In early March, Bates House of Turkey celebrated its 50th year of business with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration. The governor even joined in the festivities.
Every anniversary, the Greenville restaurant celebrates but “this year we went really, really big. We had little champagne cranberry cocktails, smoked turkey sliders and gave away souvenir cups,” said owner Becky Bates Sloane.
While she spends most of the time in the kitchen cooking alongside her generational employees, Becky loves to venture out to the front of the restaurant with her daughter, Michelle Sloane, greeting customers. “It’s so rewarding to know that they remember a visit with us,” she said of customers that return year after year and bring their families to experience the restaurant.
In 1923, Becky’s great grandparents were gifted nine turkey eggs as a wedding gift and soon began selling turkeys to neighbors for holiday meals. Following her father’s return from World War II, the family farm on U.S. 31 in Fort Deposit continued to grow and specialize in turkeys. The farm was well positioned on what was then the main corridor from Chicago to Mobile. “The five children would take turns on Saturdays and Sundays, sitting out there and selling turkeys,” Becky recalls.
In 1970 when Interstate 65 opened, so did Bates House of Turkey. Becky and her four siblings, her parents, and a few kitchen and front of the house employees split responsibilities between the farm on the federal highway and the restaurant on the interstate. They began selling turkey products and sandwiches at the restaurant and have since expanded their menu to contain so much more.
“We added the roast turkey dinners and then added vegetables because there aren’t that many places you can stop on the interstate for vegetables,” she continued. Along with the best seller hickory-smoked sandwich, Becky created soups for the menu. “We do turkey and dumplings, southwestern corn chowder – I took my grandmother’s camp stew recipe and turned it into an all turkey camp stew – then turkey vegetable and turkey noodle.”
“The soups that we make and freeze to take home and the frozen casseroles – individuals and the big ones – really saved our bacon,” when on March 19 all on-premise dining stopped due to the state’s coronavirus health order. Throughout the dining room being closed, Bates House of Turkey continued to serve the community and beyond, serving hot meals curbside and selling the frozen meals, originally created in 2010 during the Gulf oil spill when interstate traffic also ebbed.
“People must have us saved in their phones,” she said. While to-go orders have increased, people in the community and travelers were ready to dine-in as soon as the limited restaurant seating was available in mid-May. “When they opened those beaches back up, (the highway traffic) was there almost immediately,” Becky said gratefully.
Turkey is a year-round meal
With a prime location on a highly traveled interstate highway, the restaurant opens at eight in the morning but doesn’t sell breakfast items. “Even this morning, people were waiting to get in,” she said. Turkey is not just for dinner or a holiday treat, “people always stop in (as they travel on the highway) to get items to-go or sandwiches they are going to eat later.”
“It’s low in fat, low in cholesterol and high in protein. It’s a win, win all around,” said Becky, explaining that turkey is so much more than just a Thanksgiving meal.
“Eat turkey, feel perky,” is what Becky’s dad always said. “We are continuing his dream that turkey needs to be eaten all year round.”
Story by Katie Brown
Photos Provided by Bates House of Turkey