After a couple of hard years, a local man decided to push on and follow his dream of opening up a new restaurant in the Gem City.
Laramie resident Paul Harper will be opening up Paul Paul’s House of Foods on Sept. 15 at 207 S. Third St. Harper said the restaurant will start off primarily serving Chinese food. But the menu will continue to expand as time goes on, he said. For example, Harper said he will be doing what he calls Soul Food Sundays down the road, where he will serve food his grandmother taught him to cook. The restaurant’s name comes from a childhood nickname, Harper said.
Harper said he has always enjoyed cooking, but he finally decided to follow his dream of owning a restaurant after the death of his wife, Kaylee.
Harper picked up cooking Chinese food for his family while in California because the ingredients were readily available and cheap. He and his wife decided to move their family from California, randomly choosing a destination on a map. When their fingers landed on Wyoming, they decided to move to Laramie.
He was surprised by how welcoming and warm the community in Laramie is, Harper said. He found work as a mason while his wife stayed home to take care of their children. However, one day that changed, as his wife died when she took a pain pill her husband provided. Harper said he didn’t think twice about sharing his medication because she recently had back surgery.
Harper said his world fell apart after her death. And that wasn’t the end of his troubles related to the incident as Harper was charged and convicted of delivering a controlled substance because he gave his wife one of his pills. He spent a year in jail, and his three children were put into foster care.
During his time in incarceration, Harper said he continued to receive support from friends in the community and his church.
Once released, Harper said he had nothing except for a fight to keep going. He said starting again was hard, but he was able to get so much back. After finding work, he got his children back from foster care. It is difficult, Harper said, to be a single father, even having to look up videos on how to style his daughter’s hair.
Harper started to follow his dream by cooking out of his house and delivering the food. Eventually, he was able to get enough money to open up a food trailer. He said his business really started to blow up after working at a baseball game in the spring.
People in Laramie really liked his food, Harper said. He was surprised by all the positive feedback and found himself competing with The New Mandarin. He said he wants to become not only part of the Laramie family but part of its history. Harper is proud to be in the building he chose and said he did not go there to die.
The location at Third Street and Ivinson Avenue has seen several restaurants come and go, including the French Place and 8-Bytes Game Café. Harper said he knows the history of the spot and how people view it as a failed location. But in his view, the previous businesses left so he could come in.
Harper said he has received a lot of support from the community and he hopes he can start to give back. He said he has a couple ways of doing so: For one, Harper said he will donate any leftover food to the Laramie Soup Kitchen. Another way he is giving back is by giving patrons their first drink on the house and offering a free dessert bar for customers.
For Harper, opening the restaurant will be how he chases the American dream. He has had some people question him, an African-American, cooking Asian cuisine. But he said that is what is so great about America — there are so many opportunities. Food, Harper said, is a great way to bring people across races together.