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Oklahoma City Chef Ryan Parrott Keeps Balance Between
 Family, Restaurant and Twitter

By Steve Lackmeyer, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma CityMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

January 10, 2010 --Ryan Parrott wakes up early and goes to bed late trying to keep a balance between running a restaurant, a catering operation and being a husband and father of five. And somehow with all that, he has also figured out the secret to using online social media to boost his business.

"It's pretty jam-packed even on a day off," Parrott said. "On an average day I start at 6 a.m., I get myself ready, take the three oldest to school, and I come into work after that."

For Parrott, there are no weekends or holidays.

"People never understand the hours; I work when everybody else plays," Parrott said. "During the holidays, when everyone is off, I'm working."

Parrott is part of a new wave of well-known chefs, all in their 30s and 40s, making a name for themselves with trendy urban eateries and a knack for using social media to lure crowds (#tacotuesday on Twitter refers to a weekly party with $1 tacos at Parrott's Iguana Mexican Grill).

Parrott tries to maintain perspective on his rising profile.

"I think it's pretty cool," Parrott said. "I have to be careful. I'm not a celebrity, but I have a recognizable name. And I think I've got a good reputation. I'd like to be known for good things. And I meet people more and more who say 'I've heard of you.' I like to stay humble about it."

Following is an edited transcript of a conversation with The Oklahoman from his restaurant about his life and work:

Q: Do you remember the first meal you prepared growing up?

A: I don't. I remember cooking with my mother's books when I was very young -- maybe 9 or 10. She got me a cookbook, and I made a lot of stuff. I grew up in a home where we didn't eat out a lot. And we never ate fast food. My grandmother had a garden, and we ate a lot from her garden and everything was homemade. ... My parents, thank God, were kind enough to at least act like they enjoyed all of my creations.

As a kid, I wanted to be a dentist. I had a friend whose dad was a dentist, had a beautiful house and car. I started working in the restaurant business when I was 14. I figured out the role of a chef, and that's when I figured out what I wanted to be.

Q: What was your first restaurant job?

A: I started out washing dishes at a barbecue place -- Crockets. They're no longer around. There were several of them around years ago.

Q: Did you have a favorite restaurant when you were growing up?

A: My mother was a waitress at the Interurban. And then she went to work at Rockefeller where Bellini's is now. At that time, I saw that as being the nicest place ever. I certainly enjoyed going to eat there. It wasn't often, but it was a real treat.

Q: How difficult is it to balance running a restaurant and being a husband and father of five?

A: It's very tough. I have to try to stay accessible and focused on all of it all the time. The restaurant demands a lot of my time when I'm here and when I'm not here.

I have to try to mentally, not just physically, be with my family when I'm there and not on the phone and not be responding to phone calls and text messages from people in the restaurant. I need to dedicate myself to my family. And yet I have a responsibility to make sure my restaurant operates as it should. It's a tough balance. I can't say it always works. Unfortunately my wife always seems to think she comes second. It's a chaotic existence.

Q: Where do you like to vacation?

A: New York or Chicago. For the restaurants.

Q: You've had a lot of luck using Twitter to promote the Iguana. How did you come up with "Taco Tuesday?"

A: My two partners, Robert Painter, Steve Mason and I wanted to do a thank you on our one-year anniversary. We came up with a gimmick -- do $1 tacos on Tuesday nights for one month. And then we'd call it a day. We did Twitter to promote it, "Hey, come down, we're celebrating, have $1 tacos and hang out." It evolved into something very quickly, and I realized it was becoming something we couldn't stop doing ... we've never advertised for it. It's always been social media-based, and it's very fun, very socially driven where everyone knows your name, and it's very successful.

Q: Speaking of Twitter, how much time are you actually "thinking about Arby's"?

A: Never, ever, ever! I got hacked. I had given my laptop for the girls to run credit cards, and I left Tweet deck open so they had access and went in and said I was thinking about Arby's, then again and said "I'm still thinking about Arby's." And then another time, I left my phone out and someone again used it to make me say "I'm thinking about Arby's." It's become a joke. I never eat fast food.

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To see more of The Oklahoman, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.newsok.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

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