Bates talkin’ turkey for 30 years

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 8, 2000

When Bill Bates opened his restaurant featuring only turkey products in Greenville, he felt confident that it would be a success and it turned out he was right. Thirty years after he built his new restaurant Bates House of Turkey has become an institution for residents of the Greenville area and a must-stop for travelers on their way to the beach.

This Saturday, employees and customers alike will celebrate the restaurant's 30th anniversary. At 11 a.m. there will be a special ceremony with special guest Bill Dickinson, a former congressman who participated in the groundbreaking back in 1970. City officials also will be on hand to proclaim March 4, 2000 as Bates House of Turkey Day.

The restaurant was not an original part of the Bates Turkey Farm, which originally opened in the 1940s. In those earlier years,

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people traveling on Highway 31, which was a major route for traffic heading north and south, would stop and buy their turkey products. But the construction of the interstate changed all of that said Becky Bates-Sloan, daughter of founder Bill Bates and manager of the restaurant.

"We used to get a lot of traffic at the farm and people would stop and purchase a variety of turkey products. When they built the interstate we stopped getting much of that traffic and it left a void. That is when mom and dad (Teresa and Bill) purchased the land in Greenville so that they could have access to those travelers once again," Sloan said.

Bates said

he wanted to locate his restaurant by the new Interstate, but that acquiring the land was not that easy.

"Someone had this land and their son was going to build a house here. But, later he decided he did not

want a house that close to the Interstate. The owners of the property had a gas station right next door and did not want to sell it to me because they were afraid I would sell gas. After convincing them we had no intention of selling gas they sold us the property," said Bates.

Once he purchased the property and completed the construction of his restaurant there was one more thing that held up the opening of his store.

"We were ready to open the restaurant in January. But, the interstate had still not been completed so we had to wait until March 4 to actually open for business," he said.

Their original menu was made up mostly of sandwiches. The primary reason for opening the restaurant was to serve as a billboard for his turkey farm.

"The main reason we opened the store was primarily to promote smoked turkey from the farm. Back then people were still very skeptical about smoked turkey. They had never tasted it and once they did they found out they liked it," he said.

Trying to run a restaurant with only turkey products was a challenge during the early seventies, but as more people began watching what they ate it began to lift off.

"Business was kind of slow at first because turkey was always perceived as being a Thanksgiving or holiday-type food. But, over the years turkey has become more popular as a meal and people have become more health conscious which has helped make the restaurant successful," he said.

Bates said that now people do not have to have a special reason to enjoy turkey.

"People like turkey a lot and they want to eat it year-round," he said. "It is a lot of trouble to do it at home so we give them an opportunity to enjoy it without having to clean up afterward."

Despite the growing popularity of turkey, Sloan said that repeat customers have provided the driving force behind Bates House of Turkey.

"Over the years we have developed a lot of repeat business. We have a lot of people from Greenville and surrounding communities who eat with us on a regular basis. And, we also have people who stop everytime they are on their way to the beach. Some of them have said that they time their vacations and traveling around stopping and eating at the restaurant," she said.

Sloan said the success of Bates House of Turkey is the hard work and dedication of many people. But she said a major contributor has been her mother, Teresa Bates.

"She (Teresa) has been there since the restaurant opened and has worked very hard in making it a great restaurant. There is no doubt

she has been one of the most important reasons that we have been successful and why we are celebrating a 30th anniversary this weekend," she said.

The anniversary party will begin at 11 a.m. and along with the special guests there will be a hickory-smoked turkey spread, samples of their smoked turkey, smoked sausage , cake and punch.

"We plan to celebrate all day and we hope to have a good crowd come out and celebrate with us," she said. "We are all very pleased at the success of the restaurant and we plan to be around for another 30 years."