Wildcat Tracks: John Perkins ’95

Throughout our lifetimes, we are constantly shifting goals. What we felt worked for us at one point might not work once we got there. Changes are very much part of life and more than okay. Sometimes, we need to pause and then readjust our goals to accommodate them all. For John Perkins, one big shift came while working towards his Master of Divinity at Covenant Seminary.

“In my final year at Covenant, I started hosting underground restaurant events—secret roving dinner parties. At the time, this was my way of exploring a passion of mine, cooking, and the people who would attend would ‘donate’ funds to help offset the cost of the food,” John explained. “Before I fully realized it, there was real momentum and excitement about this little idea of mine, so I just kept going. I did the underground for just over four years, then transitioned to pop-up restaurants—temporary, short-lived restaurant concepts. I did three of these before I opened Juniper in October of 2013. I really stumbled into the restaurant world, and I certainly never had any intention of owning one!”

While he was a student at Westminster, John recounts teachers and classes that set him up for success. “I arrived at Westminster as a junior, which isn’t exactly the easiest time to start a new school. Funny enough, my son Shepherd just started Westminster this year, also as a junior. I think he’s done a better job of quickly finding his way than I did,” John said. “I had a number of memorable teachers and classes; among them were Mr. Parker’s Ethics class, Mr. Hearne’s U.S. History class, and Mr. Lewis’ Worldviews class. I’ll never forget Tim Hall’s prayers at the beginning of Chemistry. I always thought to myself, when I grow up, I want to pray like Tim Hall.  Also, at the end of junior year, I decided to run for student council. Mrs. Drexler pulled alongside me and helped shape a big idea I had, which was a school-wide student feedback forum.”

“One of the formative parts of my time at Westminster was how I learned to think about the world from a Christian viewpoint. I also grew a lot in terms of leadership and my ability to communicate effectively. I think I really began to get comfortable with the way I saw the world and how it was slightly outside the norm. I occupied that social space between the cool kids and the uncool kids and enjoyed being a bridge between the two. It might seem odd, but learning how to navigate that space has served me well as I have gotten older, and it has even been useful in my professional life as a restaurateur.”

John ran Juniper successfully for ten years, but with that came lots of hard work. “I always chuckle a bit when folks say that Juniper was a success. It certainly appeared that way, but it was always a struggle from day one,” he said. “I just had a massive amount of grit and determination that no matter what problems I encountered, there was a solution to be had.”

Like many business owners, John was negatively affected by the pandemic years. “Covid metastasized some of the problems we were having, and eventually, I had to confront changes in the dining public that the pandemic had wrought. The cost of running a business like Juniper had skyrocketed, and it simply took more to run than what I was pulling in. Anyone with a lick of sense can tell you that’s not a sustainable situation,” John said. He decided this spring to close Juniper and reopen with a new concept under the name Sunday Best. “The transition was a practical answer to that problem, but also my attempt to appeal to the sensibilities of the contemporary diner. Folks are looking for convenience, quality, and affordability. Sunday Best is about providing all of that by specifically focusing on the thing that everyone came to Juniper for, namely our fried chicken. Our chicken was named some of the best in the country by Eater in 2022. We are priced reasonably, and you can order takeout, delivery, or dine-in.”

In the midst of dealing with these many big changes, came a life-altering diagnosis for John, multiple myeloma, for which he received a transplant in January. To say something like this altered his perspective is an understatement. “It feels like such a cliché to say that when you confront your mortality, it has a way of clarifying your priorities, but it’s true. In my case, the cancer was treatable, but nevertheless, this kind of thing is still traumatic and rattles your sense of self,” he said. “I think it’s easy to stumble into an existential kind of slumber as we get older. We develop routines that become rote, and our roles as spouses and parents become perfunctory. But when you have something occur that is as life-altering as that (diagnosis) was, it shatters the complacency. In the aftermath of it all, I feel more of a sense of urgency, an awareness of the specialness of each moment. This was never more obvious to me when my daughter left this fall for college. How quickly those years had flown by, years that would never come back. Everything that occurred within the span of the previous 12 months crowded in so profoundly that I felt an obligation not only towards her but also toward my other children and to my wife to see each moment as precious.”

John Perkins continues to chase new ideas while leaving room for them to evolve. “The original concept for Sunday Best was as a drive-thru, with a walk-up window and no inside seats. We need to prove the concept a bit before we grow, but I fully expect us to move westward with new locations in the coming years. At some point, I need to form a team around me that can help materialize these future plans. Perhaps there is even someone reading this right now who might be interested in bringing this to fruition!”

You can visit Sunday Best at 4101 Laclede Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63108. Follow them on social media at @Sundaybest_Chicken or visit them online: sundaybestchicken.com

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