DeAndre Parks grew up on the city’s Eastside during the 1990s, a time and place when being in a gang “came natural,” he said.

After a winding path, the former Poly High School football star is now a successful business owner who opened StrongBeach Lemonade in 2020, selling seven flavors of the sour-sweet drink—along with smash burgers—from a stand at the beach.

It’s a far cry from his childhood.

“It feels good knowing where I came from to what I’m doing now,” said Parks, 40.

StrongBeach Lemonade owner DeAndre Parks with his lemonade during the Black Restaurant Week pop-up at The Cove Hotel on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. Photo by Stephen Carr.

Parks was among 16 vendors who participated in the second annual Black Restaurant Week pop-ups at Trademark Brewing and The Cove Hotel, one of several events planned through Sunday to highlight Black restaurant owners.

Known in the neighborhood as “Baby Dee”—a nickname given to him by his mother—Parks said he was always a stand-out as one of six kids, made popular due to his exceptional skills as a football player.

“Coming up, it was sports and gang-banging for a lot of us,” Parks said.

It wasn’t until after he hurt his shoulder his senior year that he began to foresee a different future, one less known without football.

He enlisted in a gang prevention program where he started to become a positive influence on his peers. After, he worked odd jobs at a refinery in Wilmington, security gigs, and stints doing club and party promotion.

But eventually, Parks said he began to feel he wasn’t making enough money to get by and turned to selling weed full-time—something he was well-versed in having smoked his first blunt at 12.

“It came easy to me because I was popular and everybody was smoking so I figured why not sell it,” Parks said.

StrongBeach Lemonade customers wait for their orders during the Long Beach Black Restaurant Week pop-up at The Cove Hotel, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. Photo by Stephen Carr.

In 2008, everything changed: Parks had his son, DeAndre Jr., which pulled him away from the illegal activity and toward a new path with the aim of “breaking the cycle.”

“I was smart enough to watch a lot of my peers coming up and seeing how they were raised with their parents selling weed and I was like, ‘Nope, I’m not raising mine like that,’” he said.

Parks began working as a pipe fitter out of state with his older brother for a couple of months, followed by a few months back at home in Long Beach.

When the pandemic hit, Parks sat down with his brother and a friend, and together they brainstormed business ventures. His friend came up with the idea of opening a Long Beach lemonade stand on the beach similar to that on Huntington Beach.

With Park’s life motto being “sink or swim,” he excitedly jumped into the venture and came up with a business name, created 10 different flavors of lemonade and bought a tent and supplies. Along with serving what he calls “the OG Lemonade,” Parks infuses some of his lemonade drinks with strawberry, mango, pineapple, blueberry, kiwi and watermelon flavors.

With many restaurants closing in 2020 due to indoor dining restrictions, Parks and his business partners’ idea to sell at Junipero Beach was a hit. They sold out by the end of the day.

“People went crazy over it,” Parks said.

StrongBeach Lemonade owner DeAndre Parks cooks up some onions for his smash burgers, Long Beach Black Restaurant Week pop-up, held at The Cove Hotel on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. Photo by Stephen Carr.

Parks has since added a grill to offer burgers, with plans to add hot dogs, pastrami sandwiches, loaded fries, wings, and “all the best things that go with a fresh lemonade drink.”

While he’s had a few snags in getting permits from the city, Parks is barreling forward with a positive attitude and a hope to one day open a brick-and-mortar cafe.

“This whole experience has been another rush,” he said.

Parks’ StrongBeach Lemonade tent can be found at Junipero Beach from sun-up to sun-down anytime it’s over 70 degrees.

Black Restaurant Week returns with more eateries, more deals