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By Rita LeBleau
Lake Charles American Press

You expect a car dealership to have a parts, service, sales and finance department. But you don’t expect them to have a dedicated grill meister, a wood-burning grill on wheels and head honchos with their own aprons and a knack for serving (in every sense of the word).

Lake Charles Toyota is different because its leadership is different. In a world where “connectivity” is synonymous with wireless technology, the Tarver family focus on connecting with each other, employees and with the Southwest Louisiana community, one-on-one and face-to-face.

Philip and DeWanna Tarver and sons Corey and Eric, unabashedly use a hot gimmick to bring people together: good food.

“We do a lot of cooking; I mean a lot of cooking,” said Scott Waldrop, Lake Charles Toyota, “sometimes two or three days a week.”

Waldrop often accompanies the cook, Shawn Fontenot, on these gastronomic outings, the Lake Charles Toyota way of reminding people in service-oriented fields – generally teachers, fire fighters and law enforcement officers – just how much they’re valued and appreciated.

Phillip Tarver describes the people they serve as people who run the engine of daily life, people who need to be appreciated and respected more and taken for granted less.

“Food is a basic need. You could call it a grass roots way of saying thank you,” Waldrop said. “It meets a need and it allows us to connect.”

But does barbecue sell Highlanders, Tacomas, Rav4s, Corollas and Camrys?

Waldrop is in marketing. He chuckled at the question and threw up his hand in a concessionary way. “I don’t know if anyone has ever bought a single car or truck because of Phil’s beans or Shawn’s chicken, but we did meet a loyal fan of another brand who said he just might be a convert, simply because we shared a meal and got to know each other.”