June 20, 2024


Free For All Food

Restauranteur wishes meals 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 food stuff truck operator Harry Parker is organizing to just take his food truck to East St. Louis on a typical foundation. “I’ve normally desired to have a restaurant in parts that could be (of) lesser money, that really do not have all the expansion conditions and all the demographics and so forth,” Parker, who lives in Edwardsville, Sick. (Derik Holtmann/Belleville News-Democrat through AP)


For Harry Parker, possessing a restaurant isn’t just about creating superior high quality foodstuff for buyers.

He also needs to give again to the local community, specially all those that are underserved. Parker, the owner of Gulf Shores Restaurant and Grill, remembers listening to gunshots while serving consumers in Ferguson, Missouri. He has supplied free meals to veterans and is arranging to give some to instructors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parker needs every person to expertise that affable mother nature of Southern hospitality, which is fitting, for the reason that the South is where he calls dwelling. And he would like East St. Louis residents to have a taste of it. In December, he ideas to have a food items truck in the city.

“I’ve always required to have a restaurant in places that may be (of) lesser earnings, that don’t have all the growth requirements and all the demographics and so forth,” Parker, who lives in Edwardsville, explained. “The food stuff is mama and daddy’s recipes. I have an engineering degree and an MBA. I really don’t know a great deal about cooking, but mama and daddy cooked….and when I go again residence, this is the kind of foodstuff that we try to eat and grew up on, and I just say you know it is a disgrace that I really don’t acquire this foodstuff to wherever men and women who glimpse like me are and possibly do not even know about it.”

Just after retiring from DuPont as a corporate government, Parker applied his family’s recipes to open up the restaurant’s very first locale in Creve Coeur, Missouri, in 2008. He opened an Edwardsville location 7 yrs later on. The cafe prides alone on currently being the leading location for getting Cajun seafood in the St. Louis metropolitan space.

East St. Louis is the most current foodstuff truck place for the restaurant. For nearly two yrs, Gulf Shores has operated food items truck destinations in St. Louis’ North County. Now Parker options to operate on alternate days, close to the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Middle and the federal making. Parker hasn’t established a date for the opening.

Keesha Blanchard, an East St. Louis resident, is a frequent consumer of Gulf Shores. For the previous two several years, she’s traveled to its Edwardsville spot, a just about 30 moment push from East St. Louis, predominantly for its fried pickles, which she enjoys. She’s also a enthusiast of Gulf Shores’ shrimp. She’s enthusiastic about the meals truck coming to her city.

“It’s exceptional that you have a restaurant that genuinely cares about the men and women. The food items is constantly excellent, and it is awesome to know that they want to make guaranteed that you’re Okay also,” Blanchard reported. “Even the folks who weren’t serving me but were being all over would look at on me to see if the foodstuff was Okay.”

Caring for the people today and local community he’s serving is Parker’s mission. It is what led to his ideas for East St. Louis, a group that is seriously below-resourced. Along with staying a food desert, the city’s unemployment rate is about 16%, more than two periods higher than the nationwide price.

“We assist the local community,” Parker explained .“We give back to the local community. I want every person to recognize and see that a minority-owned cafe can without a doubt be a component of the neighborhood and can certainly contribute to the community, which is why I required to do the food truck in East St. Louis.”

Parker also desires his mission to be reflected in the individuals he hires. He explained some of his servers are persons who want a second opportunity at everyday living following dealing with drug abuse or getting a felony past.

“People who have had tricky situations, but now want to get themselves out of it, are however persons and they’re capable,” Parker stated. “So I want to have the best restaurant in St. Louis, and when people say how excellent the meals is I want to say, ‘And guess what? The persons who cooked that food items are felons, recovered drug addicts and so forth’. People folks can make up a workforce that can in fact add.”

Torian Hopkins, a prepare dinner and foodstuff truck supervisor for Gulf Shores, is thankful for Parker’s willingness to give him a next prospect. Hopkins joined the restaurant’s employees in Edwardsville in 2015. Previous calendar year, he was sent to jail for a firearm possession cost. On his release this 12 months, Hopkins was in a position to get his career back.

“I was going as a result of other issues in my existence, and I was on the verge of providing up,” Hopkins, an East St. Louis native, mentioned about his everyday living in advance of he went to prison. “I was contacting off perform and I was just carrying out all kinds of things. My brother had handed (absent) and then following my brother experienced handed, my mother experienced passed, and I was supplying up. I believe that getting incarcerated was in all probability the most effective detail that could’ve took place to me mainly because I would not have created it. I would’ve been gone.”

“And I refuse to be institutionalized, and I won’t do the things that I did to go (there) the initially time, and if it just so occurs that I do the factors I did, I comprehend the implications.”

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

“He’ll enable people today with something,” Hopkins reported. “When I acquired out, he acquired me a car, received my task back again and just created absolutely sure I was alright.”

Hopkins, 36, is delighted about continuing his affinity for cooking, which commenced as a childhood hobby. His favored portion about doing the job for the restaurant is getting a robust bond with his co-personnel.

“I appreciate cooking and observing folks delighted with what I do,” he mentioned.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Parker’s grateful that he’s able to grow the restaurant’s food stuff truck business enterprise at a time when most eating places, together with his, are battling. Parker reported his organization is running someplace between 15% to 20% of its normal income, but he does not enable that get him down.

“There’s chances in complicated situations,” Parker stated. “I attempt not to sit down and communicate about how bad it is. I consider to be inspired to go and do those forms of items, discover those people kinds of chances, locate individuals parallels. That’s why we have the foods truck. We’re on the lookout forward to the food items truck supplementing us. “

He’s also seeking forward to inspiring the individuals in East St. Louis with his food stuff truck, particularly thinking about how he’s a Black guy who was elevated in the Jim Crow South and manufactured a profitable business enterprise out of his parents’ cooking.

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

“I’ve often cherished to cook, due to the fact mama could cook and daddy could cook dinner,” Parker explained. “Whenever we have been heading some spot,…. everyone wanted to know what my mother and dad had been gonna be making. (For) family reunions – my dad’s name is Rockwell, my mother’s title is Mary – (men and women would inquire) , ‘What’s Rockwell and Mary cooking, what are they gonna provide?’”

“We would have all all those loved ones recipes. It would be a shame to have those people recipes die, so I resolved I was gonna acquire all those recipes and open up a restaurant.”

Parker hopes his story, and, by extension, his cafe, will really encourage individuals in East St. Louis to comply with their goals, no matter of how complicated they could seem to be.

“If I can encourage any individual to have a dream and go after it and take it right in our neighborhoods so our persons can see it, so they can witness it and realize that this is a Black-owned cafe, and that cafe is performing every thing it can for the full local community, then I’ve completed my job.”