On the Line: Steve Parker of the Tulsa Rib Company, Part Two

Steve Parker credits the success of Tulsa Rib Company to his restaurant family. “I really owe the longevity and the success we've had to the staff,” he says. “So many of them have been here quite a while; you really do feel like they're part of the family. Tiffany [a night manager] had an aunt work here a long time ago. That aunt got her job when she was in high school. There are those family connections. It really is a credit to the staff that we've been able to assemble here. And that staff came from the community. When we've hired, we've gone to the local high schools and found someone who started as a busperson. They continue on and go off to college, but they come back each summer and keep working. We see them for a long period of time.”

Read our interview with Steve Parker of The Tulsa Rib Company, Part One.
And now, on to Part Two . . . .

When you're not in the kitchen cooking, what are you doing?
Training for triathlons, backpacking and gardening. Unfortunately, training has gone downhill the past couple of months. I used to do Olympic-distance triathlons [1.5 kilometer swim, 40 kilometer  bike ride, 10 kilometer run], but now I do sprint triathlons, which are shorter distances. I'm a goal-oriented person, so it was nice to have that incentive to stay in shape.

Last song playing on your radio:
“Born In the Boondocks” by Little Big Town.


Where did you grow up?

Long Beach, and then Newport Beach.

Hardest lesson you've learned:
My partner David George's unexpected death at 50. Learning that personal loss, combined with the need to keep the restaurant successful, was devastating but important to our employees and their families. Nothing I would want anyone else to have to learn.

Tell us about your restaurant-management background.
I started out working as a dishwasher at 13 and moved my way up to prep cook, line cook, kitchen manager, then waiter and restaurant night manager. So my management experience is based on the real-world school of hard knocks, indeed.

What's your favorite childhood memory?
Visiting Yosemite for the first time as a young child. The sights were incredible. My parents were not outdoors-type folks. We moved from Pennsylvania. My father was an engineer in the steel industry, and he got into aerospace. He met my mom during World War II out here in California. After the war ended, he went home to Pennsylvania. They swore if there were any chance, we would get back to California. However, jobs were scarce at the time. The opportunity eventually arose to move back. I think they wanted to see the “California sights.”

One of the first things that I remember was coming out of a tunnel. There was this spot called Tunnel View from which you could see the whole valley, Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls. It was just astounding. That and the big mountains started my love of backpacking. We didn't go hiking then, but I took my kids up Half Dome when they were young.

Last book you read:
Ken Follet's Winter of the World. I love to read to relax. It was fabulous. I really enjoy anything Follet writes, especially those books he sets in real historical events.

Last thing you looked up online:
Restaurant equipment for our new store. There isn't anything different that we're using. Most of it is either time for a new one, or it's just time for a new and larger one. For example, the heated holding tables. Or the double fryer needs to be a triple.

Do you have any skills that are non-food-related?
Woodworking and gardening. I actually have a “plant hospital” to save plants and restore them to life, then plant back in my yard. I have an older house in Costa Mesa, and it has this massive lot that was all weeds and nothing else. At the time, we were very young and broke, so the landscaping was done in a very hit-and-miss, whatever might be on sale situation. All sorts of crazy stuff went in the yard. If something wasn't doing well, I'd dig it up and try to nurse it back to health with varied amounts of success.

What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
Teaching high school or college. I really enjoy mentoring and teaching our young employees. I was a history major at UCLA and loved ancient Greek and Roman history. That's actually related to the genesis of me ending up in the restaurant business. I worked all my way through school, and it was always in restaurants.

Random story that came up in conversation:
We were asked to do a catering for the Orange Historical Society, and there were other restaurants there. I got to the event, not really realizing it was titled something like “Historical Restaurants of Orange.” [Editor's Note: The restaurant has been around for 32 years.] It was us, the Hobbit and another restaurant. The realization hit me like a ton of bricks.

The Tulsa Rib Company will be moving to 220 E. Katella, Orange; www.tulsarib.com.

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