Ms. Tootsie's founder on a roll

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Keven Parker credits his mom as a major influence in his business.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Keven Parker credits his mom as a major influence in his business.
Posted: April 02, 2013

KEVEN Parker, 46, of Overbrook Farms, owns Ms. Tootsie's Restaurant Bar Lounge on South Street near 13th. Parker has been expanding his brand to a home-furnishings store, a boutique hotel and, most recently, a soul-food cafe at Reading Terminal Market. Parker calls it the KDP experience.

 Q: You started with a catering business. How did things evolve?

A: I always wanted to open up a restaurant and name it after my mother. We grew up in a housing project in West Philadelphia for the first seven years of my life, and she was the neighborhood cook.

Q: Your mother, who was known as "Ms. Tootsie," was also your business partner?

A: She was my partner, confidant and best friend and taught me not to take anything for granted or become content.

Q: When you opened Ms. Tootsie's in 1999, things were different on South Street.

A: I was discouraged from coming here. It was desolate. My mother didn't want me to give up my six-figure salary at Comcast, and she wanted me to have stability. But I knew it could work. About a week later, my mom came to me and gave me a check. We both used cash from our 401(k)s and that's how we got our first building.

Q: What's the KDP experience?

A: You have to reinvent yourself or you'll become stagnant. The lifestyle store came from my love of interior design and home furnishings. I call it KDP Lifestyle - it's reflective of the things I get and put in my home or restaurant. So the [KDP] experience is eat, drink, sleep and shop. It's having everything at one destination.

Q: Who comes to Ms. Tootsie's?

A: I get young people on dates, senior citizens that live around the corner who come every Thursday or Friday for fish. When I first opened, our customer base was about 99 percent African-American. Today, it's about 65 percent and 35 percent others.

Q: What's next for the KDP brand?

A: I just finished taping episodes for a reality-TV show. That's going to premiere this fall on a popular network, but I can't discuss it yet. We're still trying to wrap up the negotiations.

Q: What's the TV show about?

A: It's about me, my restaurant, how I run the business, a day in the life of Ms. Tootsie's.

Q: What were the total employees and revenues for 2012?

A: We currently have 38 employees, and nine of them are between the ages of 16 and 21 who are part of our youth and young-adult division. Revenues were over $1 million, but less than $5 million.

Q: Tell me about your charitable work.

A: It's called Spread the Love. Once a month, we go around the city and give $1,000 to help people out. Give back and pay it forward. We also have a program, and we've given away 37 scholarships - $1,000 per student per year - and we've seen 15 students we helped graduate college. We do about four to six a year.


 


On Twitter: @MHinkelman

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