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A salute to Ricky The Rocket' Malone

By By Robert St. John / food columnist
Sept. 3, 2003
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of the Purple Parrot Caf, Crescent City Grill and Mahogany Bar in Hattiesburg and Meridian. He can be reached at or at (601) 264-4909,
It takes many people to make a restaurant click waiters, waitresses, bus boys, line cooks, prep cooks, dishwashers, managers, bartenders and hostesses.
There are also many behind-the-scenes personnel that add to a restaurant's success bookkeepers, marketing executives, secretaries, cleanup crews, electricians and mechanical engineers. One of the most important "unseen" people in our businesses is our food salesman.
I opened the Purple Parrot Caf in 1987. At that time, Ricky Malone was the red-headed stepchild of Sysco Foodservice in Jackson (Sysco is the nation's largest supplier of food and supplies to restaurants). In those days Ricky was a renegade with periodic disregard for the rules.
Years later, a Sysco corporate executive told me that around the time Malone took over our account he was on the verge of losing his job. What a loss that would have been for Sysco. Even worse, what a loss that would have been to the Purple Parrot Caf, Crescent City Grill, Mahogany Bar and a few other restaurant concepts along the way.
Malone was just named salesman of the year. What a difference 16 years makes. What a difference tens of millions of dollars in sales makes. What a difference a wife and three kids make.
Ricky "The Rocket" Malone is The Sysco Kid.
While searching my memory banks for humorous Ricky stories to include in this essay, I remembered many. Unfortunately most can't be repeated. So I will resist the temptation to make this essay a roast, concentrate on the "positive" and talk about the difference Malone has made in our business.
Bottom line: If we need it, Malone gets it.
Through his tireless efforts he has earned the loyalty of our managers. Malone works seven days a week, and has been doing so ever since he started calling on us 16 years ago.
He is on the front line of quality control for our company. He works on our behalf to place quality products in our restaurants. Whether he is dealing with his buyers in Jackson, or with the growers and suppliers themselves, Malone always makes sure we get what we need.
Last week someone asked me if I was worried about failure when I opened my first restaurant concept. I told them no, because I knew I was prepared to do whatever it took to make my business a success.
Malone lives by the same philosophy. He does whatever it takes to service his customers. I couldn't begin to count the number of times he has driven an hour north to meet a truck sending emergency supplies to our restaurant to help get us through a busy weekend.
One of the things that I admire most in Malone is that he will never fail to mention a new item, even if it is cheaper, even if he is about to receive a lesser commission. Malone does business for the long haul; he's in it with you for the duration. He's not out for the quick buck and the one-time commission. He develops relationships with his clients and keeps their best interests at heart.
In the movie "Miracle on 34th Street," an employee of Macy's department store was reprimanded for sending customers to Gimble's (the competition). While Malone would as soon die before he sent business to his competition, he has always pointed out items that save us money at a loss to his own pocket.
In his variation of the "Miracle on 34th Street" philosophy, Malone has saved us countless thousands of dollars over the years. Malone is the "Miracle on Hardy Street." That is why Sysco gets more than 1 million dollars each year from our little company alone.
It takes many people to make a restaurant successful: Some are visible and obvious, some are not.
Malone is the hidden member of the Purple Parrot management team, the 12th man, the silent partner we never had. Over the years, he has been as much a part of our success as anyone who has worked in our restaurants.
The red-headed stepchild of Sysco has become the savior of the Purple Parrot Caf.