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Voice for ‘young’ Ripon

Jake Parks: Businessman, community activist and councilman

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Voice for ‘young’ Ripon

Jake Parks poses outside his Ripon business.

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

POSTED January 18, 2013 1:06 a.m.

Jake Parks emerges from the back of the café, rolling his wrists as he begins to punch an order into an iPad.

It’s a slow afternoon at Jake’s, this trendy coffee, tea and sandwich shop along Ripon’s Main Street corridor.

A leather couch swallows a man virtually whole in the lounge area, taking with him a laptop, backpack and brewed beverage.

An older woman folds and stacks her paper neatly and then offers it to a stranger at the table next to her. Another patron surveys the cookie selection. Chocolate chip or snickerdoodle?

The lunchtime rush comes all at once: a man orders three hot dogs and a few drinks. Parks processes the order with a few swipes and punches on the iPad and then disappears into the kitchen.

The gourmet hot dogs won’t make themselves.

“It’s the life of a small business owner,” Parks quipped. “I’m just like everyone else, serving people and making sure I’m doing my due diligence with the numbers and making sure the business will be sustainable.”

This wasn’t the life he had envisioned for himself when he left graduate school with a masters in international studies, a Florida tan and a change-the-world spirit.

Parks, who graduated from Ripon Christian in 2001 and later Chico State before pursuing his masters at Central Florida, had always thought his fate rested with a Fortune 500 business.

“It’s kind of funny the curves life throws at you,” he said. “When I originally got done with graduate school, I wanted to work for a Fortune 500 company in their international department. I came back home wanting to go into clean technology and alternative energy. Unfortunately, I was unable to get into any.”

So instead of changing the world from a skyscraper or plush corner office, Parks picked a new point of attack: a cornet-lot store in his hometown, and an active role in its leadership.

Parks is man about town: a business owner, a director with the Chamber of Commerce and first-team city council member. He is passionate about Ripon’s economic future and believes technology and innovative thinking will create a climate that will allow new and old businesses to thrive.

“We’ve always had a hunkered-down mentality here,” Parks said. “We’ve done things the same way over a long period of time. In some cases that’s great, because it keeps you financially stable. But in some ways, I think we’ve missed out (new business and new opportunity).”

Jake’s is his petri dish.

The café opened in 2010 after Starbucks left the downtown area.

It wasn’t enough to simply serve lattes and mochas and pastries. Parks wanted to push the envelope – with his menu (think: chipotle mustard, cream cheese pesto spread and hot dogs) and the marvels of modern green technology.

He recently moved away from the traditional cash register to a sales system on an iPad that allows the business to 1) go paperless, 2) manage inventory and trends, 3) incorporate Square, a credit card swiping program and 4) cut down on training time for employees.

“It’s been an adventure,” Parks said. “You definitely learn what it takes to keep a business running. You’re constantly trying to innovate. … Never rest on yesterday’s successes. You’re pushing forward to make sure tomorrow is successful, too.”

Push, push, push – even if it means working through a milestone birthday.

Parks recently celebrated his 30th birthday with a 12-hour shift at Jake’s, but that’s typical. His dayplanner also includes regular meetings for the Chamber of Commerce, as well as committee meetings. His commitment to city council will consist of multiple meetings each week, he says.

 “He has some really good ideas,” Chamber president Janell Zuidervaart said, “and he’s not afraid to chime in.”

Zuidervaart can appreciate that fearlessness and passion. Four years ago, she found herself in Parks’ very position – a wet-behind-the-ears board member suddenly on equal footing with many of her parents’ friends and colleagues.

“When I got on the Chamber board I was the youngest, too,” said Zuidervaart, co-owner of Friend’s Salon. “Everyone was a parent of a friend or had gone to school with an older sibling. It was awkward.

“I’m glad we’re attracting young people like Jake and John Heida. We can take the Chamber in a new direction. It’s great to have young ones mixed in with the seasoned veterans, because we do need their knowledge as well.”

Parks, whose mother Donna is a member of the Ripon Unified School Board since 2006, has become the outspoken voice of the younger demographic.

That much was clear Tuesday evening as the council convened for workshops and its second meeting. The council voted unanimously to support the Ripon Community Athletic Foundation’s application for federal assistance, among its various talking points.

“Oh, he speaks his piece, believe me,” third-term council member Red Nutt said of Parks. “It’s the second meeting and he’s not afraid to jump out there and say what he has to say. That’s what you need out there. It makes everyone stop and think. You have to be open-minded.”

That’s been Parks’ position all along.

“Being back in town and going through the day-to-day grind, I decided the only way things would improve was if I put myself out there and ran for these seats,” Parks said.

“I’ve had a lot of help along the way. But if I wanted to make Ripon better, I was going to have to be the one to do it.”

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