December 11, 2023


Free For All Food

Restauranteur desires food truck to inspire East St. Louis

Gulf Shores restaurant and food truck owner Harry Parker is planning to take his food truck to East St. Louis on a regular basis. “I’ve always wanted to have a restaurant in areas that may be (of) lesser income, that don’t have all the growth criteria and all the demographics and so forth,” Parker, who lives in Edwardsville, Ill. (Derik Holtmann/Belleville News-Democrat via AP)

Gulf Shores cafe and foods truck operator Harry Parker is organizing to acquire his foods truck to East St. Louis on a frequent foundation. “I’ve always wished to have a restaurant in areas that might be (of) lesser profits, that do not have all the advancement standards and all the demographics and so forth,” Parker, who life in Edwardsville, Ill. (Derik Holtmann/Belleville Information-Democrat via AP)


For Harry Parker, possessing a restaurant isn’t just about producing good quality food for buyers.

He also needs to give back again to the local community, specially those that are underserved. Parker, the operator of Gulf Shores Cafe and Grill, remembers listening to gunshots even though serving buyers in Ferguson, Missouri. He has offered totally free foods to veterans and is planning to give some to academics amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parker would like all people to practical experience that affable nature of Southern hospitality, which is fitting, simply because the South is in which he calls residence. And he wants East St. Louis inhabitants to have a style of it. In December, he ideas to have a meals truck in the city.

“I’ve constantly desired to have a restaurant in parts that may perhaps be (of) lesser revenue, that really don’t have all the advancement standards and all the demographics and so forth,” Parker, who life in Edwardsville, mentioned. “The food is mama and daddy’s recipes. I have an engineering degree and an MBA. I really do not know a great deal about cooking, but mama and daddy cooked….and when I go again home, this is the sort of food items that we consume and grew up on, and I just say you know it’s a disgrace that I never get this foods to where by people today who glance like me are and maybe never even know about it.”

After retiring from DuPont as a company government, Parker made use of his family’s recipes to open the restaurant’s very first spot in Creve Coeur, Missouri, in 2008. He opened an Edwardsville site seven years later on. The restaurant prides alone on becoming the leading vacation spot for receiving Cajun seafood in the St. Louis metropolitan location.

East St. Louis is the most up-to-date food items truck spot for the restaurant. For approximately two a long time, Gulf Shores has operated foodstuff truck areas in St. Louis’ North County. Now Parker plans to operate on alternate times, in the vicinity of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center and the federal constructing. Parker hasn’t established a day for the opening.

Keesha Blanchard, an East St. Louis resident, is a frequent shopper of Gulf Shores. For the past two years, she’s traveled to its Edwardsville locale, a virtually 30 moment push from East St. Louis, generally for its fried pickles, which she loves. She’s also a supporter of Gulf Shores’ shrimp. She’s excited about the foodstuff truck coming to her metropolis.

“It’s exceptional that you have a cafe that genuinely cares about the men and women. The food is constantly great, and it is good to know that they want to make guaranteed that you are Okay too,” Blanchard stated. “Even the people who weren’t serving me but have been all around would test on me to see if the meals was Ok.”

Caring for the individuals and group he’s serving is Parker’s mission. It’s what led to his strategies for East St. Louis, a neighborhood that’s seriously below-resourced. Alongside with remaining a food stuff desert, the city’s unemployment price is about 16%, extra than two moments increased than the countrywide amount.

“We help the local community,” Parker claimed .“We give back again to the neighborhood. I want every person to recognize and see that a minority-owned restaurant can indeed be a portion of the local community and can certainly contribute to the local community, which is why I desired to do the foodstuff truck in East St. Louis.”

Parker also wants his mission to be reflected in the men and women he hires. He explained some of his servers are people today who want a second opportunity at daily life right after dealing with drug abuse or acquiring a criminal past.

“People who have had challenging situations, but now want to get themselves out of it, are however folks and they’re able,” Parker claimed. “So I want to have the finest cafe in St. Louis, and when individuals say how great the food stuff is I want to say, ‘And guess what? The men and women who cooked that foodstuff are felons, recovered drug addicts and so forth’. Those people can make up a workforce that can indeed lead.”

Torian Hopkins, a cook dinner and food truck supervisor for Gulf Shores, is grateful for Parker’s willingness to give him a second probability. Hopkins joined the restaurant’s staff in Edwardsville in 2015. Final calendar year, he was sent to prison for a firearm possession charge. Upon his release this year, Hopkins was equipped to get his position back again.

“I was likely via other things in my lifetime, and I was on the verge of providing up,” Hopkins, an East St. Louis native, said about his everyday living prior to he went to jail. “I was calling off operate and I was just carrying out all types of stuff. My brother had handed (absent) and then following my brother experienced handed, my mom experienced handed, and I was providing up. I think finding incarcerated was possibly the very best matter that could’ve occurred to me simply because I would not have manufactured it. I would’ve been absent.”

“And I refuse to be institutionalized, and I will not do the points that I did to go (there) the to start with time, and if it just so takes place that I do the factors I did, I have an understanding of the consequences.”

Hopkins stated he’s glad to have a boss who cares about him, like Parker.

“He’ll enable people today with anything,” Hopkins stated. “When I bought out, he bought me a car, obtained my work back and just manufactured certain I was alright.”

Hopkins, 36, is pleased about continuing his affinity for cooking, which commenced as a childhood hobby. His beloved portion about doing work for the restaurant is having a sturdy bond with his co-workers.

“I really like cooking and observing persons satisfied with what I do,” he said.

For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, Parker’s grateful that he’s capable to develop the restaurant’s food truck organization at a time when most dining places, together with his, are struggling. Parker reported his organization is operating somewhere involving 15% to 20% of its frequent revenue, but he does not permit that get him down.

“There’s prospects in challenging situations,” Parker explained. “I attempt not to sit down and communicate about how terrible it is. I try to be enthusiastic to go and do these kinds of things, uncover all those kinds of options, find those parallels. That is why we have the foods truck. We’re hunting forward to the food items truck supplementing us. “

He’s also wanting forward to inspiring the people today in East St. Louis with his foods truck, in particular contemplating how he’s a Black guy who was raised in the Jim Crow South and designed a prosperous small business out of his parents’ cooking.

Parker, 66, was born and elevated in New Orleans, Louisiana. He remembers his mom teaching him and his siblings how to blend spices and make gumbo, a Cajun delicacy. Parker’s Southern upbringing made it quick for him to enter the restaurant business soon after retirement.

“I’ve often loved to prepare dinner, for the reason that mama could prepare dinner and daddy could cook dinner,” Parker claimed. “Whenever we have been going some area,…. all people wanted to know what my mother and dad were being gonna be earning. (For) spouse and children reunions – my dad’s title is Rockwell, my mother’s title is Mary – (persons would inquire) , ‘What’s Rockwell and Mary cooking, what are they gonna carry?’”

“We would have all these family recipes. It would be a shame to have all those recipes die, so I determined I was gonna just take those recipes and open a restaurant.”

Parker hopes his tale, and, by extension, his cafe, will encourage persons in East St. Louis to follow their dreams, regardless of how challenging they may perhaps appear to be.

“If I can inspire everyone to have a dream and pursue it and take it straight in our neighborhoods so our people can see it, so they can witness it and recognize that this is a Black-owned cafe, and that restaurant is executing every thing it can for the whole group, then I’ve accomplished my position.”