By Andy Olin, contributor
⏰ 7-minute read
- Despite having neither culinary training nor business experience, Lynn and Nakia Price built a smash success around their creation, the stuffed turkey leg.
- The Turkey Leg Hut opened in 2017 and experienced almost instant success, attracting long lines and visits from celebrities, hip-hop stars and professional athletes.
- After working through growing pains, the owners are building on the popularity of the Turkey Leg Hut with plans for new restaurants, some featuring entirely different food specialties.
Drive down Almeda Road on the western edge of Houston’s historic Third Ward, and you can’t miss the Turkey Leg Hut. Just look for the long line of customers waiting for their chance to grab a seat inside or the large crowd dining out front beneath a pair of tents providing cover from the punishing August sun.
Don’t be fooled by the name. There’s nothing small or temporary about this hut. From turkey legs big enough to satisfy Fred Flintstone to aquarium-size Mega Mimosas and a demand from diners that doesn’t end, the buzz surrounding couple Lynn and Nakia Price’s red-hot spot has been turned to 11.
The Prices opened the fantastically successful restaurant in December 2017. Located immediately southeast of Downtown Houston, the community boasts one of the most dynamic arts and culture scenes in the city and has been instrumental in the evolution of blues music and modern rap and hip-hop. The neighborhood counts as former residents Beyoncé and Solange, NBA all-star DeAndre Jordan, blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins and rapper Big Moe. It’s also where Lynn grew up.
Nakia Price with a spread of her eatery's signature dish: the stuffed turkey leg
Willing to wait — and wait — for turkey legs
In Texas, the custom of lining up long before the start of business typically is reserved for the state’s best barbecue joints, where popular items like brisket and ribs commonly sell out early in the day. It’s an indicator of how good the food is.
So, it’s telling to see the queue of enthusiasts outside of the Turkey Leg Hut before the music starts pulsing and the doors open at 11 a.m. The crush remains constant well into the night.
The line often extends down the block outside Turkey Leg Hut.
The uninitiated might scratch their heads and ask: “Turkey legs?”
Often overlooked and typically overcooked (thanks a lot, Thanksgiving), these drumsticks are novelties eaten once or twice a year at theme parks and state and county fairs, usually gnawed on while walking around. They’re the original meat on a stick.
If that describes your turkey leg experience, you’ve been doing it all wrong.
Turkey Leg Hut by the Numbers
🍗 Customers served each day: 1,000
🍗 Turkey legs sold each weekday: 1,000
🍗 Turkey legs sold on Saturdays and Sunday: 2,000
🍗 Employees: 135
🍗 Best-seller: The Alfredo Shrimp Stuffed Turkey Leg
Creating a one-of-a-kind experience
Those dried-out and awkward to eat carnival meat pops won’t be found at the Turkey Leg Hut. These are fork-tender, like carnitas or pulled pork, a quality emphasized by the owners’ no-knives policy. Diners won’t find any on the table, because they won’t need them.
“People think you can pick these turkey legs up,” Nakia explains with a knowing shake of her head. “But you try to pick it up, it’ll fall off the bone.”
Another thing customers won’t find? The need to doctor the flavor of the food, assures Nakia.
“There are no salt and pepper shakers, because everything is perfectly seasoned.”
But what really separates the Turkey Leg Hut from competitors and packs the place with new and repeat customers on a daily basis is the over-the-top signature dish — the stuffed turkey leg. The Prices are “the originators of the world famous stuffed turkey legs.”
There's the Stuffed Turkey Leg, which is loaded with dirty rice; the Alfredo Shrimp Stuffed Turkey Leg, stuffed with dirty rice and topped with jumbo grilled shrimp and Alfredo sauce; and the Cajun Crawfish Mac & Cheese, which needs no explanation. Other non-stuffed options are a Hennessy-glazed turkey leg and a turkey leg finished with a Ciroc mango habanero glaze.
The Alfredo Shrimp Stuffed Turkey Leg
Entrepreneurs seize an opportunity
The genesis of the Turkey Leg Hut took place in 2015, about five miles southwest of the Third Ward, in a satellite parking lot of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the world’s largest, of course. (Quick aside: While “everything’s bigger in Texas” is a threadbare saying deservedly met with eye-rolls, sometimes it’s true … y’all.) At the time, Lynn and Nakia were making money shuttling rodeo-goers from the parking area to the entrance and vice versa. They noticed people were hungry when they made the return trip at the end of the night and saw it as an opportunity to generate some extra income. So they set up a smoker in a field adjacent to the parking lot and began selling turkey legs, boudin and sausage on a stick.
Their turkey legs were a hit, even developing a following. And with that, the Prices had found their niche. Or, to hear Nakia tell the story, their niche found them.
“We didn’t seek it out. It sought us out,” she says when asked how the couple chose to focus on the turkey leg.
Going big in Houston
Neither Nakia nor Lynn have any formal culinary training, but they have plenty of real-world experience hosting large cookouts and parties, so feeding big crowds was nothing new. They decided to use that knowledge and, as Nakia puts it, “step on faith” to build their dream business on “pure hustle and ambition.”
The couple wanted to create a restaurant that incorporated three things they love to do: eating great food, listening to music and smoking hookah.
They hired a kitchen manager and built a team, whom the Prices worked closely with to perfect Nakia’s recipes and standardize the preparation process to ensure consistency in flavor and taste in large volume.
Big drinks play a big role in the success as well, carrying the feel-good theme and completing the profitable triumvirate of generous portions, large pours and plus-size beats. With names like Mega Mule, Mega Mimosa and Super Sized Sangria, you get the idea.
“You know everything is big in Texas,” Nakia jokes.
Super-sized drinks are part of the "TLH" experience.
“It’s not just the food. It’s a vibe,” she adds. “It feels like you’re at home, in the backyard, just relaxing, chilling with your family.
“That’s the business model for us,” she says. “You don’t try to push it and make it something different. You just go with what’s natural. And that’s what has worked for us.”
It certainly has.
On average, they serve 1,000 turkey legs a day during the week. That total can double to more than 2,000 on Saturdays and Sundays . The wood-fired smokers out back never stop.
Outdoors, tents shade customer hangouts.
Forced to learn as they go
Early on, the Prices encountered a challenge many business owners would love to have: Sales were outpacing supply. There’d be days when they’d sell out of turkey legs. To prevent this, they had to look at sales from week to week and determine the daily volume they’d need to expect.
However, there have been times when all the planning in the world couldn’t prepare the team to handle the overwhelming demand -- like the day Kevin Hart showed up. Word spread fast through social media that the actor and comedian was there, and fans turned out to catch a glimpse of the star. That crowd, combined with the customers there just for the food, led to a sell-out.
As the Turkey Leg Hut has grown, Lynn and Nakia have grown as business owners. They attribute this to recognizing and addressing problems as they arise and learning as they go. They’ve also assembled a management team and kitchen staff that understand the couple’s passion and vision.
Turkey Leg Hut sold out the day comedian Kevin Hart dropped in.
Star power fuels growth
The Turkey Leg Hut’s status as a certified smash among Houstonians has helped extend awareness of the restaurant far beyond the city and surrounding area. Positive word-of-mouth and gushing posts on social media praising the food and experience have provided invaluable promotion, and The Prices hired a firm about a year ago to handle marketing and public relations. The restaurant’s immense popularity, social media buzz and a strategic approach to PR have led to local and national media coverage and helped push the Turkey Leg Hut to the top of many out-of-town visitors’ must-see lists.
That includes celebrities. Snoop Dogg and James Harden are fans and have shown love on Instagram. Walls of the restaurant are plastered with photos of many big names who have dropped by to sample the Prices’ creations
, including Hart, Drake, Lil Pump, Jas Prince, Zero, Trae the Truth and Slim Thug.
“We’ve become a destination spot,” says Nakia. “So whenever you’re in Houston, this is something you have to be a part of.”
Turkey Leg Hut (Lynn is on the left) counts NBA player James Harden (right) as a friend, supporting his Houston-based charity.
Expanding the brand
Like their monster stuffed turkey legs, Lynn and Nakia’s plans for the future are really big.
Soon, the Daiquiri Hut will open next door, serving more than 50 types of the frozen favorite. The Prices are planning to capitalize on Houston eaters’ obsession with brunch with a spot called the Breakfast Hut, and construction has begun nearby on Savoy Urban Beer Garden.
“We have a lot in store for the Third Ward,” Nakia says.
As for the Turkey Leg Hut, there’s an Atlanta location in the works. Nakia would like to expand to Chicago, where she’s from originally, and Los Angeles. Franchising the Turkey Leg Hut concept is a definite consideration as well.
Whatever happens, Nakia just wants it to be interesting. Creating is an important motivator in everything she does.
“We’re always being innovative and keeping people intrigued,” she says. “There’s always someone creating something new every day. You always want to be a part of that, and you always want to continue to grow with the times.”