Lauren Robinson, Huey's co-owner, president, and CEO, is also the daughter of Thomas Boggs — the Memphis man who made Huey's what it is today. Robinson looks back on the past 50 years and tells us what's next for our city's favorite burger place.
Memphis Flyer: What do you think Thomas Boggs' greatest contribution to Huey's has been?
Lauren Robinson: We’ve never met anyone like our dad. [Thomas Boggs] had an unwavering passion for helping people. And his way of loving on folks was serving them hot meals around two-, four-, and six-top tables. And as a musician and member of The Box Tops, which is a Memphis Hall of Fame Band, he couldn’t think of a better addition to those moments than live music. He had so many amazing contributions to Huey’s, but one of the best is that every employee who walked through our doors was family to him. He fought for them, fought with them, and always, always had their best interest in mind. It set an amazing foundation for our Huey’s family today, and we’re so grateful for that.
- Photographs Courtesy of Huey’s
- Thomas Boggs (center) with Huey’s family
How much has the menu changed in the past 50 years?
We actually have a wall of old menus hanging up in our corporate office! On the earlier ones, you can see that we had three specialty burgers, compared to 13 now. The earliest menu on the wall has a little over 30 items, including sides. Our newest has almost 60.
The recipes come from a variety of different people. Terry Gant, our head chef and Midtown kitchen manager, has been with us for over 35 years and has given us many recipes, as well as Wight Boggs and several other employees. We also have a food menu committee that comes up with potential menu items and tests them. While some of the recipes don’t make it, many of them are placed on seasonal table tents. And a lot of ideas come from our broader Huey’s team. We have over 600 employees, so there are always neat suggestions to choose from.
How did the toothpick-shooting begin?
It might sound crazy these days, but back then Huey’s customers would take the frill picks out of their burgers, shoot them from their straws, and see if they could get them to stick into the ceiling, and Dad definitely wasn’t going to stop them from having their fun. One of our customers, Craig Love, had the idea to knock them down to see how many were in the ceiling and create a contest based on which store had the most. Since Dad was always thinking about ways to benefit the community, he decided it was a great opportunity for a fundraiser, and our frill pick competition has benefited the Memphis Zoo ever since.
- Huey’s at Madison and Thomas Boggs Blvd.
Describe the culture of giving at Huey's.It all started with our dad. He believed that giving back wasn’t just optional, but vital for us as a business and as community members. He especially loved the Memphis Zoo and served in several roles, including the president of the Memphis Zoological Society, throughout his time in Memphis. Today, we host an annual frill pick contest where customers can donate a dollar to the Memphis Zoo and shoot a frill pick in the ceiling. We’ve donated over $140,000 since the contest started. Starting this year, we kicked off the second University of Memphis scholarship in his honor, benefiting students in the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management. We will also utilize our 50th anniversary to donate funds to Church Health, another cause our dad was passionate about.
Our future of philanthropy is guided by investing in future generations through scholarships and learning opportunities, expanding our volunteer efforts through local organizations like MIFA, Memphis Athletic Ministries, and local schools and listening to our employees and managers when they tell us what they’re passionate about and want to get involved in.
What was one of the most memorable moments for Huey’s in the last 50 years?
One very special moment was when we were chosen as one of the top small businesses by the Memphis Business Journal in 1992. That was the first time we’d ever been recognized in that way, and they wrote an amazing article about us. We looked back at the article this week, and it mentioned that we were looking forward to celebrating 25 years in 1995. Flash forward to today and we’re celebrating 50 years in April. It’s crazy how time flies.
As far as events go, our 35th Anniversary at Midtown was one to remember. Looking back, it perfectly mixed the “old-school” Huey’s with who we are in 2020. We love anniversaries because vendors, customers, and our Huey’s family all make an effort to stop in. Plus, we always donate a portion of the proceeds to a nonprofit in the community. We also throw a huge Christmas party for our employees every year with food, drinks, and music at a cool venue. They dance, and we give away prizes. It’s so fun to see everyone together and to reward their hard work.
What's next for Huey's?
We're excited to say that we just added two permanent items to the menu: the Beyond Burger and the Mac 'N' Cheese Burger. We will continue trying out specialty items on our table tents, and if our guests respond well to them, we’ll consider keeping them on the menu for good. Unfortunately, we are beginning to run out of space!
We're opening a new location this year, tentatively in October, in Olive Branch, Mississippi. We're excited to get to know the community [there] and add new employees to the Huey's family.
- A big ol’ burger with gigantic onion rings
What can we expect at the 50th anniversary celebration?
Wiseacre Brewing is creating a special Huey's beer for the celebration. We can’t give you all the details, or it wouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s exciting. We're also working hard on the T-shirts and promotional items, using a few of our past anniversary designs to create some very old-school swag.
Do you have a message for your Huey's customers?
First and foremost, thank you for 50 amazing years! This goes without saying, but we truly wouldn’t be the company we are today without our customers. We have so many “regulars” that our employees get to know their names and orders. All of Huey’s growth, community involvement, and employment opportunities are made possible because they come and eat with us. They bring their families and invite us into their memories, and we can’t think of a greater honor than that.
Huey's 50th Anniversary Block Party will be held on April 5th on the corner of Madison and Tucker, outside of Huey's Midtown, from 3 to 8 p.m.