In the Loop
Alumni News : Jun 5, 2017

Parker Van Hart: The Art of Entrepreneurship

By Rachel Sherman

Parker Van Hart, (BFA Ceramics '04, MSENT '15), proves that the arts and business are not so different. His journey from a career in business to ceramics, and then back to business, is a twisted and inspiring one.

After his career in management for a cell phone company, Van Hart first came to study at the College of the Arts to complete his undergraduate degree. Once Verizon incorporated the company he worked for, Van Hart wanted a break from the business all together. He decided to enrolled in ceramics classes at Santa Fe and shortly afterwards transferred to UF.

“The next two years were like heaven for me,” Van Hart said. “I reconnected with the part of me the corporate world had squashed. My intention was to stay hidden away in a studio making beauty and teaching others the craft for the rest of my life.”  

Van Hart’s plan for his career did not pan out the way he anticipated when the arts industry received less funding than it did in previous years. Upon graduation, Van Hart got married and was forced to figure out a way to pay the bills. So, he decided to purchase a restaurant.

Van Hart bought Steamers, which was a restaurant he enjoyed going to all the time when he was a student. He was able to transform the hole-in-the-wall take-out place into a full-blown restaurant chain called Tasty Buddha. At its peak, the chain developed into a multi-million dollar company with 4 different restaurants and between 50 and 60 employees in the Gainesville area.  

“In the beginning I rejected the word ‘entrepreneur’,” Van Hart said. “I was an artist who was building a restaurant business the same way I would build a sculpture. The two are remarkably similar. The materials and words of course differ, but the process is identical.”

Tasty Buddha closed in 2013 and Van Hart decided to complete the UF one-year Master of Science in Entrepreneurship degree that was open to undergraduate majors from a variety of backgrounds. Van Hart now embraces the term “entrepreneur.”

“An entrepreneur is a person who isn’t satisfied with the world around them and thinks their voice and actions can help make things a little better,” said Van Hart.

Artists and entrepreneurs alike use their innovation to make the world a better place.

“If you’re an artist, you’re already an entrepreneur,” said Van Hart.