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Chef Ashley Christensen expanding her downtown Raleigh empire

jmgiglio@newsobserver.comJuly 9, 2013 

Ashley Christensen on Iron Chef America.

COURTESY OF IRON CHEF AMERICA — COURTESY OF IRON CHEF AMERICA

Ashley Christensen can’t figure out how to be in two places at one time. That’s one of the few things the successful chef and restaurateur seemingly can’t do.

The owner of Poole’s Diner, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Chuck’s and Fox Liquor Bar has three new downtown Raleigh projects in the works: Joule Coffee, Death & Taxes and Bridge Club.

First up is Joule, a coffeehouse and restaurant, which will open in the next four weeks in the old Wilmoore Café space on Wilmington Street.

Joule, pronounced “jewel,” will offer a to-go menu that includes fresh muffins, biscuits, croissants that will be served hot on the hour, homemade yogurt, granola and granola bars, a daily featured juice and, of course, coffee.

The restaurant will have a full-service dining room, where patrons will be seated and served breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Christensen will also offer the same weekend brunch menu that was discontinued at Poole’s in March, when the restaurant expanded its dinner service from five nights to seven.

“We will put the (Poole’s) menu in place at Joule,” she said.

After 11 a.m., Joule will switch to an “all-day menu” with items such as salads, mussels and featured protein dishes. Christensen has hired Anna Utevsky of Joe Coffee, a coffee house with locations in New York City and Philadelphia, as coffee manager and general manager.

“It’s an interesting model that I’ve never seen before,” Utevsky said. “It’s such a hybrid of a coffee bar and restaurant … I’m excited to see what it looks like the day we open.”

Christensen plans to get the restaurant’s beans from area coffee suppliers and roasters, including Counter Culture Coffee in Durham.

Joule will have a full bar with offerings such as cocktails concocted from the Italian liqueur Amaro, bottled and canned beers and a selection of wines.

“We will have some fun kinds of bitter-focused cocktails,” Christensen said. “We like how that complements the coffee.”

She plans to keep the brunch prices within the same $9 to $12 range that they were at Poole’s.

Christensen gutted the inside of the old Wilmoore and added shelving and creative lightning to make it feel like a work space.

“We got Louis Cherry to design a fun space,” Christensen said. “We wanted the theme to be work and energy.”

The new place will hold about 60 people and have outdoor patio seating for about 12.

“I think it’s such an interesting craft and something that’s been around for so long,” Christensen said about coffee. “It’s at a really interesting point as a movement. It’s young, and there’s an opportunity to get into so many brew methods.”

Death & Taxes

After Joule, Christensen plans to open Death & Taxes, a wood-fire oven restaurant, and Bridge Club, a private event space, at the southwest corner of Hargett and Salisbury Streets.

The building has about 9,000 square feet of space spread over four floors and a small rooftop patio.

Death & Taxes, which will take up the basement and first floor, will feature a basement bar and a menu with wood-fire oven roasted meats, seafood and vegetables and some large dishes.

“The bar is really old-school,” Christensen said. “It’s something you saw in the past – a downstairs bar for the upstairs restaurant.”

Christensen is still working out much of the eatery’s details, including the menus and seating. However, she plans to use local, seasonal and Southern-based ingredients from places such as Harland’s Creek Farm, Eastern Carolina Organic and Firsthand Foods. She also plans to have outdoor seating wrapping in an “L” shape around the building.

She hasn’t settled on pricing, but expects it to be similar to Poole’s.

Bridge Club

Bridge Club will take up the second and third floors and have an auxiliary kitchen, allowing Christensen to host multiple events at the same time. Bridge Club will work with Christensen’s restaurants to provide catering menu options.

“There won’t be a menu,” she said. “All of our restaurants can go in and host.”

The space’s rooftop patio will be available for guests of private events to have cocktails. The cost to rent the space is undecided.

Christensen hopes to open Death & Taxes and Bridge Club in late fall.

As if Christensen didn’t have enough to do, she is also busy with a fourth project.

“I am also working on a book,” she said. “I am not having a hard time staying busy.”

Giglio: 919-829-4649, jmgiglio@newsobserver.com or @shoptalk_nando.

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