You probably would not recognize Paul Park if you passed him on the street, but he is all over campus. In Ivory Tower, the Law School, the Potomac House, and on E Street, Park has four businesses that make him GW’s own food mogul.
Park epitomizes the ultimate GW entrepreneur. He is the only owner of multiple GWorld-accepting non-corporate businesses on campus, according to data from the GWorld office.
Park began his empire of convenience-style eateries on campus more than five years ago. He owns the Gallery Market and Café in Ivory Tower, the Uptowner Café near University Yard, Carvings near Potomac House and his first operation on campus, Gallery News at 1959 E St.
Before setting up shop at GW, Park owned more than 20 convenience-based food stores in the Washington metro area. A native of northern Virginia and a graduate of the University of Richmond, he grew up in a family who owned a chain of dry cleaners.
He did not open an operation on his own until after college, but his first experience in the business world took place over a summer break in college.
“My father gave me a summer project to deal with a 600- to 700-square-foot carry-out,” said Park. “He gave me a $40,000 budget, I built it and I went back to school. And when I came back from fall break, he had sold it and bought me a car.”
Park applied his father’s buy-and-sell strategy when he entered the real world as a cash-strapped college graduate.
“I started small with businesses that didn’t require a lot of investments because obviously I didn’t have the money,” he said. “I would sell them and use the money to build more and it just kind of exploded from there.”
Park came to GW after coming in contact with a broker who represented the University and who introduced him to the space on E Street.
“I saw a good opportunity in the fact that there were so many students walking by and it’s a prime location on E Street,” he said.
After the initial success of Gallery News, the University approached Park about another opportunity at Square 43, now known as Ivory Tower.
Carvings and the Uptowner Café followed soon after. When searching for a vendor to fill what is now the Uptowner Café, several vendors, including Park, bid on the project.
Thomas A. Morrison, associate dean of the Law School said, “when Park talked to us I think he was the most serious about actually bringing the operation to fruition in the time frame we needed and having the flexibility to work within the Law School confines.”
Park said his entrepreneurial success on campus starts with the students.
“It’s nice to provide a service for the students who are looking for some place good and new to eat,” he said.
His business model represents what many GW students expect: “quick service in between classes with a self-serve food bar so you can get in and out.”
Gallery Market and Café gets the most business because of its location in a central part of campus, Park said. On a typical school day at lunchtime, students can be seen buzzing around the self-serve food bar and creating their own salads with a plethora of toppings. Others can be seen grabbing a cup of coffee or ordering a hot sandwich.
But some students have criticized Park’s businesses for overcharging at his by-the-pound food bar.
“Well, it’s especially hard as a student to afford food. I mean, I’m having to pay for books and clothes and transportation, but now I have to worry about the fact that this small container of fruit is costing me six or seven dollars,” said Kellie Jones, a junior who bought food at Gallery Cafe on Sunday. “The thing is though, it’s extremely convenient and I think that tends to be more important for GW students.”
In response to these concerns, Park notes how the price of food has increased considerably in the last few years.
“We’ve made those adjustments as well and I think everyone else is doing the same,” he said.
Regardless, Park maintains his status as a food venue tycoon on GW’s campus. In reference to the opportunities Park received from GW, he said, “It was kind of just one on top of the other.”
Park, who is involved with the development aspect of his businesses, said he is always looking for new opportunities. In the last few weeks, he has opened two new stores in Alexandria and Chantilly, and five more are currently under construction in the D.C. area.
What pushes him to accrue his Trump-like status is his simple business strategy: “Whatever the situation calls for, we can put something there.”