Thomas Boggs, CEO of Huey's, partner in the Half Shell, Tsunami, and Folk's Folly and tireless community activist, died on May 5th. He was 63.
"I essentially grew up at Huey's. I had my first legal drink there," says Ben Smith, chef/owner of Tsunami. "So, in a way I've always known of Thomas, but I first met him after Windsor's went out of business."
Smith remembers that shortly after he lost his job, he encountered Boggs walking down Avalon. Boggs had heard of Smith and stopped to talk. "He wanted me to run the kitchen at the Half Shell," Smith remembers. "I told him that I had made a promise to myself to not work for anyone else anymore and that I had my own ideas for a restaurant. He said, 'Why don't you come to my office and we'll talk?'"
Smith says that he probably wouldn't be in business today if it weren't for Boggs. "He was my friend, my mentor, and my business partner," Smith says. "I thought I knew the restaurant business, but what I really knew was the kitchen. Thomas knew the business. He walked me through every step of opening a restaurant. He was the guy I called for advice many, many times."
"Aside from being a powerful force in the local restaurant industry and the Memphis Restaurant Association, Thomas was always big on community involvement," says Jeff Dunham, chef/owner of the Grove Grill and MRA past president. "Thomas always put Memphis first."
In an interview with the Flyer two years ago, Boggs acknowledged that it was Charlie Vergos who one day "ordered" him to the Rendezvous and "wore him out" about the importance of giving back to the community and how the young generation of restaurateurs, counting Boggs, didn't do its part. Boggs took Vergos' concerns to heart and became involved in countless community organizations and projects, such as the Memphis Restaurant Association, of which he was a past president, the Memphis Zoo, the Food Bank, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Blues Ball.
"Thomas was a really giving person," Dunham says. "Not just on a big scale but to pretty much anybody who approached him for help, be it a group who wanted to hold a church fund-raiser or a fellow restaurateur."
"Thomas always believed that you have to take care of other people and the community and that they, in turn, will take care of you," Smith says. "What I will miss most, however, is his optimism. With Thomas, there was always a positive side to a bad situation."
Originally from Wynne, Arkansas, Boggs moved to Memphis with his family when he was 7 years old. He graduated from Central High School and the University of Memphis and was first exposed to the restaurant industry when he waited tables at the now-defunct T.G.I. Friday's on Overton Square. He later began working in Friday's corporate offices, traveling across the U.S. to open new outlets for the restaurant chain. He eventually returned to Memphis and began working as a bartender at Huey's at 1927 Madison.
Huey's was opened by Alan Gray and sold to John C. "Jay" Sheffield III and Don Wood in 1973. Because of his experience at Friday's, Boggs soon moved into a management position and later became a partner in the business, taking Huey's from a Midtown bar to a popular neighborhood restaurant — famous for its burgers and toothpick-spiked ceilings — with seven locations in the Memphis area.
Roustica will host a 4 Bears wine dinner on Thursday, May 15th. "4 Bears with 4 Courses" features Sean Minor's Napa Valley wines. Menu items include lobster salad with golden beets, asparagus, baby artichoke hearts and lime passion-fruit vinaigrette, grilled petite veal rack with chèvre-whipped potatoes, and blackberry demi glace and white-chocolate strawberry tart.
The dinner starts at 7 p.m., and the cost is $45 per person plus tax and gratuity.
Roustica, 1545 Overton Park (726-6228)
Blue Fish Restaurant and Oyster Bar, the Gulf Coast-inspired Cooper-Young eatery, has recently opened for lunch, serving seaside favorites such as crab bisque, seafood gumbo, oyster, shrimp, and fried-fish po'boys, shrimp and grits, and Prince Edward Island mussels, along with a few meat and vegetarian options. Lunch is served Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
On Wednesday, May 21st, Blue Fish will host a wine dinner, featuring the organic wines of Lolonis Vineyards with Maureen Lolonis. The five-course, mostly seafood dinner starts at 7 p.m., and the cost is $65 per person plus tax and gratuity. The restaurant will also offer meat-free menu options for vegetarian guests.
Blue Fish, 2149 Young (725-0230)