"It came as a big shock to me because he was very private about his life," said employee Tina Williams. "So, nobody knew he was sick."
The man famous for his soul food on South Street, particularly the mac and cheese, will be remembered not for the food itself, but for the love he gave to others.
"I think what people get wrong about KeVen is that his legacy is his restaurants and his businesses, but it's actually the people he inspires. So if he didn't touch them personally, he touched someone through them," said Perry Ison of Fishtown and manager of Ms. Tootsies.
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Friends and family members said he took chances on young people when no one else would. He gave them employment and gave them a path to succeed.
"KeVen always looked out for young people," said friend Rodney Elliot of West Oak Lane. "People of color particularly, giving them employment. He was just a good person. Good to his family."
"He's touched lives," said David Clements, who is the director of HR and social media for the restaurant. "With his mentoring program, with his internship program, a lot of students right from high school started here, started their professions here."
And the man who loved everything to be "pristine" will continue to inspire others long after his death.
"Nobody could replace him," said Williams. "That's why everybody is here because we are his legacy. We are a part of him."
Ms. Tootsies will be closed until further notice, but employees say the restaurant will continue.
KeVen Parker Soul Food Cafe in Reading Terminal Market will continue to stay open.