Janice Provost Does Parigi, and More
I am at the bar at Parigi at the dog-end of the Saturday brunch service to interview owner Janice Provost. The place is packed. The crowd is an eclectic mix, mainly from the neighborhood. Janice breezes in, straight from a catering event and can barely make her way through the tiny room as the ‘paparazzi of the public’ break mid-chew to greet her like an old friend. Little wonder Parigi counts over 14 years operation under her ownership.
With her, but unable to enter the restaurant, is Max, a 3-month old golden retriever puppy who nonetheless manages to stop action at most tables on account of being so cute.
Janice Provost was born in Houston to a farming family and attended Stephen F. Austin University, earning a degree in Merchandising. She worked in sales in the telecommunications industry for a time before deciding that it was not quite for her. At that point, she started in the culinary program at El Centro College in downtown Dallas. she joined Parigi at the lowest rank in 1998, working her way up to the position of Chef de Cuisine. When Lisa Kelly Arrango left to open Hatty’s, the owners asked Janice if she would like to be executive chef. It was too daunting at that young age but she took charge of the day shift, and Abraham Salum was hired to be the night time chef.
After 9/11, the then owners of Parigi announced that they wanted to sell up and offered the restaurant to her, with financing. That removed the financial barrier and in 2002, Janice Provost was the controlling owner of Parigi. Salum, like all ambitious chefs, left three years later to open his own eponymous restaurant.
Today’s menu can be described as bistro, with nods to French, Italian and American cuisine. It is seasonally aware and local producers are used when possible (and prominently listed on the web site and menu). She delegates to chefs de cuisine (Daniel Monoz, Rosie Delgadillo and Mayra Garcia). These chefs attend the bi-Monday menu planning meeting at which time, Parigi updates the menu. Withdrawing certain menu items (e.g. peach cobbler, chocolate ‘glob’, and caesar salad) would cause a customer riot and they appropriately get a heritage section on the menu entitled ‘From the beginning…”.
She summarizes the modus operandi at Parigi as W.I.T. (Whatever It Takes). That means that everybody is expected to help with everything. Says Provost, “one sure way to get fired here is to say “not my job”. Hence “Pedro and Johnny’s Deviled Eggs” refers to two employees who prepare the recipe as part of their rotation of responsibility. One is a dishwasher, the other a cook who has worked his way up to the back pantry chef. These opportunities have led to fierce employee loyalty and an average employee tenure far longer than the industry average. Provost’s hiring process is so rigorous that it has led to the adage that the only thing harder than being hired at Parigi is being fired at Parigi.
One of Provost’s biggest commitments is philanthropy. On the day of our interview, she is wearing a bright yellow sweatshirt with the logo of “Camp Sunshine” on it. Camp Sunshine is a week long chef camp organized by Culinary Corps at a retreat for terminally ill children and their families. Chefs teach cooking classes to the children and bunk with the other chefs in the program.
Another cause close to her heart is El Centro college, where she learned her craft. She established the Parigi foundation for scholarships in the Food and Hospitality Institute at El Centro. Her work was recognized in the Spring of 2016 when she received an honor at Bits & Bites for her work on behalf of the college.
Her biggest charitable involvement, however, may be Cafe Momentum, the organization that runs a restaurant that serves as a vehicle to teach culinary job skills to young men from juvenile facilities. She even gave the organization its name and still serves on its board. Measured purely against the cold calculus of finance, the lower recidivism rates and current public costs of incarceration, it is one of the most profitable investments that Dallasites have made. Judged by the transformative effect on young lives it is priceless. Local and national media have featured the project extensively.
Provost lives in Oak Cliff where Max will be the third dog in the household which also includes her husband, a financial executive. They love travelling and sunbathing on the beach.