JACKSON, Miss.—Algernon Stamps Sr. was driving his family home from Utica, Miss., where he had just stood at the pulpit ministering to the Browns Chapel C.M.E. Church congregation on a Sunday morning in the early 1970s.
The father of six owned and operated Stamps Grocery, a small mom-and-pop grocery store and meat market in the Washington Addition neighborhood of Jackson, Miss. While his store had ingratiated itself as a community staple, other bigger-name grocery stores started to spring up around Jackson, mitigating the need for a business like his. He needed to find a new avenue, he determined—a new niche.
As he drove his family the 30 miles back to Jackson, the idea came to him.
“I can’t find a good burger around here,” Stamps Sr. commented.
His wife, Barbara Stamps, served as the primary cook for the family, but he was not a total duntz when it came to cooking, as he handled breakfast duties. He liked a good burger, and if he could not find a good place to get one in Jackson, then he decided he would just have to do it himself.
“I’m gonna make a good burger,” he told his family.
Not too long afterward, Stamps Sr. began rising out of bed every morning at 4 a.m. to make his rounds with various butchers to secure fresh ground beef. After seasoning the meat, he would take it to the griddle installed in the back of the grocery store, where Stamps Sr. cooked around 150 pounds of beef burgers on a daily basis—allowing intuition to guide his flipping rather than relying on set times.
The quality of Stamps Sr.’s burgers remained consistent, which drew attention from his neighborhood, then Jackson and then beyond the capital city. Although he intended to simply call his establishment “Super Burgers,” his customer-base associated the burgers with the name of the man who prepared them.
“Gimme one of them Stamps Burgers,” they would say. “Get one of them burgers from Mr. Stamps.”
After hearing these sentiments often enough, Stamps Sr. decided to include his family name as part of the business’ identity.
‘It Was Family There’
Today, a framed black-and-white photo of Algeron Stamps Sr. and Barbara Stamps—the business’ founders—standing outside the Stamps building hangs inside on the wall beside the kitchen.
Raised on a farm, Stamps Sr. comes from a big family out of Utica, Miss. He was an educator and held a passion for ministering, which he demonstrated in his weekly drive to his hometown to preach each Sunday. A husband and father to six children, Algernon taught his progeny lessons that his youngest son, Philippian Stamps Sr., still remembers.
“He is the kinda dad that when you went to bed at night, (he) told you bedtime stories,” Philippian Stamps Sr. told the Mississippi Free Press. “I can go on and on about him, and it’s always something different about him that always resonates with me at a certain point.”
After serving a tenure in the Air Force earlier in his life, Algernon returned to Mississippi and settled in the Washington Addition community. He received benefits from the G.I. Bill, an act that enables veterans to obtain grants for school and college tuition; low-interest mortgage; and small-business loans, job training, hiring privileges, and unemployment benefits.
“He was trying to secure something for his family, a home and a way of life,” Phil Stamps said. “So, he saw a gentleman by the name of Mr. Canterbury, and he had the business before. It was called Canterbury Grocery. He made Mr. Canterbury an offer for the business, and Canterbury said no.”
Canterbury, a white man, was adamant in his answer, as the business was doing well, and the community took great care of him. Things changed in 1970, however, after the Gibbs-Green shooting on Jackson State University’s campus, a few streets over from the building.
On May 15, 1970, law enforcement officers opened fire on Alexander Hall, a women’s dormitory on Jackson State University’s campus, killing Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Earl Green while injuring 12 other students. Phillip Lafayette Gibbs was a junior pre-law major with a wife, a son and a baby on the way, while James Earl Green was a Jim Hill High School senior who had stopped to watch the action on his walk home from work.
“Due to (the Jackson State shooting), white businesses began to get boycotted and not only boycotted, (but) they were getting vandalized a little bit,” Phil Stamps Sr. recalled. “When my father made Mr. Canterbury the offer, he also left his number as well. Mr. Canterbury called my father back and said, ‘You’re the first person who asked me about this business. I’m willing to sell it to you.’”
Algernon bought the business in 1970 and ran it as a standard grocery store until 1986 when the business transitioned to making burgers full-time. During those days, his family worked in the restaurant, and everybody had their own niche while working. Phil might do buns while his mother worked at the register and his father or brother worked the grill, Phil said.
“It was not like we had people in there just throwing the product together or that just didn’t care about the product; it was always somebody who put the product together and generally cared about it,” the youngest of Algernon’s sons explained. “They cared about the brand. They cared about what they were pushing out to the people.”
“I think in the beginning years, the success was (due to) the fact that it was family there,” he added. “It was my brothers and sisters there. It was my mom and dad there.”
Phil took over ownership of the restaurant in 2003 and ran it alongside his brothers, Algernon Stamps Jr. and Timothy Stamps. He attributes the later success of the restaurant to the system they developed that pushed out a consistently good product.
“We have a system where we mix our meat, we weigh our meat, we press our meat, we set our temperature. We put our meat on (the grill). We cook it on one side for four minutes, and we cook on another side for four minutes. Then we move it to a cooler grill,” Phil explained. “We have developed a system to make sure that the meat comes out consistently good.
‘A Passion For Food’
Customers who step through the restaurant door hear the warm, “Hi, welcome to Stamps!” greetings from staff members decked out in black or gray T-shirts and black or red baseball caps emblazoned with Stamps’ logo. Red barstools line the counter, behind which multiple cooks man their food stations—flipping patties, scraping excess grease off the grill, dressing burgers, and seasoning fries freshly pulled from oil and tossed into red-and-white picnic bowls.
Orders often come minutes before opening at 10 a.m., like an alarm letting the family-run business know that their regulars are hungry.
“They know when to start calling; typically around 9:49 (a.m.), sometimes right at 10 (a.m.), we’ll start getting that first call,” Philippian Stamps II, son of Phil Stamps Sr. and operations manager for the restaurant, told the Mississippi Free Press.
Days start somewhat slow for the first hour of opening, but Stamps traffic picks up soon after. Following the noon lunch run, the crowd usually steadies a bit but returns in even higher numbers shortly before the day’s end.
“Like an hour before we close, at 3 p.m., everybody knows they gotta hurry up and get in here, so we get another major rush,” Stamps II said.
When he was 8 years old, Stamps II would get up bright and early on Saturday mornings before the restaurant opened to help his grandfather, Algernon Stamps Sr., wash potatoes. In the kitchen, they would cut the potatoes into fries and then soak them in water to wash off excess starch. It was a way to spend time and bond with his grandfather, as well as make a few bucks, he said.
“I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with my grandfather and contributing to the process,” Stamps II told the Mississippi Free Press. “I grew up learning about the process and the product. I can definitely say that I have a passion for food that came from me being hands-on here.”
The operations manager also credited his grandmother, Barbara Stamps, with the success of the restaurant due to her sharp mind and experience in business. Her family, who is from Bolton, Miss., used to operate a convenience store, which she worked in as a little girl.
“The majority of the business etiquette—though it wasn’t much when they first started—majority of it came from her,” Stamps II explained. “One of the reasons for the initial success is based on the business savvy that she established from operating a business with her family. And that came directly from her father, William Lloyd, who was a very stern and disciplined, direct business owner.”
‘Never Had to Compromise’
Phil Stamps II became the restaurant’s operations manager two years ago. In this role, his primary goal is growing the business.
“I went to school in Atlanta, Georgia, and there are a lot of great food places in Atlanta,” he said. “I also have a sales background, where I learned the importance of being able to sell a product. But more importantly, it’s not just selling a product; it’s identifying what your customer needs, identifying what problems they’re having, and then trying to find solutions to that problem.”
Stamps II’s work experiences at an insurance company and with an entertainment facility also taught him about business operations, giving him the tools to determine what qualities from leadership make a difference, to understand the importance of documentation, and to set realistic and attainable goals based on facts and numbers.
“I took all those things, and I’ve tried to implement those things here so that we have the operational infrastructure to grow,” he said. “And I think those things have really helped prepare (me) for this position.”
One of the challenges of operating a locally owned restaurant is adjusting to the demand for the product, which he said cannot always be approached with a mom-and-pop, small-family-run approach.
“What steps do we need to take to make sure we can capitalize on that demand and then grow the business beyond just the small mom-and-pops-type of institution?” he said as an example of a question he has to ponder as operations manager.
“We started as a corner store, grocery space that decided to sell burgers, but (Stamps) decided to sell a quality product, something that our customers never had to compromise on—whether it was taste, whether it was price—and that really impacted the community,” he said.
Another set of challenges came in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the restaurant to adjust to their hours of operation, focusing on the lunch crowd versus serving for both lunch and dinner.
“One of the reasons why we had to do that is once COVID hit, we did not have the same amount of workers,” Stamps II recalled. “A lot of restaurants and businesses encountered trying to get staff again.”
“Everything else was just making sure that our staff members did what they needed to do to—number one—protect our customers and to protect themselves,” he added.
Stamps II said he felt that the team as a whole did a considerably decent job adapting, although he took note of areas where they could have done better and improved. In the long run, however, the height of the pandemic-spawned ordeal strengthened them and showed them that they could push through and persevere, he attested.
‘Can’t Lose Places Like Stamps Super Burgers’
The Backing Historic Small Restaurant Grant program launched in 2021 in the heart of the pandemic. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express recognized the importance of historic small restaurants to their communities and the country as a whole. These restaurants were struggling.
“We can’t lose places like Stamps Super Burgers, and so we, the National Trust and American Express, wanted to create a program that would help restaurants as they recovered and as they dealt with the ongoing challenges of the pandemic,” National Trust for Historic Preservation Chief Preservation Officer Kathrine Malone France said.
Some of those challenges include supply-chain issues, labor shortages, repeated openings and closings, adapting their spaces to different regulations and then adapting them again as circumstances continued to change. Despite the obstacles these restaurants endured, what France found so striking was the support that restaurants continued to show to their communities.
“They were organizing food drives, and they were feeding first responders,” the chief preservation officer said. “They were staying open as gathering places. They were taking care of their communities even as they were dealing with all of the challenges of the pandemic.”
Restaurants that won this year’s Backing Historic Small Restaurants grant needed to have been open for at least 25 years and needed a physical location that was in an older or historic district or main street. Stamps Super Burgers was one of 25 recipients selected for this year’s grant, and it was the only Mississippi-based restaurant on the list.
“I think first of all, it’s a community institution, and it’s also evolved over time,” France explained. “Stamps started out as a grocery store and a meat market. The owners purchased it from the previous owners at this really critical moment in the history of Jackson right after the (fatal) shooting of the two students at Jackson State (University).”
In the 1970s, the Stamps family decided to put a griddle in the back of the grocery store as the patriarch of the family, Algernon Stamps Sr., wanted a hamburger. He cooked it on that griddle, and that was the beginning of the restaurant, the beginning of history being made.
“That’s just an entrepreneurial genius seeing a market, and I mean, who doesn’t love a hamburger cooked on a griddle by someone who knows what they’re doing,” France added.
‘Change Trajectories of Lives’
Operations Manager Phill Stamps II discovered the Backing Historic Small Restaurants grant while researching opportunities to improve the restaurant. He realized that Stamps has historic value and offers a sense of place for Jackson.
“For somebody to travel to Jackson, Mississippi, and really get the experience of Jackson food, there are few institutions that you have to visit, and I am confident that Stamps Super Burgers is one of those institutions,” Stamps II says. “With all of that being considered, I just felt that the historic grant opportunity would be perfect for our historic institution.”
Stamps II could not go into much detail regarding what the business wants to do with the $40,000 grant just yet, but he does recognize opportunities to give the restaurant a facelift: updating the signs, making sure the wood on the outside of the facility is not falling apart—basically preserving what is already present versus rebuilding.
“We are a business that has been around for a long time,” Stamps II said. “At the end of the day, this is a structure that was built in 1949, so there are areas that need to be addressed so that we can continue to maintain and continue to serve the product and the community.”
“I realize that the kind of old mom-and-pops-type of place, aesthetically, has so much character,” he said. “I think a lot of people want to see the (Stamps) building maintain that character.”
Phil Stamps Sr. said he would like to work on the exterior of the building such as providing new woodwork, paint and insulation to certain areas of the structure, as well as some stabilization work. Because the $40,000 came from a preservation grant, the idea is to give it a facelift and not change the entirety of the building, he said.
“I get a sense of pride being able to work in the community that I grew up in,” Stamps Sr. said. “I enjoy being able to go in and know I’m pushing out a good product. I enjoy people coming from everywhere and seeing a community business. Now Phil Jr. has come in and he’s just adding all kinds of stuff.”
Stamps Sr. said he has touched the floor of the Stamps building more than any building he has ever been in throughout his life. He was practically raised in it, as his mother and father would set up a playpen for him and his brother, Tim, when they operated it as a grocery store. He has the utmost faith in Stamps and said he knows that it is going to be huge one day.
“I would love the legacy to be Stamps Super Burgers going to communities that are considered poor and impoverished and being able to franchise,” Stamps Sr. said. “I would love for us to be able to go and build great facilities in poor areas and hire the community—being able to give good jobs, being able to change trajectories of lives, being able to shift this wealth thing as well.”
Stamps Super Burgers (1801 Dalton St., Jackson) is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To order or learn more about the restaurant, visit their website. To learn more about the National Trust for Historic Preservation and their grants, visit their website here.