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Monday, Aug. 24, 2020

H.A. Sparke Company

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Locally made products are used worldwide

You can drive right past the H. A. Sparke Company of Shreveport and never know it. It is nestled in the shadow of downtown in a mostly commercial area without even a sign to identify it. Its only identification is the street number on the façade.

You would never imagine looking at its monochromatic exterior that the products made inside are shipped to the far ends of the earth – from Shreveport – and have been, virtually every week, since 1956.

Places where restaurant inspectors might find the equipment range across the United States and Europe, to the Caribbean, Kuala Lumpur, Qatar, and even a little place called Anna Maria Island.

Three generations of the Sparke family have overseen operations here. The latest is Anna Maria Sparke, no kin to the island. “My grandfather [H. A. Sparke] had it from 1956 until he died in 1984. And my father [R. W. Sparke] took over in 1984, and he ran it until his death in 2020. So, I’m a third generation.”

The history, like everything about this company, is quiet and unassuming. H. A. Sparke was a restaurateur in Shreveport, running an establishment called the StopMor on Kings Highway when he realized there were things he needed in his kitchen that he didn’t have because nobody made them. So, he made them himself.

“And once he did that,” granddaughter Sparke said, “he found that he had more enjoyment out of doing that than in actually running the restaurant. He decided he was going to manufacture his products from coast to coast and around the world. That was his marketing slogan.” So, he did.

The product that started it all is called the OrdaWheel. You’ve probably seen one in a restaurant. It’s a wheel that holds the slips the waitperson fills out when taking your order in a restaurant. H. A. Sparke soon realized that some establishments might not have the space to accommodate the wheel, so he designed the OrdaRack, which is a flat, wallmounted version. They also fabricate racks for utensils and pot and pan racks, which can be customized to the owner’s needs, among other items. “We used to have a line for prescription labels back in the day,” Sparke said. “We’re in hospitals, and we get sent to a lot of guest care centers around the country.”

Local eateries like the Airport Café and Strawn’s Eat Shop, Too, still have the OrdaWheel. Other familiar food stops have other Sparke Co. products. Raisin’ Cane’s and Walk Ons use Sparke products nationwide, and recently Chuy’s Mexican Restaurants have been coming onboard, according to Sparke. When asked if she checks out the kitchen when she goes out to eat, she said, “Of course, every time. Because I know if they’ve got Sparke equipment, it’s a fine dining establishment. When we go traveling, if I get an opportunity to take a glance in that kitchen, I like to do it. I like to see if our stuff’s in there. It makes me happy to see it.”

Sparke Co. products usually are available through large scale distributors, but they can also be found on Amazon and eBay. The company recently even got a Facebook page. It’s hard to know where one of the products made by human hands in Shreveport is going to show up. “Based on the legacy from 1956 to 2020, I can’t imagine how many units … each little bitty piece of equipment goes to somebody,” Sparke said. “It’s amazing to me. It could be all over the country. You never know where. A truck stop. A video poker place. You just don’t know.”

Besides the location which shares her first name, Sparke said another notable location for a Sparke product was “a hot dog cart out on the West Coast. We have a customer, I think he’s a minister as well, and he contacted us about needing a wheel for his hot dog cart. That’s a little unusual.” She also shared a story about a woman in Nebraska who asked for a replacement for a pot and pan rack because she was moving to a new house, and the woman who bought her old house wouldn’t close the deal unless the Sparke Co. rack stayed.

2020 has not been kind to businesses, and Sparke Co. has not been immune. Sparke had to let her staff go when orders dried up due to restaurant closures across the world. “That was the hardest part for me because they’re family to us. Not to mention, actual family. My aunt works for us, Ludy Parker, and she has for years. Nacio [Wade] has been an integral part of this business. Tony (Anthony Clemons) has been with us many years now. He has another job, but he’s been coming in and helping.” Sparke’s husband, Meade Patton, has been drafted as a product manufacturer and her mother, Lona R. Sparke, remains the company bookkeeper and treasurer.

Coming in means volunteering to come in and help Sparke fill the orders that continue to come in. “Out of the goodness of their hearts, they’re coming in maybe one evening a week and on the weekends just to help me get the orders that we do have going. It’s amazing to me the generosity of those folks. It’s a blessing to me that they are willing to come in and help. Because they could have said, ‘Sorry, we can’t come back. We’ve got other jobs, we had to move on. We can’t come help you anymore.’ At that point, we would have had to shutter because there is no way we can make everything we need to make.”

It takes a lot to keep family business viable in the age of corona. The H. A. Sparke Company is keeping the tradition alive, quietly, virtually anonymously to its Shreveport neighbors, and helping to bring the restaurant business back to life everywhere.

ON STANDS NOW!

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