Community NewsLiving Legends Series

SAYING GOODBYE: A Son Asks for Voicemails for Hard Times Café Founder Fred G. Parker

Frederic Goodfellow Parker was recognized as an Alexandria Living Legend for his pioneering spirit and the economic value it contributed to upper King Street and the entire City of Alexandria. (Photo: Steven Halperson/Nina Tisara Photography)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Days before his passing, son Ned Parker posted a message on his father Fred G. Parker’s  Facebook page giving friends, family and the community an update on his dad’s health, and asking for voicemails to say goodbye.

Fred G. Parker is an Alexandria legend. Literally. In 2015 he was formally recognized for his contributions when he was inducted into the Living Legends of Alexandria.

LLA founder and friend to Parker, Nina Tisara commented almost immediately on the post saying, “Fred Parker is the perfect example of a Living Legend of Alexandria. Hard Times [Cafe] was a pioneer business on King Street and remains a significant part of what makes Upper King so special. It is so sad to lose him. He will live on in the memories of all of us who witnessed his gentle and generous spirit — and those of us who partook of the wonderful food at Hard Times and Supper Under the Stars at King Street Gardens Park. Love and blessings to Fred and your family.

Hard Times Cafe at 1404 King Street. (Photo: © 2012 William Coyle)

As Diane Bechtol wrote in 2015, “Prior to 1980, someone with a hankering for a “bowl of red” on upper King Street would have had a hard time of it. There were few restaurants or attractions and many tired buildings needed rehabilitation.”

“When he and his now deceased brother and business partner Jim picked this location for their legendary chili parlor Hard Times Café, early customers sometimes had their cars broken into while dining inside.”

The Hard Times Truck in the George Washington Birthday Parade. (File photo)

“But they kept coming back,” said Parker at the time. Forty years later, they’ve served over 1.3 million bowls of chili. The Hard Times brand has been franchised and people all over the country buy their chili products on the company website.

Parker’s familiar 1940’s brown truck is usually parked in front of his first location at 1404 King Street with the fiberglass horse in the pickup bed, large American flag flying. Up until recently as the Stage 4 cancer has taken its toll, Parker himself would drive the truck in every Alexandria parade, a job now passed onto his son.

Saying Goodbye

Ned Parker’s first post said that his dad had excellent end-of-life care but had stopped talking. The family believed he could still hear them which is why he asked for voicemails, and many people were able to leave messages he did hear before his passing.

This morning, Monday, April 27, Ned let everyone know his dad had passed the night before but how grateful he was for the messages received:

“Fred passed away last night. He was surrounded by his family when he took his last breath. The Parker Family is deeply moved by all the messages that were sent to Fred during his last day. We know Fred heard these message because he opened his eyes sometimes during them. There were times when we thought he was in real pain. But when asked if he wanted extra medicine there was no response. When asked if he wanted to stay in his current state, he signaled yes with an ever so slight squeeze of the hand. We believe he was so content in these last moments, from hearing from all of you, that he didn’t even want meds.

Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for expressing your love, memories, and goodbyes to Fred on his last day. He went out full of love and on his own terms. There will be a digital live stream memorial service in the coming month for Fred, as well as an in person service once the Covid situation is under control. We will use Fred’s facebook to make further announcements about these events.

Thank you again for holding Fred with us in his last moments,” posted Ned.




Mary Wadland

Mary Wadland is the Publisher and Editor in Chief of The Zebra Press, founded by her in 2010. Originally from Delray Beach, Florida, Mary is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Hollins College in Roanoke, VA and has lived and worked in the Alexandria publishing community since 1987.

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One Comment

  1. Fred and Jim were the best. I met them way back in 1980 when they birthed the idea to open a chili parlor in Old Town. I remember Terlitzky complaining about diners camping on the sidewalk outside 1402 King Street, waiting to get in to Hard Times for one of those tasty chili meals. He wondered what the Parker brothers were doing that was so special people ignored his place on the corner to patronize the Hard Times! Please keep the place alive, Ned.

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