Restaurant adopts mission-driven approach to serving barbecue
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Parker’s Barbecue in Greenville opened in March 1970. During the nearly 50 intervening years, locals and visitors alike have become aware that the restaurant’s owners are people of Christian faith who worked all their basic religious principles into the business.
But it has only been in the last 10 years that grandson Billy Parker and his wife Callie have significantly increased their focus on what it might look like for a local barbecue and chicken place (now with three locations) to, as they express it, “really impact the kingdom.”
Somewhat ironically, adoption of a mission statement, a set of six core values, a corporate Bible verse, a wide-ranging chaplaincy program and support for area athletic teams took off full-force after two of the restaurant’s lowest points: robberies at gunpoint that occurred in 2003 and 2005.
Billy Parker was fortunate to have survived the first robbery attempt, which occurred at his home. The robbers took off in a getaway vehicle with Parker in hot pursuit in his own car, at which they fired four shots while he was trying to get a description and license plate number.
“After the second robbery, which occurred at the restaurant, I really harbored a lot of resentment,” Parker said. “I was thinking, ‘We’re trying to make a positive impact with this business — aren’t there a lot of worse people you could stick up?’”
But it wasn’t long after Billy and Callie decided to contract with a corporate chaplain that one of the second group of robbers, who was still awaiting trial, sent a letter to Parker asking for his forgiveness.
“I really had a bad spirit about it, and I didn’t want to see or have anything to do with this guy,” Parker laughed. “But I gave the letter to Gerson Torres, the new chaplain, and told him to deal with it.” The chaplain ended up visiting the robber at the county detention center several times, and he told Parker later that the man had ended up accepting Christ.
“I cynically thought, ‘Yeah, everyone who goes to prison ends up making that claim’” mused Parker, “but later Callie and I got to thinking, ‘What if both these robberies and the court trials and all the rest of it happened specifically so this guy could be saved?’”
Torres, the chaplain with whom the Parkers have contracted for over 10 years through Corporate Chaplains of America, is part Cuban, part Nicaraguan, fluent in Spanish and a good match with the three restaurants’ ethnically diverse group of employees, according to Parker.
“He’s an absolutely central part of our ‘impact the kingdom’ focus,” Parker enthused. Torres serves and counsels with employees in dozens of ways, including spiritual mentoring and even sharing the gospel if employees ask and voluntarily give their assent. He not only visits employees and/or their families in the hospital, but also makes hospital visits on Parker’s behalf to customers and vendors.
Three or four times per year, the chaplain holds special evening events to which off-duty employees, their family members, their friends and even customers are invited. “We give them a complimentary meal, provide music from various church worship teams, deliver an encouraging message and reinforce our availability and interest if they have challenges going on in their lives,” said Parker.
Torres is also a crucial part of annual vendor appreciation celebrations, usually helps provide the program for Parker’s many complementary dinners for high school athletic teams and helps review customer prayer requests collected at the restaurants.
Next Sunday, in part two, I’ll have more on how their corporate chaplaincy program serves as a cornerstone for Parker’s faith outreach efforts.