Blues, Brews, and
By Tracy Morin | Photography courtesy of Huey’s
A Memphis-area staple for good food, spirits, and live music, Huey’s celebrates its golden anniversary in 2020.
Back in 1970, Memphis enterprising entrepreneur Allen Gary envisioned a bar with a unique atmosphere, a place he could hang out with friends while providing a one-of-a-kind atmosphere Memphians would love. The bar was christened Huey’s, after Gary’s childhood nickname. He sold the establishment in 1973 to Don Wood and Jay Sheffield, who did a quick cleanup and revamp before opening the doors as new owners in January 1974.
“At that time, they sold only burgers, tamales, chili, and bar snacks,” recounts Samantha Dean, special project coordinator and co-owner of Huey’s Restaurants. “Our dad, Thomas Boggs, started working at Huey’s in 1976 as a bartender and manager with incentives to buy in. When Dad got there, he really helped transform Huey’s into a full-fledged restaurant and is largely responsible for the Huey’s that Memphis knows today.”
Though Boggs passed away in 2008, his late wife, Wight, and three daughters carried on his legacy. Alongside Dean, Lauren Robinson is now CEO of Huey’s Restaurants, with Ashley Robilio serving as COO. Boggs’ sons, Alex (general manager of Huey’s Millington) and Fulton, are also co-owners, and Sheffield remains involved, still booking bands for each location.
The family has seen the humble original restaurant grow from a second location in East Memphis that opened in 1991 to today’s nine locations across the Memphis area and north Mississippi. A 10th outlet is scheduled to open in Olive Branch, Miss., in early 2021.
The menu has similarly expanded. Earlier versions list only three specialty burgers, while today’s menu offers 13; selections have almost doubled in size from the 30 or so items it once sold.
“We’ve evolved in so many ways,” Dean says. “We are doing our best to run the company the way Daddy would, while adding our own flair and ideas. Our menu is constantly evolving, but our atmosphere remains the same — family-focused with a hefty dose of blues, brews, and burgers.”
Those burgers have indeed achieved legendary status in the Memphis area, nabbing multiple awards and flying off the menu. While Dean shies away from giving away all of the secrets to its addictive patties, she does point out heaps of family pride for Huey’s seasoning.
“And we never flatten our burgers,” she adds. “We want that first bite to hold all the juicy flavor we put into them.”
Live music has also been a central feature of Huey’s locations for decades. Shows began in the summer of 1974, when Huey’s began to occasionally book bands on the weekends. Eventually, the live music became a true Sunday-night tradition.
“It’s incredibly important to us to feature local artists and show off Memphis music, because Memphis has such a rich music history,” Dean explains. “And amazing artists are still living out their careers in here today.”
Over the years, Huey’s has enjoyed a bevy of accolades, including a 1992 honor as a top small business by the Memphis Business Journal. But Huey’s also knows how to throw a party, including for its 35th anniversary in Midtown Memphis.
“Anniversaries are always a blast, because community members, old employees, and vendors all make an effort to stop in and celebrate with us,” Dean says. “And we always donate a portion of the proceeds to a nonprofit in the community. It’s just a special time that brings the whole Huey’s family together.”
In light of COVID-19 concerns this year, Huey’s 50th anniversary party was postponed, but the family celebrated by taking time to reflect on and share the Huey’s history via its social media channels. Meanwhile, local media outlets spread Huey’s stories to the community.
“We received so many amazing well-wishes, throwback photos, and stories, and kind comments about how much Huey’s means to the community,” Dean notes. “Eventually, we will host our 50th anniversary party, and that will be an amazing day. We’ll have a kids’ zone with rock climbing, face painting, and more, plus local vendors, burgers, brews — and, of course, live music.”
At the heart of Huey’s is a sense of togetherness, and Dean believes that its reputation as a great place to relax with friends and family remains a draw today.
“I think a big reason people are pulled to Huey’s is because of the history,” she says. “We are a family-owned business, and that close-knit environment spreads to our broader ‘Huey’s Family’ — our employees. We’re always doing our best to make customers feel at home, but we know that starts with us and how we engage with our people. When the atmosphere is positive, fun, and inviting, customers catch on to that.”
As Huey’s continues to grow and thrive 50 years after its founding, Dean knows that tremendous local support over the decades has been the real “secret sauce” to success.
“As always, we want to say thank you to everyone,” she says. “None of what we’ve accomplished would have been possible without their incredible support and kindness. They’ve trusted us with so many of their memories, and we’ll always be grateful for that.”