Family Business Confidential: Forsythe Seafood Cafe

By Matt Villano

Turnning passion into profits

Growingup as the children of commercial fisherman in Beaufort, N.C., both Virginia and Charlie Hardesty always knew a thing or two about good fish.
  It made sense, then, that when the duo gave up on office jobs to start their own business back in 1984, they chose to sell shrimp from the back of a truck at local flea markets. They attracted a fervent following, eventually transitioning into a fish market with a 100-seat restaurant.
  Charlie died in 2013 but the business, Forsyth Seafood Café in Winston-Salem, is — pardon the pun — still swimming strong, thanks in part to the involvement of the couple’s daughter, Ashley Hardesty Armstrong. Today, mother and daughter run the company with a love of service and a commitment to carrying on the legacy of their late husband and father.
  In short, the two women run the business with perseverance and passion.
  “I went to college for fashion textile management and didn’t want anything to do with fish or seafood — I didn’t even start eating fish until after my dad died,” says Ashley, 33. “I still ended up back here.”
  Ashley’s return happened organically. Virginia told Ashley she needed help with marketing, and Ashley, after graduating from North Carolina State University in 2013, rose to the occasion. Eventually, Ashley added other skills to her repertoire: cashier, chef (she went to culinary school at Johnson & Wales in Charlotte) and brand curator. She also runs social media and brand partnerships.
  Virginia, 66, does most of her work behind the scenes. She tackles payroll. She handles employee benefits. She maintains decades-long relationships with fishmongers. She handles ordering. 
  “Everything with integrity,” Virginia says. “We try to be good people. We try to help employees.”
  Both women extend and amplify this approach into other aspects of the business world, too. As of press time, Virginia was president of the board of the SG Atkins Community Development Corp., which works with the city government to get grants that help Winston-Salem residents become first-time homeowners in the community. Ashley is the founding chef and creator of The Table Experience, a farm-to-table dinner party series.
  As Forsythe approaches its 40th anniversary next year, big questions are on the horizon. Ashley is becoming a well-known chef in the region, and she and Virginia have discussed capitalizing on this fame by opening another location, possibly in Greensboro.
  Whatever comes next, the duo say they must never lose sight of the fact that when you run a family business, you must love not only what you do, but also why you do it.
“Passion is everything in this business,” says Ashley. “We bring it with authenticity, every day.” — MJV
Audio Sound Duration: 
July/August 2023

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