Employer of the Year: Campton has a story to tell

By Patrick Graham - The Walton Tribune

The Walton Tribune named Campton Restaurant its 2024 Employer of the Year

Campton Restaurant owner Josh Parker is pictured with his mother, Susan Parker, who has worked at the restaurant for nearly 35 years. Josh Parker photo

An older couple was sitting at a table in the middle of Campton Restaurant when they saw their friends walk through the door just after the lunch rush.

“Big Al!” the seated gentleman bellowed from his chair. “How have you been doing?”

The two couples exchanged warm greetings, a little small talk and then sat down to share a meal together.

Campton owner Josh Parker took the whole scene in with a smile, and then said, “That, right there, is the Campton experience. That’s what I’m talking about.”

Parker has been working hard to create and promote the unique Campton dining experience — where friends come to meet friends and strangers come to make new ones — since he took over his family’s restaurant four years ago. Allthat hard work is paying off as customers and employees a like are benefitting from efforts to take already great food and service at the restaurant to the next level.

It hasn’t always been easy and the restaurant isn’t done yet, but it’s happening and it’s putting a smile on Parker’s face. 

For all that it has done to transform the experience of both customers and employees, The Walton Tribune has named Campton Restaurant its 2024 Employer of the Year.

“I’m so grateful this honor,” Parker said,” but it’s the people who come out to eat here and the people who work here who deserve the recognition because they are the ones who make Campton what it is and what it will become.”

Parker thought he knew what he was getting himself into when he decided to buy Campton from his grandfather, Leonard “Junior” Parker, in January 2020. After all, his grandfather had owned and operated the restaurant for 35 years; his grandmother, Cunoy “Gran” Parker, and his mother, Susan Parker, had worked right along side him most of those years. Parker started working at the restaurant as a 10-year-old boy, and didn’t stop until he was in his early 20s.

So when his grandfather made it clear he was slowing down and ready to retire, and his parents made it clear they weren’t interested, Parker started prepping to take over the family business. Literally. Beginning in 2018, Parker came in on Thursday and Friday nights — without pay — to learn every aspect of the business. From server to cook to dishwasher and more, Parker did whatever needed to be done to take care of the customers and the restaurant.

“I got a really good understanding of the staples of the business,” Parker said. “I think what attracted me to it was a. family and b. I thought there was a lot of untapped potential here. I thought there was an opportunity to put my stamp on this place and usher it into a new era and grow it.”

His grandfather handed Parker the reins on Jan. 1, 2020. Parker remembers thinking, I’ll have this place turned into what I want it to be in six months. Tops. Hmmm. Maybe a year? Nah, six months should do it.

What’s that old saying about the best laid plans?

Less than three months in, the world stopped turning. The Covid pandemic, and everything that came with it, the riots, the election, shut down Campton and every other business in the United States for weeks, in some cases months in other cases years. Many never made it back at all. So those transformational plans Parker had for Campton had to change and change dramatically in the blink of an eye.

“Covid was something nobody could anticipate, nobody could prepare for,” Parker, who is also a Realtor, said, “People said 2020 was the worst year for the restaurant business, and I believe them, but for me it was one of the best years in the real estate business and that was kind of how I was able to keep this place going was through what I was doing on the real estate side.”

Parker also leaned on his team, the employees at Campton, to help the restaurant not just survive, but thrive. Campton currently boasts 20 full-time and part-time employees, some of whom have been with the restaurant for decades, and all of them have embraced the changes that have had to take place in order to move the restaurant forward.

Parker has rewarded that can-do attitude and team work with increased pay, bonus opportunities and company outings, like a Braves game for example, that help employees understand a business that plays together stays together. 

“I was an offense lineman,” the 2006 Monroe Area High School graduate said. “It was all guts no glory. We don’t touch the ball. We don’t score. But if we don’t block, the people who touch the ball won’t score, and your team won’t likely win. I try to create a team environment here. I can’t do it all myself. It takes a team. I’m aware of that and I try to instill that in my staff. We are a team. I need you and you need me.”

Parker said he also has found it is much better to keep good people than it is to have to go out and find new ones, so he puts a lot of focus and attention on retaining good hires so he doesn’t have to make additional ones.

“I learned early on when you get somebody good make sure you pay them,” Parker said. “Once someone comes in here and proves themselves, you have to compensate them. My philosophy is it’s cheaper to keep them then it is to go through four or five other people to find someone good to come in here.”

In a letter to employees just before taking over the restaurant, Parker said, “I look forward to creating a team environment and figuring out the best systems to make everyone more efficient and successful at their position. However, this is going to require 2 things from everyone 1. Patience 2. Open mindedness. My belief is in order to make a great restaurant you have to invest in your team first by providing them with the best systems and ways to complete their job. If your reading this letter you’re on the TEAM.”

With that in mind, Parker recently partnered with a restaurant makeover television show featuring Chef Robert Irvine to help Parker and the staff figure out even better ways to deliver that unique Campton experience. The episode featuring Campton is scheduled to come out later this year.

“I wish we had done that a long time ago,” Parker said. “We learned so much from Robert and his crew. That guy gets it done.”

Blending what they learned from Irvine with the story of Campton and the Parker family is how the restaurant will continue to deliver a dining experience customers won’t be able to find anywhere else. Which is the key, Parker said.

“You make it unique by telling the story,” Parker said. “I want people to know this has been a community hub for 70 years. My great grandmother came in here and started a store. That in itself is a story. Whoever heard of a woman in 1949 in the south starting her own business? That’s that entrepreneur spirit she had that lives in me.

“Eventually my grandfather, again being an entrepreneur, turned it into a restaurant. And all those people who hung out at the store came to the restaurant to eat and made it the community hub. Now their kids and their kids are eating here, a whole new generation. That’s a great story and that’s a story Longhorns and Applebee’s and those corporate or chain restaurants can’t tell. That’s how we compete.”

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