Huey’s, the family-owned restaurant chain in Memphis, is notably a local gem. While some of its success can be attributed to the award-winning burgers and gritty charm (graffiti walls and ceilings full of frill picks), at the core of the company’s strategy is the family-style atmosphere that makes Huey’s feel like a second home. It’s an approach that isn’t happenstance. In fact, it’s intentional. Since the 1970s, the Huey’s team has been dedicated to creating a family-like culture, and if it’s up to the three sisters who now manage the local restaurant chain, that won’t be changing anytime soon.
Lauren McHugh Robinson, Ashley Robilio and Samantha Dean are the three leading ladies behind Huey’s. The sisters can recall the days as young girls when their father would give them rolls of quarters to play games and get sodas while he managed Huey’s Midtown. Their father, Thomas Boggs, would later become a partner of the restaurant, working hard to grow the casual dining establishment from one to several locations before he died in 2008. A street, right near his first restaurant, has been named in his honor.
“We all look back and say that daddy would be so thrilled because nobody thought that Huey’s would do this,” says Ashley, who serves as the Chief Operating Officer. “It’s humbling, surprising, and exciting.”
Lauren, Ashley and Samantha are the three sisters behind Huey’s, which has been open since the 1970s. There are currently nine Huey’s locations, with a 10th set to open in Olive Branch, Mississippi, next summer.
Here, the sisters stand below the street sign honoring their father.
Huey’s first opened its doors in Midtown in 1970. It was founded by Allen Gray who named the restaurant after his childhood moniker, Huey. Six years later, Thomas Boggs began working at the restaurant as a bartender, and eventually became a partner. Since then, the establishment has grown to more than nine restaurants spread throughout Memphis. Despite the growth, the sisters say the close-knit atmosphere is still at the core of the Huey’s brand.
“I think we have withstood the test of time because we have so many great employees. There is mutual respect between our staff and us,” says Lauren, who serves as President and Chief Executive Officer. “We have a low turnover rate, and we spend a lot of time in the interview process and are very diligent in how we train.”
She adds that teaching the “Huey’s way” is essential. Managers have to undergo an extensive three-month training, and all other employees train for two to three weeks. “Even though we are at 560 employees, we still feel like a family-owned business,” Lauren says. “And that’s because we’re very intentional with the people we hire.”
The Huey’s menu is filled with comfort food like burgers and sandwiches, as well as lighter fare like salads and heart-healthy options.
A collection of Huey’s t-shirts hangs in the restaurant.
Over the years, Huey’s has seen tremendous success, raking in numerous awards including nods for Best Burger in Memphis (Thrillist) and Best Restaurant for Lunch (Memphis Business Journal). For Thomas’s daughters, they couldn’t have imagined that those fun-filled days playing in booths at Huey’s Midtown would turn into their life’s work and grow as successfully as it has.
“We couldn’t have had any idea then,” Ashley says. “Even though I was initially interested in the hotel side of hospitality when I was studying at the University of Alabama, I’ve only ever worked at Huey’s. Eventually, I knew that it would be my trajectory.”
For the other members of the trio, their plans were different. Samantha says she thought that she would go on to be a public relations executive, while Lauren had a successful career in banking before jumping back into the family business.
“I did not think that I would work for Huey’s after graduating,” admits Samantha, who now serves as Huey’s Special Projects Manager. “After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University, I traveled but ended up back in Memphis, working my way up from manager to general manager and now my current position.”
Despite some initial reluctance to join the family business, the sisters say that they wouldn’t have it any other way. “We get to work together, and that’s good because we’re really close sisters,” Ashley says.
Toothpicks in the ceiling tiles? It’s a Huey’s thing.
The restaurant has a welcoming, family-style atmosphere that keeps you coming back for more.
Besides their education and work experience, each sister brings their unique personality and perspective to the company; and it’s proven to be successful.
“Samantha is definitely the most creative and has a pulse on the giving,” Ashley says, adding, “and Lauren’s strengths are her numbers and her brains. She’s also very consistent and extremely fair. And I’m the one who loves being part of the party.”
“The life of the party!” Samantha chimes in. “Ashley takes more after our father in that way.”
Speaking of their entrepreneurial patriarch, the sisters say they often rely on many of the lessons they learned from him while managing Huey’s. “Dad definitely taught us about control, but to have fun,” Ashley shares. “It was very important to him that we loved what we did and considered it fun. His motto was, ‘Thomas said smile.’”
Each of the sisters brings a unique perspective and skillset to Huey’s.
Known for giving back to a long list of community organizations, the sisters once again acknowledge their father for instilling in them the importance of philanthropy. “One of the things that he really emphasized is giving back to the community. He always said, ‘If you give back to the community, they’ll give back to you.’ That’s why we do what we can to help local nonprofits and schools,” Samantha explains.
And while the sisters share that they’re planning to expand, they note that it’s at a slow pace to ensure that the family-owned brand isn’t compromised.
“We are slow to expand and don’t want to rush into things and become sloppy,” Lauren says. “We really want to do a good job at it.”
Keeping it all in the family, their brother Alex Boggs joined the team earlier this year. Additionally, Lauren, Ashley and Samantha’s children have worked at a Huey’s in some capacity on a part-time basis; but the sisters say their kids won’t be forced to join the family business if they choose not to.
One thing is for certain — these women are clear on their vision for the future of Huey’s. They plan to continue upholding their father’s legacy by providing good food in a family atmosphere while giving back to the communities they serve. That’s the Huey’s way.