Community at the heart
By Marguerite Cleveland
Photo by Samathan Tillman
Austin, Texas, native Gary Parker grew up with BBQing (it is a verb in Texas) as a way of life. Family get-togethers and community events were good excuses for throwing some meat on the grill. Parker worked for the Intel Corporation as an engineer, which brought him to Washington. Upon retirement he decided to open up his own little piece of Austin in Gig Harbor with his restaurant, BBQ2U. He is well known in the area for his support of the local community, whether it is for a nonprofit or helping small area businesses who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. He calls it “Give Back Programs.”
Q. How does one become a Pit Master?
A. Thousands upon thousands of hours making BBQ. Meet the Pit Masters in your area, work with them, cook with them. Study the history and understand the role of BBQ in society. Study the science of BBQ, the fire, the woods, the smoke, the meat, the weather. Understand how the process brings them all together. Don't be a snob. All BBQ is great to someone, and you can always learn from those who do it differently than you do. I think Texas BBQ is the best because that’s where I am from. The methods and flavors were embedded in my soul as I grew up.
Q. Can you share with our readers how you decided to use your lobby to support local authors and small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A. Well, the thought really just evolved over time. The story started early in the first days of the COVID shutdown. Today, it's hard to remember what it was like in those early days. I remember walking through the parking lot of the Plaza we are in. It was a weekday; a time when people would normally be buzzing around doing what they do. However, on this day, there was an eerie silence. No cars, no commerce, just silence. I was thinking, ‘What are we going to do? What are my neighboring businesses going to do?’
A little time passed, and our little business was fortunate. We were seeing huge support from the community, but as I talked to other businesspeople, they were really telling a tough story. I was initially kicking around the idea of running specials that would promote other businesses. Something like show me your receipt from a struggling neighboring business and I would give you 10 percent off your meal. However, our crowds were growing and sometimes people were waiting 15 to 20 minutes for their order. They had nothing to do except get frustrated. We decided to bring in other businesses to set up displays and promote them. This gives people something to look at and do while waiting for their orders. It was a win-win.
In the first few weeks we featured businesses like Treasures 4 Humanity, Love of Spice, Ken Walker Jewelers. Time continued to pass, and we were watching events like the Taste of Gig Harbor and the summer art fair get canceled. The participants of these events had no outlet, no way to share their creations with others. So we invited some of the artists and authors to set up displays in our lobby like we had done with the businesses. This was really working. People now had something to do while waiting for their food, and the artists and authors started selling their books and paintings. There are many stories of appreciation, and today it continues as an ongoing event called Books and BBQ.
Q. Can you share your philosophy on how BBQ has been the "center of community" throughout history and how it influences your give back programs?
A. Now this is a big question. To really understand you must be a bit of an historian. That said, you can look at in a biblical sense, or take a more modern view, but no matter how you approach it, cooking meat over fire and sharing it with the community is so ingrained in each one of us that it's undeniable. What am I saying? To come together as a community, to debate issues, to celebrate milestones, to seek out others, to lend a helping hand, has often been based on community gatherings. Whenever there are community gatherings you can bet food will be present, and across America, that food is most often BBQ. It is more than a food choice. It's a culture that means unity of a community. BBQ re-energizes the soul and can give fresh vision to the weary. BBQ grounds us in our roots and reminds us who we are and where we came from. I submit for review and consideration that there is no other food choice that can compare with BBQ and the role it has played in the building of societies. It's this culture that BBQ2U tries to bring to this community. We want to help those in need. We want to provide a place you can go and recharge. We want to help young people play sports. We want to show that small business can be the answer to classroom funding issues. The list can go on and on, but I trust you get the point. We are more than a restaurant—and we want you to be a part of our community and BBQ family.