John Parker, 45, started helping out at his family's Goldsboro, N.C. barbeque restaurant as soon as he was old enough to hold a mop. He remembers a bustling lunch crowd of people who put their racial and socio-economic differences aside in the name of good food. "We had doctors, lawyers, small-business owners, mechanics and garbage workers," he says.
Guy Parker's Barbeque Restaurant was one of the first in the region to welcome black and white customers to sit down in the same dining room.
When Parker's father opened the restaurant in 1962, the Civil Rights Movement wasn't top of mind. The World War II veteran and barbeque pit master was more interested in winning over customers with his succulent pork, barbeque chicken and tangy secret sauce. Prior to that, he spent 18 years working at a restaurant that, though black-owned, seated white patrons in the front and asked black patrons to pick up their food in the back. "He didn't judge them for that," says his son. "That's just how things were done." But he had no intention of doing that in his own establishment.
When Guy Parker's restaurant opened, everyone came in through the front door. Initially, says John Parker, customers – including white customers – asked if they could sit down for lunch. "My mom and dad said that anyone was welcome as long as they conducted themselves in a respectful manner," he says. "They didn't have to ask to come in and eat." If there was any hesitation, he says, customers seemed to get over it when lunch was served.
The restaurant was a thriving local institution for more than four decades. "We had people come from all over, and we shipped barbeque to places outside the state," says Parker. The restaurant closed when its proprietor became ill in 2005 and passed away in 2006. The family still owns the property and opens the restaurant for special events.
A few years ago, John Parker found himself out of a job and looking for a business idea of his own. "My dad always told me that if a man can't find a job he can create a job," he says. He considered reopening his father's restaurant, but it's two hours from his current home in Greensboro and would need some upgrades and new equipment to reopen as a full-time restaurant.
If he couldn't bring back the restaurant, he figured, he'd give them a taste of it by making and selling his dad's secret sauce.
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