AUSTIN (KXAN) - Dan Parrott has been many things in his life: a French-trainedchef, a restaurant owner, a designer and builder. None of thosethings, though, describe him the way he describes himself.
"Oh, I'm definitely an old hippie," Parrott chortled.
That, for him, means a fondness for "communal life."
"The true idea of communal, living and sharing and giving," hesaid, "was that we're going to make sure everybody's got enough andwe're going to really enjoy being with each other and everything'spretty much, you know, forgivable because we're all humans."
At 55 years of age, he's a large man, reflecting his love ofgood food. He laughs easily, reflecting his love of people. Hedrives a kitchen on wheels, reflecting his love of creative energy.He, his son, Danny Parrot and their mutual friend, Albert "Trey"Buell Cook, III, are partners in an enterprise that goes by thethoroughly appropriate moniker of "Old School BBQ & Grill."It's appropriate because the entire outfit is contained in a 1962International Harvester yellow school bus, named, "Big Mama."
"Big Mama had a great life," the elder Parrott said. "She tookcare of kids that needed her help getting to school before. Thiswas actually a handicap bus and now she's helping us take care offolks that are hungry."
Parrott guides Big Mama into a small spot of land beside arailroad track on East Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd. in EastAustin. Cook quickly erects a portable shelter and sets up a picnictable and some chairs beneath it. Customers are soon lining up forbrisket sandwiches, sausage, potato salad and fries, among otherthings. Some are attracted by the bus, itself. Others areresponding to word on the street.
It turns out that when celebrity TV food/travel show hostAnthony Bourdain made a recent trip to Austin, he asked around forlunch recommendations. Almost everyone he talked to apparentlyincluded Old School BBQ in their recommendations. As result,Bourdain wound up spreading the word about his exquisite lunchtimeexperience with Big Mama at a book signing that night.
That's not all. The latest issue of Men's Health magazinefeatures an article on the "Street Food Revolution." Part of thatarticle includes a list: The "Ten Best Street Eats in America." Sowhat outfit comes in number six on that list? You guessed it: OldSchool BBQ, Austin, Texas.
So why all the buzz? Well, for one thing, Parrott carriescredibility with him on his bus.
"I've built fifty-six restaurants in three countries on twocontinents and fourteen states," he said. "And now what I'm doingis doing my part of getting back to what I like."
To understand what Parrott likes, you have to know what hedoesn't like. He doesn't like the philosophy dished up by corporateAmerica's food industry.
"Our company is 'Old School,' which for us is real simple," heexplained. "We believe in old school service and quality, butwithout the rip-off pricing. So we want to take everything backforty years to when you went out, it really meant something to thepeople that were serving you, because it was a big deal. You know,mostly people ate at home; they didn't really go out all that much.So when they did, it was an event. It was a dining experience; itwasn't just shoving something in your face.
"I've been in this business thirty-five years and I've seen thattrend go further and further away from the focus on the customerand focusing on the company. I don't fault people for trying tomake money; I'm trying to make money. But the way you make it is, Ithink different than what they think it is, they being the bigcorporate entities mostly. And the people they train then go outand start doing the same thing. They propagate the thing of, 'If Iget the order right and the food's hot, it's a good meal, andthat's not true.
"I want to show other people in my industry that this approachworks; that you can concentrate on your food quality and yourservice and everything will come behind it."
To keep up with Parrott and Big Mama, customers will have to dojust that: run along behind them. You see, they do some traveling,showing up at festivals and such in an area that spans severalcounties. When in town, they have been setting up shop at the MLKlocation.
Now, though, Parrott is contemplating a move to a combinationtrailer food court and art studio complex at 2326 East CesarChavez. What's a customer to do to keep up? The answer to that isanything but old school. You have to follow the bus around onTwitter and Facebook.
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