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Carroll County Times
Carroll County News

2022 Carroll Biz Challenge: Couple’s decades of restaurant experience ‘collides’ with desire to feed Westminster community

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series featuring the five finalists in the 11th annual Carroll Biz Challenge. The competition, which will conclude Aug. 18 with a live finale at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster, is run by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce. For more about the chamber and this event, visit carrollbizchallenge.com.

Tony and Ashley Gerald bring a lot to the table when it comes to opening a restaurant.

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The Westminster couple, married for nearly eight years, have almost 30 combined years of restaurant experience, got their starts working at Carroll County restaurants when they were teenagers and first met working at Applebee’s. They talked about opening their own business ever since, but life and raising three kids kept extending their plans. Last year, they got antsy.

“I looked at him and I said, ‘If not now, when? If we don’t do this now, when are we going to do it? And that’s sort of how it came to be,” Ashley, 35, explained.

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Collision Course, a soul food restaurant Ashley and Tony hope to open in Westminster, is one of the five finalists for this year’s Carroll Biz Challenge. The annual “Shark Tank”-style competition, which drew 44 applicants, is presented by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce and invites local entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges. The $10,000 grand prize and additional awards will be announced at a live finale Thursday in Westminster.

The Geralds have had a smorgasbord of roles at different restaurants, from Olive Garden and Denny’s to their most recent stints at RockSalt Grille in Westminster, a fact reflected by their new business’s name.

“[The name] is literally the collision of all the experiences and ideas of the restaurants where we’ve worked, colliding into courses for our guests,” Tony said, who has worked at seven different restaurants over the course of his career, just edging out Ashley’s six.

Before he got his first official restaurant job, Tony, 39, was hard at work in his grandma’s kitchen, snipping green beans and peeling potatoes for Sunday dinners. When brainstorming Collision Course, Tony looked inside his wheelhouse of cooking skills and decided he wanted to bring the soul food recipes he grew up cooking to his new customers.

“We started it to build something that everybody can look at and be proud of and that my family can come in and take the food and sit back and go, ‘That’s grandma’s mac and cheese or that’s grandma’s collard greens,” Tony says, adding it’s also about “being able to give back to the community in the best way.”

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Community outreach and philanthropy won’t be a side dish when Collision Course opens. The Geralds have a host of ideas about how they can uplift community members who have supported them on their restaurant journey, especially during the pandemic when many small businesses suffered.

“It doesn’t matter where it is, if it’s Sykesville or Westminster or Mount Airy or Taneytown, Carroll County supports Carroll County,” Tony said. “So that’s something that made us make the decision as well, knowing that if we were able to create a good menu and create a good atmosphere that people would come because they want to support locally owned businesses and support Carroll County.”

Ashley is working on a plan with Winters Mill High School to use the restaurant’s second dining room to exhibit student artwork that can be purchased for donations back to the school. The Geralds hope to extend the program to other high schools in the area. Other philanthropic outreach ideas include hosting workshops for young entrepreneurs and sponsoring a local choir.

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“Our kids go to school in the district where we work. We are a part of this community and our kids are in this community, so kids are always something that’s super near and dear to our hearts,” Ashley said.

While they’ve been getting their brick-and-mortar business up and running, Ashley and Tony have also hosted a number of catering pop-ups at local venues, from Westminster’s Pride Festival to McDaniel College’s Juneteenth celebration. They’ll also be at River Downs Golf Course in Finksburg on Aug. 19 and Pipe The Side Brewing Company in Hampstead on Aug. 26.

If the Geralds win the Biz Challenge, the prize money will go toward a final push to get Collision Course’s doors open and to giving back to the community that gave so much to them.

“We’re just trying to use our platform to make sure that not only we can come up and start businesses, but that the community as a whole will be able to utilize our knowledge and our testimony of how we opened and where we started from to have some confidence in doing it themselves,” Tony said.


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