COLUMBIA CITY — Gary and Heather Parrett have a big family.

The owners of Big G’s Sports Cafe and Downtown on the Square restaurants in Columbia City have a combined 39 employees who not only work for the restaurant, but have become a part of the Parrett family.

“Our employees don’t just fill a position,” Gary Parrett said. “Everyone is like family.”

The Parretts have taken their employees on cruises, trips to Las Vegas and even rented a tour bus so employees could bring their families on a trip to Cedar Point.

“The key to keeping good employees is giving back,” Parrett said. “We can’t run these businesses buy ourselves.”

The Parretts are not only committed to giving back to their employees, but to the community as well. Big G’s and Downtown on the Square have helped sponsor many community events. Recently they donated fish for a church fish fry.

“I’m glad we’re fortunate enough to be able to do that,” Parrett said. “How I look at it, when people eat at our restaurants, it’s like making a deposit into a bank. When the community is in need — come to me. I’m glad to help out.”

Setting goals

Parrett’s childhood led his desire for helping others. His father passed away when he was five years old, leaving him in the care of a single mom, and a life of poverty.

“We were kicked out of places to live. We had our utilities shut off. When I became a young adult, I told myself I didn’t want that life for my kids. I’ve worked at least two jobs for most of my life,” Parrett said.

Parrett began in the restaurant business while he was in high school as a manager of Pizza King in Columbia City. Then, he moved to the East Coast for work, but returned to Columbia City’s Pizza King to take over as store manager.

He was later recruited by Papa John’s to help the business open its first restaurant in Columbia City.

“When they hired me, I told them I wanted to climb the ladder to higher management positions,” Parrett said. “I didn’t want to be a store manager all my life. But, I didn’t see the progression and opportunities they told me they had, so I moved on.”

Parrett went into the excavating business and was later hired by the Columbia City Police Department.

“People were telling me I needed to open up a restaurant of my own,” Parrett said. “I even had people who told me they would invest and help me get started. But I wanted to do it on my own.”

Seeing a need for a good place for people to get together for breakfast, he saved his own money to purchase the “Norm’s Country Post” building, located at the intersection of Chicago and Main streets. The location was previously a Penguin Point and “The Junction” restaurant.

Opening Big G’s

Big G’s opened 12 years ago, named after Parrett’s nickname, “Big G,” that he received when he was the manager at Pizza King.

“I decided to jump in with both feet,” Parrett said. “I wanted to provide a service and provide jobs.”

Gary Heather Parrett
Big G’s Sports Cafe

More than providing jobs to the community, Parrett focuses on being a teacher and mentor to his employees.

“I tell these young adults who work for us, ‘I’m trying to teach you,’” he said. “I know they’re not going to work here all of their lives, but I want to teach them how to be good employees — being on time, how every dollar counts, having good work ethic.”

Parrett met his wife, Heather, when she worked part-time in the kitchen at Big G’s. About five years ago, after they were married, they saw another need in the community.

Downtown commitment

“All we would hear is that Columbia City needed a good steak restaurant,” Parrett said. “I thought I could put out a good steak.”

They opened Downtown on the Square in September 2012 — on top of the couples’ responsibilities at Big G’s and Parrett working for the city police department.

“He was excited, but I knew he was busy and didn’t want to do it all by myself,” Heather Parrett said.

In 2015, Gary Parrett was promoted to captain of the police department.

Gary Heather Parrett
Downtown on the Square

Somehow, the Parretts have found a balance to get everything done.

“It’s hard to say how we balance it,” Gary Parrett said. “People ask how I do it, but I can’t say there’s certain things I do — I just do it.”

Downtown on the Square has a couple managers, but the Parretts are the lone managers at Big G’s. Heather takes care of the book work and enjoys working behind the scenes, and Gary Parrett maintains the schedules.

The Parretts said all of their employees are hard working, and they credit their success to their work.

“They will do the job right if we’re there or not,” Heather Parrett said. “It’s easy to leave and know everything will be OK when we get back.”

Family connections

Some employees have worked at the restaurants for 10-12 years

“I still get teary-eyed at employee meetings,” Gary Parrett said. “Many times, people are with their work family more than their families. That’s how it is with any job. You put in an eight-hour shift and you only get a few hours with your family before bedtime.”

Parrett said he encourages positive attitudes in his employees, which carries over to their coworkers and customers.

“It’s a domino effect on everyone,” Parrett said. “People have said that it feels like family when they come to our restaurants.”

The family-feel has been evident in recent months when three employees took leave for medical reasons. Rather than replace them, other employees picked up the shifts to keep the positions available if they return.

“We didn’t want to replace them if they might come back,” Parrett said. “The other employees knew that if it was them, the other employees would step up and do the same for them. We help each other out. We do it together.”

He hopes some of his leadership abilities have spilled over to his work for the police department.

“I wanted to become a police officer to help people,” Parrett said. “I went out and did my thing, and tried to do the right thing, always. I just tried to make a difference in the community.”

Parrett has supported programs such as the Big G’s three-on-three tournament downtown in the summer, and has also privately helped out families in need.

“I get pure enjoyment out of helping people,” Parrett said. “I’ve been there. I’ve been the kid who couldn’t participate in sports because my family couldn’t afford it. I had some families who helped me out when I was growing up, and I’m glad I’m at a point now that I can help. I get pure enjoyment out of helping people.”