March 2, 2024


Free For All Food

Restauranteur wishes foods truck to encourage 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 restaurant and food items truck proprietor Harry Parker is planning to choose his food stuff truck to East St. Louis on a frequent foundation. “I’ve normally desired to have a cafe in locations that may be (of) lesser profits, that never have all the expansion standards and all the demographics and so forth,” Parker, who life in Edwardsville, Ill. (Derik Holtmann/Belleville News-Democrat through AP)


For Harry Parker, owning a cafe isn’t just about earning good top quality foods for clients.

He also wants to give back again to the neighborhood, particularly people that are underserved. Parker, the proprietor of Gulf Shores Cafe and Grill, remembers listening to gunshots even though serving clients in Ferguson, Missouri. He has offered totally free meals to veterans and is organizing to give some to academics amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parker wishes every person to experience that affable mother nature of Southern hospitality, which is fitting, because the South is in which he calls household. And he wants East St. Louis people to have a taste of it. In December, he strategies to have a meals truck in the metropolis.

“I’ve always wanted to have a restaurant in parts that may perhaps be (of) lesser cash flow, that do not have all the growth criteria and all the demographics and so forth,” Parker, who life in Edwardsville, mentioned. “The foodstuff is mama and daddy’s recipes. I have an engineering degree and an MBA. I really do not know a good deal about cooking, but mama and daddy cooked….and when I go back dwelling, this is the variety of foods that we try to eat and grew up on, and I just say you know it is a disgrace that I never choose this foodstuff to in which people who seem like me are and perhaps do not even know about it.”

Soon after retiring from DuPont as a company executive, Parker employed his family’s recipes to open the restaurant’s initial place in Creve Coeur, Missouri, in 2008. He opened an Edwardsville location 7 a long time afterwards. The restaurant prides itself on currently being the premier location for receiving Cajun seafood in the St. Louis metropolitan space.

East St. Louis is the newest foodstuff truck location for the cafe. For nearly two decades, Gulf Shores has operated food stuff truck places in St. Louis’ North County. Now Parker designs to function on alternate days, near the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Centre and the federal developing. Parker has not set a day for the opening.

Keesha Blanchard, an East St. Louis resident, is a regular consumer of Gulf Shores. For the earlier two several years, she’s traveled to its Edwardsville locale, a just about 30 minute travel from East St. Louis, primarily for its fried pickles, which she enjoys. She’s also a lover of Gulf Shores’ shrimp. She’s excited about the food items truck coming to her town.

“It’s scarce that you have a cafe that really cares about the folks. The foods is generally great, and it’s awesome to know that they want to make sure that you’re Okay much too,” Blanchard said. “Even the individuals who weren’t serving me but have been close to would check on me to see if the foods was Ok.”

Caring for the individuals and local community he’s serving is Parker’s mission. It’s what led to his options for East St. Louis, a group that is seriously underneath-resourced. Along with currently being a foods desert, the city’s unemployment rate is about 16%, much more than two times bigger than the national amount.

“We guidance the local community,” Parker explained .“We give back to the neighborhood. I want everyone to comprehend and see that a minority-owned restaurant can certainly be a portion of the neighborhood and can in fact contribute to the local community, which is why I wished to do the meals truck in East St. Louis.”

Parker also wishes his mission to be reflected in the persons he hires. He said some of his servers are individuals who want a 2nd possibility at everyday living just after dealing with drug abuse or obtaining a legal past.

“People who have had tricky times, but now want to get on their own out of it, are nevertheless folks and they’re able,” Parker reported. “So I want to have the most effective restaurant in St. Louis, and when individuals say how good the meals is I want to say, ‘And guess what? The people who cooked that food stuff are felons, recovered drug addicts and so forth’. Those people individuals can make up a workforce that can in fact lead.”

Torian Hopkins, a prepare dinner and foodstuff truck supervisor for Gulf Shores, is thankful for Parker’s willingness to give him a next probability. Hopkins joined the restaurant’s team in Edwardsville in 2015. Last yr, he was despatched to jail for a firearm possession charge. On his launch this year, Hopkins was ready to get his job back.

“I was heading as a result of other items in my lifetime, and I was on the verge of supplying up,” Hopkins, an East St. Louis indigenous, reported about his lifestyle just before he went to prison. “I was calling off perform and I was just doing all sorts of stuff. My brother experienced handed (away) and then immediately after my brother experienced handed, my mom had passed, and I was giving up. I consider receiving incarcerated was most likely the greatest point that could’ve took place to me due to the fact I wouldn’t have made it. I would’ve been long gone.”

“And I refuse to be institutionalized, and I will not do the things that I did to go (there) the very first time, and if it just so transpires that I do the points I did, I understand the outcomes.”

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

“He’ll assist persons with something,” Hopkins reported. “When I obtained out, he acquired me a car or truck, bought my career again and just made confident I was alright.”

Hopkins, 36, is satisfied about continuing his affinity for cooking, which started off as a childhood passion. His preferred aspect about operating for the restaurant is getting a strong bond with his co-workers.

“I appreciate cooking and viewing folks content with what I do,” he mentioned.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Parker’s grateful that he’s able to grow the restaurant’s food items truck business enterprise at a time when most places to eat, including his, are struggling. Parker reported his business is running somewhere in between 15% to 20% of its frequent revenue, but he doesn’t let that get him down.

“There’s possibilities in difficult situations,” Parker reported. “I try not to sit down and speak about how lousy it is. I attempt to be determined to go and do those people kinds of things, find those varieties of chances, discover these parallels. That’s why we have the food stuff truck. We’re hunting ahead to the foodstuff truck supplementing us. “

He’s also wanting ahead to inspiring the men and women in East St. Louis with his foodstuff truck, primarily thinking about how he’s a Black male who was elevated in the Jim Crow South and manufactured a effective small business out of his parents’ cooking.

Parker, 66, was born and lifted in New Orleans, Louisiana. He remembers his mom training him and his siblings how to mix spices and make gumbo, a Cajun delicacy. Parker’s Southern upbringing built it uncomplicated for him to enter the cafe business enterprise following retirement.

“I’ve normally cherished to prepare dinner, simply because mama could cook and daddy could prepare dinner,” Parker reported. “Whenever we have been heading some spot,…. everybody preferred to know what my mom and father have been gonna be making. (For) household reunions – my dad’s title is Rockwell, my mother’s identify is Mary – (people would check with) , ‘What’s Rockwell and Mary cooking, what are they gonna bring?’”

“We would have all these family recipes. It would be a disgrace to have people recipes die, so I decided I was gonna consider these recipes and open up a restaurant.”

Parker hopes his story, and, by extension, his cafe, will persuade men and women in East St. Louis to observe their goals, irrespective of how tough they might seem to be.

“If I can inspire any individual to have a dream and go after it and choose it immediately in our neighborhoods so our individuals can see it, so they can witness it and understand that this is a Black-owned restaurant, and that cafe is carrying out every thing it can for the overall group, then I have carried out my position.”