At just 13 years old, Ashish Alfred started drinking to cope with personal insecurities. His father was an alcoholic and Alfred was being bullied at school. He started using drugs and engaged in fighting, which he felt fueled his own popularity among a crew of other teenagers involved in various illegal activities.
By 17, Alfred was addicted to cocaine, which led him to start abusing both heroin and various opioids. He began stealing, too, leading him down a path that was becoming increasingly hopeless.
As he was about to graduate high school, however, Alfred fell in love with cooking and convinced his mother, Veena, to let him attend the French Culinary Institute, now the International Culinary Center (ICC), in New York City. However, Alfred's promise as a chef throughout his training couldn't overpower his addictions. Shortly after moving to New York, he sold a precious cross necklace that Veena, a Seventh Day Adventist, had given to him.
And with that money, he bought more cocaine.
Two years after graduating from ICC, 25-year-old Alfred opened his first restaurant — an endeavor he now feels was irresponsible given how many personal struggles he was facing.
"It was kind of my addict's ego that was telling me, 'You got this, hold my beer,'" Alfred told TODAY.
It wasn't long after the doors opened at 4935 Kitchen Bar that Alfred found himself breaking into his own restaurant.
"I thought I was running and I fell ... and I hit my face really hard and I had spit out a bunch of my teeth — yeah about five," Alfred said about that morning in April 2014.
Alfred was running to get to his restaurant, 4935 Kitchen Bar, a few blocks away from his home — not because he was late to work (or because he had forgotten an important tool), but to steal $4,000 from the eatery's safe to get more heroin.
"Why stick around? I was failing everyone around me. I had lost the respect of anybody close to me. The one person I really did care about, my mother, at one point, she couldn't stand the sight of me," Alfred said about wanting to commit suicide.
That was the day Veena told Alfred, her youngest boy, that he had to go to rehab.
"I said that you will go to a rehab or you will not see me again. I am not your mother, you are not my son," Veena told TODAY.
After 28 days of detoxing in a rehabilitation center, Alfred was sober for the first time in a decade and returned to his restaurant to rebuild the brand — and his reputation — from the ground up.
"For me, my sobriety had to mean that I could go wherever I wanted to go and do whatever I wanted to do. I just wouldn't drink or use," Alfred said. "So that's how I live my life today."
Now five years sober, Alfred currently lives in Baltimore. And he's opened three Maryland restaurants in just three years (Duck Duck Goose in Bethesda, Maryland and Baltimore; plus, George's Chophouse, which is also in Bethesda). Alfred's group also runs an event space called Loft 4935. He has appeared on hit Food Network TV shows like “Cutthroat Kitchen” and “Chopped,” and was even invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House in December 2018.
"I discovered that it's OK to not always feel OK. I have bad days," Alfred said. "I mean, my worst day sober is still better than my best day messed up."