Restaurant entrepreneur Keven Parker has brought his flair to the Reading Terminal Market.
Parker, known for building Ms. Tootsie’s Restaurant Bar Lounge into a dining destination, has embarked on his latest business venture.
In January, he opened the Keven Parker Soul Food Café in the thriving Center City-based marketplace.
For Parker, being able to open a café in market represents a dream come true. When he first tapped into the restaurant business 20 years ago, Parker aspired to set up shop in the terminal.
Now he’s excited to bring his brand to a place that is home to more than 80 merchants.
“I’m just excited about the possibilities. It’s a new venture. It’s a new environment – a new atmosphere. I feel reinvented and rejuvenated. I think that we’ve really brought back something here that was missing,” Parker says.
The café serves up the fare Ms. Tootsie’s is known for. The menu boasts southern fried chicken, fried catfish, barbecued pork ribs, oven roasted turkey wings, cheesy cheese macaroni and cheese, sautéed string beans with smoked turkey and caramelized candied yams. Parker’s signature tropical blend iced tea is also on tap. The café’s features an intimate seating area with white leather upholstered seating and flower centerpieces.
Parker has the distinction of being the only African American food merchant in the market. Last year, Reading Terminal lost two African American owned mainstays - Basic 4 Vegetarian Café and Delilah’s Southern Cuisine.
Parker hopes to inspire more African American and Caribbean vendors to join the thriving marketplace of vendors.
“My intension is to be a catalyst for many more that want to join the force - to show people that the possibility is there. I want to be able to show people how you can do it,” he said.
Despite being surrounding by a number of food vendors, Parker relishes the competition.
“What people don’t understand is that what keeps you viable, what keeps you living and what keeps you generating energy is competition,” says the native of West Philadelphia.
“So when you have no competition it doesn’t make you step up your game. It doesn’t propel you to excellence. It makes you settle for mediocrity when you don’t even know you’re being mediocre.”
Paul Steinke, general manager of Reading Terminal Market said Parker was one of four business owners who competed for the opportunity to bring a soul food restaurant to the marketplace.
“We think the store looks great. The food is delicious and Keven has been a real pleasure to work with in every way,” said Steinke.
“I think that the product really sells itself. You can see it’s fresh. He has a very friendly and helpful staff and he’s been a great addition to the market.”
The café is the latest venture to join the Keven Parker Company which now includes Ms. Tootsies RBL, Simply Delicious Caterers and KDP Lifestyle and Luxury Suites. Last year, Parker moved on from Café 3801 at First District Plaza after a 17-year run.
“It was just time for me to transition and to venture into other things,” he said.
In addition to opening a new café, Parker has some other projects underway. He recently wrapped up a reality show titled “A Day in the Life of Ms. Tootsie’s” set to air on the Bravo Network in the fall. He’s also slated to publish a motivational book titled “The Process” that highlights how he started his business.
Parker and his mother, Joyce Parker launched Ms. Tootsie’s 17 years ago. Throughout the years, the South Street-based eatery became known for producing award-winning cuisine.
Parker is continuing to focus on perfecting his brand. He credits his employees with helping to build his brand. Parker’s company has more than 40 employees.
“One of the things that have been really good for us, is that my staff is so committed to the brand that they reignite me at times. It’s just been great to have a group of people that see the vision and support the vision,” says Parker.
“This year is about the year of perfection. Everything I do is about perfecting the brand and doing it on a level of excellence. I tell people this isn’t a job for me, this is a lifestyle,” he added.