Mac’s that goes far beyond the highly popular strawberry cake.
“We’ve kind of set ourselves apart by being grace-centered … trying to be gracious with our employees and our customers,” McMakin says. “… Just treating (our employees) with the respect that every person deserves and giving them a chance to work their way up and to invest in how they’re learning and in them personally as well, which is how we ended up with our foster son, through a former employee. We’re just grateful that we not only get to employ them but do life with them.”