All Thanksgivings are significant for Becky Bates Sloane, but Thanksgiving 2020, despite all of this year’s trials, is extra special.
The owner of Bates House of Turkey is accustomed to this holiday being a hallmark of the year. She was with Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey Monday at the annual pardoning of the turkeys.
In early March, Bates House of Turkey celebrated its 50th year of business with a ribbon-cutting and celebration. The governor even joined in those 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,” Sloane said.
While she spends most of her time in the kitchen cooking alongside generational employees, Sloane loves to venture 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 who return year after year and bring their families to experience the restaurant.
In 1923, Becky’s great-grandparents received 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 highway from Chicago to Mobile. “The five children would take turns on Saturdays and Sundays, sitting out there and selling turkeys,” Sloane said.
In 1970, when Interstate 65 opened, so did Bates House of Turkey. Becky and her four siblings, parents and a few kitchen and front-of-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 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 said. Along with the bestseller hickory-smoked sandwich, Sloane 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.”
On March 19 when the coronavirus caused a statewide mandate to close restaurant dining rooms, “The soups that we make and freeze to take home and the frozen casseroles – individuals and the big ones – really saved our bacon,” Sloane said. Bates House of Turkey continued to serve the community during the closure 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 limited restaurant seating was allowed in mid-May. “When they opened those beaches back up, (the highway traffic) was there almost immediately,” said Sloane.
Just in time for Thanksgiving, beginning Friday, Nov. 13, Bates House of Turkey will open a “pop-up shop” at the Shoppes of EastChase in Montgomery.
We’re coming soon @cityofmontgomery ‼️Starting November 13th we will be selling all your Thanksgiving needs @theshoppesateastchase #eatturkeyfeelperky #suportsmallbusiness #alabamafarmers #eatlocal
Turkey is a year-round meal
With a prime location on an exit just off a highly traveled highway, the restaurant opens at 8 a.m. 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,” Sloane said, explaining that turkey is so much more than just a Thanksgiving meal.
“Eat turkey, feel perky,” is what Sloane’s dad always said. “We are continuing his dream that turkey needs to be eaten all year-round.”