MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As we all look for things to make us smile these days, the Mid-South is rich with people and experiences to do just that. Before our “new normal” began WMC did this story at a Memphis-made midtown eatery that’s been serving up smiles for five decades.
Huey’s celebrated 50 years in early April but, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the eatery had to cancel a planned anniversary party.
The corner of Madison and Rembert is unassuming from the outside but is bursting with history -- and burgers inside since 1970.
Ashley Boggs-Robilio, Huey’s chief operating officer, shared how her father got involved in the restaurant.
“But, it started with a guy named, Allen Gary and he actually opened it and started it," said Ashley. “My dad, Thomas Boggs, got involved around 1976. And he started as a bartender, worked his way up to manager and worked his way up to partner.”
Before joining Huey’s in 1976, Thomas Boggs was a member of the American rock band “The Box Tops.” And, though he died in 2008, he left the business in the capable hands of his three daughters and one son.
Back in February of 2020, pre-pandemic and weeks before the coronavirus shut down began, two of his daughters, Ashley Boggs-Robilio and Special Projects Coordinator Samantha Boggs-Dean, sat down to share Huey’s recipe for success, along with a few surprising stories about the first, and only midtown, location’s past.
“You know, back in the day, it used to be called the Volcano Lounge," said Samantha. “And it was, because it was more like a bar back then. But it was like, it would be dead and then all of a sudden at like 11 o’clock at night the place would fill up. And then it would stay busy until like about 2 in the morning. And so it kinda got the nickname the Volcano Lounge. I think another funny thing is when we had -- we’ve had three different people drive their car through that front door,” recalled Samantha as Ashley laughed.
Now, Huey’s serves a more family-oriented clientele throughout the day before the evening crowd takes hold. But, whatever the time of day, Ashley said there’s always been a healthy pinch of fun.
“Dad was fun. There was never a dull moment when Thomas Boggs was in the office, or when he was in the restaurant," said Ashley. "His big motto was ‘Thomas says smile’, his big motto was 'Thomas says have fun.”
“That’s right,” agreed Samantha. " So we’ve tried to do that, too. I think it’s just a fun place to hang out at. I mean it’s fun. There’s something for everyone to do so I mean the kids can shoot thrill picks up in the ceiling."
“You can write on the walls,” said Ashley.
“Mom and dad can have a drink if they want," added Samantha.
The sisters agree one of the main ingredients of their success is staff, like now-retired longtime chef and kitchen manager Terry Gant.
“I been at Huey’s basically 40 years," he said. “Huey’s is a great place to work for I mean good people, good management and they take care of they employees -- they take care of the community. It’s just a great workplace.”
Huey’s adds a big dollop of taking care of the community -- each family member is heavily involved in charitable activities, serving on boards of non-profits and fundraising. Last year alone, the business’ combined donations and sponsorships came to roughly $100,000. And one of the main sources of their fundraising comes from thrill picks.
Nobody knows exactly when it started, but it certainly stuck and became a tradition at Huey’s -- shooting toothpicks into the ceilings. The story about how it became a fundraiser is well known.
“One of my dad’s good friends, actually was in the restaurant, when my dad was knocking all the thrill picks down and he’s like, 'You know what, Thomas? You oughta do a contest and donate the money to the zoo. And have people fill out a little ballot, a little form and guess how many toothpicks are up in the ceiling. And then, whoever comes closest to that amount would win like a $100 house tab,” said Samantha, adding that now all of the Huey’s locations hold the contest once a year.
There’s also a healthy dash of good food, making Huey’s more than just a burger joint although it’s award-winning mainstay is still on the menu -- the famous Huey Burger which according to Gant is --
“The best burger in town. That’s what makes Huey’s burger different from everybody else’s burger," he said. "We never squash the juice out, we make sure it’s juicy at all times. Just put that love in there.”
But, the sisters agree, that the essential ingredient in the success of the family business, has to be long-time customers.
“We’re just so blessed. Blessed to have this many loyal customers and blessed to have this many loyal employees. And that’s really what’s made us what we are. So, that’s the whole success story, really,” said Samantha.
The thrill pick tradition will take a pause when Huey’s reopens for dine-in service because of health precautions.
Huey’s is currently serving take out and delivery and customers can now order online.
Tuesday night the restaurant announced plans to reopen two of its dining rooms this week: Midtown and Southaven. More locations will be phased in over the coming days.