Some nine years later, Burge was offered the
|Jeff Voyles owns Burge's today.|
Voyles bought the restaurant five years ago at the insistence of Jack Burge. “I was an investment broker for 20 years,” he stated, “I was with Stephens here locally, and Jack Burge was a client of mine. I handled his personal investments. I would send his hams and turkeys to all my investment clients for holiday gifts, birthdays and so forth.
“I think when he started thinking about retiring,” Voyles continued, “particularly because it was a business his father started and had his name on it, he didn’t want to just put it up for sale. He brought the idea to me about seven years ago, said ‘Jeff, you outta buy this place off me, you’d be great at it.’ And I said ‘Jack, you’ve lost your damn mind!’ Now, I was wearing suits and ties every day in the corporate world… we kept talking about it, and I looked at it for about a year and a half, and I thought ‘you know what? Why not?’ so I did it. Gave away all my ties, my suits… it’s similar [to investment banking] because it’s still about customer surface, doing what you need to do to make the customer happy. The difference is, when I went to work in the morning at Stephens, I never had to wonder if the floors had been mopped, if the air conditioning was working, or if there was a leak. Here, every day, whether it’s at this location or the one in Lewisville, there’s something that needs to be tended to. Sometimes it’s an urgent matter and sometimes it’s twenty small items. But that’s also the difference between running a small business and working for a larger operation.
|Chopped barbecue beef po'boy at Burge's in the Heights.|
“From the food standpoint, the first year I was here, I tried the turkey melt. I had Willie cook one up and I bit into it and it was cold. I asked ‘why isn’t this grilled hot?’ ‘We’ve never done it like that’ I was told, so I said ‘these are turkey melts, I think they need to be grilled hot.’ Our turkey melt sales went up dramatically, one of our best-selling sandwiches.
Staff at Burge’s in the Heights tend to stick around, including three members of a single family – Louise
|Burge’s Smoked Turkeys sells around 12,000|
whole smoked turkeys a year, but the spiral
sliced half-ham is the company’s biggest seller.
Both the Little Rock and the Lewisville restaurants
are still going strong, but it’s the smoked turkey operation that’s earned the Burge name its greatest claim to fame. The Burge's website is, after all, SmokedTurkeys.com. All the birds are smoked in Lewisville, in a facility that’s grown exponentially as word has spread about the famed Burge’s smoked turkeys. The smoker kicks up early each year, smoking turkeys as they come in. The smoked meats are then frozen and kept in reserve until they’re needed. Voyles says it’s a big operation.
“We’ll ship out just in November
While there are both a catalogue and a website for ordering, many still choose to dial the company’s 1-800 number. “They want to call the same girls they’ve talked to for the past 25 years, talk about the weather and place their order. But we do have a good number of people who are placing orders straight from the website. What I’ve found is that I pick up more corporate customers – as those people receive that package, now they become customers. They like the products, they want to order something else.
“There will be particularly during Christmas as we hit the end of the season, we’ll run out – we run out of the bone-in turkey breast by the second week of December. A good rule of thumb -- invariably folks will want to pick it up the day before Thanksgiving. We encourage them to come in Tuesday or even Monday – to try to keep there from being 400-500 people at one time trying to pick up their turkey!”
He says it’s always easy to spot the newcomers. “Our menu is 40 feet long. I can always tell when someone new comes in – because of the time it takes them to figure out what they’re going to have. I always ask them where they’re from, and sometimes I‘ll get someone who says oh, 15 minutes from here, they’ve passed by many times and never knew we were here.”
** Fun Fact ***
The Leftover Plate at Burge’s got its name because the day the restaurant set everything out to put together the menu, it was the last thing to be selected. Ten to twelve plates of the combination of turkey salad, tomato slices and peach half with cottage cheese are sold each day.
Burge's in the Heights
5920 R Street
Little Rock, AR 72207
526 Spruce Street
Lewisville, AR 71845