Pigging out 

BY: Mark Hancock

By sundown, three were left of the Shawnee-based chain after its Moore eatery on S.W. Fourth was demolished by an EF5 tornado.

“The good news is that our employees who were in the restaurant at the time the tornado hit managed to walk away without a scratch,” co-owner Mark Shuman said. “After hunkering down in the bathroom, they emerged shaken and scared, but physically uninjured.”

It’s the latest chapter in the lengthy history of a business that began in 1928 with Leroy Franklin Vandegrift, an oil patch worker otherwise known as “Van.”

Van surmised that the demand for black gold isn’t always a sure thing, but folks have to fill their bellies every day; so he began cooking full-time in Wewoka. Today, the operation prides itself on being the state’s oldest same-family-owned-and-operated barbecue establishment.

The managing partners haven’t decided where or when a new Van’s will open in Moore, but they promise that one is coming. That’s likely welcome news for barbecue connoisseurs in Moore, since the closest location now is 10 miles away in Norman. The other two Van’s are in Shawnee.

More happy news for Van’s arrived last month when its restaurants earned TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2013. A widely used travel-services industry website and a pioneer of user-generated content, TripAdvisor includes 17 other travel-related components such as BookingBuddy and Holiday Watchdog.

The TripAdvisor designation means that Van’s Pig Stands have drawn a high volume of user-written reviews, and that at least 80 percent of its user ratings were positive.

“The Certificate of Excellence award provides top-performing establishments around the world the recognition they deserve, based on feedback from those who matter most: their customers,” said Alison Copus, marketing vice president for TripAdvisor.

That’s no small feat in the anonymous online world, where scathing remarks are sometimes posted by chronic malcontents or even falsely made by cutthroat competitors.

But maybe such praise isn’t surprising, given that Van’s Pig Stands do serve seriously good barbecue. The smoked meats are tender and flavorful. Side dishes are made fresh in-house. Service is competent and friendly.

Jev Vandegrift, one of Van’s co-owners, has written responses to the majority of recent customer reviews. They’re diplomatic thank-you notes for kind words, with the occasional promise to make improvements.

It’s a wise use of the website, indicating that Van’s cares about its customers’ comments and appreciates the interaction with patrons possible because of today’s technology.

Van’s has harnessed another feature of 21st-century marketing with its YouTube channel. Twenty-two episodes feature Rob Morris, Moore Monthly’s vice-president of news and sports, as a kind of Okie Guy Fieri.

Reminiscent of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the three-minute videos are mostly kitchen glimpses into Van’s food preparation with various employees serving as foils to Morris’ clever banter.

The videos are the sort of
imaginative touch that old roustabout Van probably never would have
envisioned back in 1928, but one that’s propelling his company into the
future.

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Doug Hill

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