By Jesse Wood
Dec. 1, 2014. One day in the late ‘90s, Sam and Jennifer Parker, who at the time were looking to open their own restaurant in Boone, were sitting in Our Daily Bread having lunch.
While waiting for their food, the Parkers, both in their early to mid 20’s back then, were looking out the window in the direction of the historic Mast General Store and people watching on King Street. Right in the middle of downtown and with the college campus only a block away, the location was obviously great.
“Looking at this historical landmark across the street and it being sandwiched behind the college, I looked at my wife and said, ‘I hope this place is for sale,'” Sam Parker said.
They didn’t know it at that particular time but Our Daily Bread was on the market. The Parkers, who had moved from Athens, Ga., another college town, had already commissioned a real estate agent to begin a search for local restaurants for sale, and shortly after dining at Our Daily Bread, the Parkers learned that the restaurant was indeed for sale.
While the ODB, as it’s affectionately called by locals, celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2014, Sam and Jennifer Parker purchased the restaurant in 1998 when they bought it from Bob and Judy Mowery. Parker said that Our Daily Bread used to be a grocery market and counter deli before they purchased the establishment.
Within the first year, the Parkers did some major renovations on the building, which they would eventually purchase nearly 10 years later. After slowly deconstructing the ODB menu over the years, Parker said that the only original menu item that remains is the fan-favorite Jamaican Turkey Sub, a toasted sub roll with smoked turkey breast with melted pepper jack cheese, Jamaican relish, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and special sauce.
Parker said the restaurant has grown from a small delicatessen to more of a restaurant and bar. Still, though, Parker said ODB is essentially a soup and sandwich establishment with a wide selection of desserts and some 50 to 60 (mostly) local and regional beers.
Some of my particular favorite entrees are the Smoked Ham and Apple Press, which is a grilled Panini on sourdough with smoked ham, cheddar cheese, thinly sliced apples and special sauce on grilled sourdough; the Cali Croissant that features smoked turkey with avocados, tomatoes, organic spring greens, chipotle aioli and chimichurri; and, of course, The O.D.B. Club with smoked turkey, ham, bacon, cheddar and Swiss cheeses layered between rye and pumpernickel breads with lettuce, tomato and special sauce. The hot dog is also excellent.
And for vegans and vegetarians, the restaurant is no fail with a wide selection of dishes: the Grilled Pesto Tempeh, Tempeh Reuben, Art Heart Press, Fresh Mozz Sammy, Black Bean Burger, a Not Dog, Fresh Basil Press and much more.
“I remember in the late ‘90s when this town was 60/40 vegetarians to meat eaters. That was a different point in time and we sold a ton of vegetarian and vegan options,” Parker said, adding that the percentage of diet has flopped to 60/40 in favor of meat eaters.
Whether the entrée has meat or not, Parker said that Our Daily Bread puts the highest-quality foods in its meals – all while maintaining an under-$10 price point. (In the 16 to 17 years that the Parkers have owned ODB, he has only increased prices three times while absorbing the dramatic increase in food costs over that same period. “You just got to take it. You are not going to be successful [continually raising prices]. Being greedy is not part of the game,” Parker said.)
A big part of the Our Daily Bread is serving up local foods. It has a relationship with New River Organic Growers, a local farm cooperative, a CSA (community supported agriculture where customers by shares of what a farmer grows in advance to support the farmer throughout the growing season) with Springhouse Farm out in Vilas and a database that features about 30 local growers in all. ODB even has its own rooftop garden in downtown Boone that was created by one of the employees last year, and Parker said that ODB was able to harvest some basil, hot peppers, chives and other herbs.
It’s this local product that allows ODB to mix up the specials with whatever “walks through the door” as the seasons change. Parker mentioned that butternut squashes and pumpkin pies, for example, are currently being mixed in the daily specials.
So, why a restaurant for the Parkers?
“I love food, and I love people,” Parker said, “and I love the idea of pleasing them. I think every restaurant owner is in it for that reason … to hopefully enjoy what you are doing and appeal to people while you are doing it.”
The best-quality product and great customer service, Parker said, are the core priorities of operating a restaurant.
“We have to be extremely aggressive with service or else the job I love to have will not be there,” Parker said. “Something I try to impress upon my employees: Remember I am not paying your paycheck. It’s the people out there for lunch.”
Parker went on to praise his staff, saying that he is “very, very lucky” to have a great nucleus throughout all of his crews at ODB. A couple of his employees have been around for more than seven years and several have been on for three to five years. This is something that Parker is proud of because, for one, turnover is high in restaurants, and two, turnover is higher in restaurants in college towns.
Parker even noted that he was lucky to have Liz Bowman, also known as “Mrs. B,” as an employee. She was one of the employees working at ODB when the Parkers bought the establishment in 1998. She worked 16 more years under the Parkers before retiring a couple years ago.
Our Daily Bread is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Our Daily Bread is located at 627 West King Street and can be reached by phone at 828-264-0173.
Correction: Mowery was the last name of the former owners.