Parks Sausage saved Baltimore institution: Former football star buys food company that has symbolic worth.

June 25, 1996

IT WOULD HAVE been sad to see Parks Sausage Co. fail to reopen in a city that used to nonchalantly name a numbers racketeer when discussing successful African-American businesses. Ironically, Parks Sausage might never have existed were it not for venture capital provided by that very same promoter of an illegal lottery 45 years ago.

But the Parks operations have always been legit. The importance of its survival goes far beyond the more than 200 jobs saved. Its continuation is an important symbol for Baltimoreans, especially children, who need to believe good things come from honest labor.

Parks has been shuttered since May 24, when it could no longer meet its payroll. Now it will be a struggle for the revived company to reopen and increase market share in the intensely competitive breakfast foods industry. But it must. The new owner, former pro football star Franco Harris, is also majority owner of Pittsburgh-based Super Bakery Inc. As part of the sale agreement, Parks filed for bankruptcy to reorganize its $10 million debt, including $5 million owed NationsBank. Mr. Harris wants to reopen the plant by early July.

This company has overcome adversity many times since Henry G. Parks started it in 1951. Husbands of white women on Parks' production line made their wives quit because a black man owned the company. Supermarket managers refused to stock Parks sausage or put it on an unrefrigerated shelf to spoil. Mr. Parks never gave up. When he and original partner William L. "Little Willie" Adams sold the firm in 1977, it had $14 million in sales and ranked among the top U.S. black-owned companies.

Annual sales were at $20.5 million when the sausage maker closed in May, down from $28 million in 1990. Parks' financial problems began when it moved to make room for Oriole Park and built a $16 million plant at Park Circle. But that expensive facility was twice as big as the company's needs. Then Parks lost a third of its business when Pizza Hut and Domino's Pizza Inc. shifted to lower-cost sausage makers.

Baltimore is counting on Mr. Harris to find a way to ensure Parks Sausage's future.

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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