Travelers on Interstate 65 have flocked to Bates House of Turkey for generations, dining on sandwiches, roast turkey and assorted casseroles, soups and pot pies.
The visitors also stock up on holiday-worthy turkey and trimmings at the Greenville establishment — made possible thanks to Bates Turkey Farm.
Providing families an Alabama-grown turkey and fond memories is a treat for the Bates bunch, said Rebecca Bates Sloane.
“Holidays are all about families getting together,” said Sloane, the third of five generations of turkey-loving Bateses. “There is nothing better than sitting down at a table with your family and friends with a beautiful turkey on the table, complete with dressing and gravy.”
While Thanksgiving is the most turkey-centric celebration, the farm in Logan labors year-round growing free-range birds.
“I didn’t realize how much was involved until I actually started working full time for the farm,” said farm manager Ben Bates, who also runs the family’s cattle herd. “It takes a lot of pride and hard work to keep it going.”
After day-old poults arrive at the farm, they’re raised indoors for seven weeks. The birds spend another seven weeks in the shade of the Bates family pecan orchard, soaking in fresh air and gobbling up feed made from the recipe Ben’s ancestors used for generations.
Reducing stress on their turkeys is a Bates family goal, said Cheri Bates Weekley. Minimizing stress for customers during a hectic holiday season is a priority, too.
“A lot of people would rather spend time with their family instead of working in the kitchen,” said Weekley, Bates Turkey Farm office manager. “Buying a Bates turkey gives families more time to be with each other.”
The family first grew bronze birds, which resemble wild turkeys. Today, Bates’ birds are broad-breasted white turkeys bred for tenderness, which Sloane said results in sweeter, tastier meat.
Their signature hand-processed turkeys are smoked using hickory gathered from the homestead, which lends flavor and moisture, said Weekley. Most turkeys are 12-16 pounds, while some toms, or males, reach 20-plus pounds.
The Bates family has been big on raising turkeys since 1923, when W.C. Bates Sr. and bride Helen received nine turkey eggs as a wedding present. Helen sold turkeys to local merrymakers, but when her son and Sloane’s father, Bill Bates, returned from World War II, he turned the small-time turkey farm into a booming business.
They sold turkeys from the farm off U.S. Highway 31 until 1970, when Bill bought a parcel of land near the newly constructed interstate, resulting in Bates House of Turkey.
“I could say it’s a restaurant or fast food, but it’s really my daddy’s dream,” Sloane said.
While Bates’ business serving beachbound travelers ramps up around spring break in March, the busy season kicks in from late October till Christmas. The turkey and trimmings — sweet potato soufflé, cornbread dressing, pecan pie, etc. — are homemade and frozen, so families can snag their holiday spread early.
While many customers reserve turkeys in advance, phones ring off the hook as the holidays creep closer.
“It makes you feel good when you can help somebody out in a pinch,” Sloane said.
Bates enthusiasts can buy oven-roasted, hickory-smoked or oven-ready turkeys at the farm store, Piggly Wiggly locations in Birmingham and Mosley’s Meat Market in Mobile. Bates also ships whole turkeys, turkey breasts, sausage and other goods across the U.S.
Sloane said many customers are multi-generation visitors, passing on the tradition to children and grandchildren the value of savoring an old-fashioned roast turkey dinner or smoked turkey sandwich.
Through the years, Bates has served high-profile diners, too, like senators, Auburn University football coach Shug Jordan, NFL quarterback Kenny Stabler and a smattering of Alabama governors.
Additionally, the governor annually pardons a tom and hen — typically titled Clyde and Henrietta — from the Thanksgiving table during a ceremony in Montgomery.
While Sloane admitted there’s pressure to run a perfect turkey-making business, her family simply seeks to serve folks and cultivate holiday happiness.
“I’m so proud to have been able to be part of this,” Sloane said. “It’s really special to be able to take this business that my mother and daddy nurtured and to see it go on.”
To order for the holidays, visit BatesTurkey.com or call (888) 249-4505. Visit BatesHouseTurkey.com to learn more about the restaurant.