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New Parker House owners celebrate past and future

RIDGELAND — In April 1994, Steve and Barbara Parker opened The Parker House Restaurant. Neither had any prior experience in the restaurant industry, yet grew the small eatery into the community icon its become today in this ever-growing Madison County city.

Last July, the Parkers sold The Parker House to Ken Dixon and Andy Cook. However, the restaurant didn’t fall far from the tree. Cook is the head chef at The Parker House, and the Jackson native has been eating at the restaurant since he was a boy. Dixon is a longtime family friend — his first job out of high school was at a Parker-owned business — and has been a Parker House employee for more than a decade, much of that time serving as general manager, director of operations and acting chef.

Not only will The Parker House name be retained, the Parkers will remain active behind the scenes for perhaps another year, maybe even longer. And, while Dixon and Cook have already made some changes at the fine dining establishment, their menu will include the Parkers’ original dishes, and the new owners are committed to maintaining the restaurant’s heavy community involvement.

“What we want to do is carry on the tradition Steve and Barbara have established, and see where we can excel,” Cook said.

Dixon agreed, and added, “It’s not like someone came in off the street and offered (the Parkers) an offer they couldn’t refuse. They approached us with the opportunity to buy the restaurant. They have done a great job here at The Parker House, and we want to build off of that.”

Food and place

Over its history, The Parker House has gained a reputation for its original recipes. Fried Green Tomato and Chicken Salad Napoleon, Fried Quail Salad, The Parker House Shrimp and Grits and Cheese Cake du Jour are a few examples.

The restaurant’s wines have also gained loyal patrons. Its wine offerings, representing all the major wine-producing regions in the world, are award-winning, and the serve staff is well trained in proper wine service.

Perhaps as important to the restaurant’s success is the facility itself. The Parker House is descriptive, as the restaurant looks and feels like a residence, which it once was until The Parkers bought it from the Adcock family in 1999. The restaurant houses private rooms that accommodate two to 45 people. These include the Executive Room, Allegra Room, Blue Room and Adcock Room. In addition, The Parker House offers a “backyard” pool featuring a three-tiered Italian marble fountain centerpiece, soft lighting, music and landscaping for unique poolside dining. (In total, The Parker House offers 128 seats, though New Year’s could see as many as 350 patrons both inside and poolside. The restaurant also offers lunch and dinner catering.)

This sense of home extends beyond the restaurant’s walls. It has become more than just a community gathering place. The Parker House, which now employs approximately 40 workers, is known for its commitment and generosity to not only the City of Ridgeland, but the surrounding community, too. It works with and promotes tourism, schools and other civic and charity-minded groups in an effort to raise quality of life, and the new owners respect that as much as the Parkers’ recipes.

“We looked at what the Parkers have been doing, what groups they are involved in, and will keep that commitment,” Dixon said. “We realize this is more than just a restaurant — it’s a part of the community.”

Old and new

Family and community are important to both Dixon and Cook. The Dixons and Parkers are old family friends, and Ken Dixon originally worked at the Parkers’ funeral home business. In the mid-1990s, Dixon, looking merely to supplement his income, asked the Parkers for a part-time job at The Parker House. He’s been there ever since, going full-time in 1999.

Cook remembers having his junior/senior prom dinner at The Parker House. He subsequently attended the University of Mississippi, but he couldn’t shake his love for cooking, a romance that goes back to his preschool years.

“My brother says he remembers me baking apple pies when I was five years old,” Cook said. “I had been cooking before I got to Ole Miss, and continued when I got to Oxford.”

Cook eventually went to culinary school in New Orleans, cutting his teeth at the noted Commander’s Palace before joining the kitchen of the noted New Orleans restaurant Dick and Jenny’s.

Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina ended that chapter of his career. He left New Orleans with pretty much what he had on his back and his dog. For two months, Cook didn’t know whether he had lost everything or not. Fortunately, his possessions were spared, but Dick and Jenny’s wasn’t. He came on board at The Parker House in September 2005 expecting to return to New Orleans in the near future. However, Cook was offered the head chef’s position in a matter of weeks, and now he’s home to stay.

Dixon and Cook have initiated some changes, and more are coming. They are developing an expanded menu. It will contain a page of the Parkers’ recipes, plus a new, seasonal menu. In early 2007, they are planning to launch Sunday brunch, a first for the restaurant.

The men’s other plans are to promote what The Parker House already offers. They are looking to promote the restaurant’s wine service, and they want to grow its everyday crowd, especially poolside patrons.

“We want people to know that The Parker House isn’t just a place for a special occasion,” Dixon said. “It’s also a great place to have a beer after work. And, the poolside is just a great dining experience, especially in the fall when the weather cools. We want more people enjoying the pool.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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