Counter Culture: Stamps Super Burgers
An integral part of Jackson's culinary rhythm since 1986, Stamps first started as Stamps Grocery, purchased from Mr. Canterbury of Canterbury Grocery by Algernon Stamps Sr. in 1970.
Walking into Stamps Super Burgers before the lunch hour rush is akin to witnessing a small, well-rehearsed orchestra in action. The sound of grease popping on the grill blends with the steady crunch of fresh iceberg lettuce being chopped in the back. A ringing telephone chirps above the sharp staccato of brown paper bags being stamped and emblazoned with the restaurant’s signature red logo. And a resounding chorus from the cook line - “Hi, welcome to Stamps!” - rises above the din every time a patron walks through the front door and approaches the counter, sending off another round of call and response as order numbers are fired to be filled.
An integral part of Jackson's culinary rhythm since 1986, Stamps first started as Stamps Grocery, purchased from Mr. Canterbury of Canterbury Grocery by Algernon Stamps Sr. in 1970. Also working as a minister at Browns Chapel C.M.E. Church in Utica, Mississippi, Algernon was determined to provide more to the growing Washington Addition neighborhood of Jackson than the standard mom-and-pop grocery and meat market. He also needed to differentiate himself from the growing numbers of mass-market chains threatening to stake a claim in the area.
With the steadfast support of his wife, Barbara Stamps, and his family, Algernon began rising early every morning to make his rounds visiting local butchers for choice cuts of meat before heading back to season it and fire up the griddle. Cooking through nearly 150 pounds of beef every day, Algernon's instinctive and simplistic cooking style began to be a household name. "Give me one of them Stamps burgers" became a regular request throughout the tight-knit community, morphing into the much-loved Stamps Super Burger of today. The quality and consistency of the product haven't changed in nearly 40 years and three generations of the Stamps family later.
"The goal was to build a foundation for his community," Philippian “Phil” Stamps II, Operations Manager and third generation Stamps, said. "Not only did [Algernon] work in this community, but he also bought a home in this community and his kids went to school in this community. It's community-oriented at the heart of it."
No stranger to the family business, Phil II grew up helping out in the kitchens as a young boy before he could see over the countertops. He was given the particular task of washing potatoes for Stamps' signature hand-cut fries, served perfectly hot and greasy with a secret blend of lemon pepper spices that customers can purchase by the bottle.
"I used to wake up Saturday mornings. It looked a little different then, but there's always been the same area in the very far back left-hand corner of the kitchen," Phil II said. "When I was tiny, my grandfather would get a stepstool so I could reach the sink. I would wash potatoes, and he would give me a dollar or two for my efforts. That is such a vivid memory for me. I couldn't tell you what anything else looked like back then. But the stepstool, the sink, washing the potatoes, and him being by my side helping me, are what I remember best."
After moving to Atlanta for college and his early career, Phil II is back to help his father, Phil Stamps Sr., his uncle, and the rest of the family continue and grow the Stamps tradition with one foot in the future. "We're a place that represents Jackson to both locals and tourists, and we take those first impressions seriously," Phil II said. "We want to continue to offer that quality product and wonderful experience and expand on it."
A nod to their placemaking in Jackson, Stamps was the sole Mississippi restaurant to earn last year's Backing Historic Small Restaurant Grant from The National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express to help revamp parts of their c. 1949 building's exterior. The program was borne out of the Covid-19 pandemic and the recognition of local restaurants' importance in establishing and preserving community, particularly in times of hardship.
"We're very thankful for the National Trust and American Express for their work and for awarding us with a grant," Phil II said. "We were one of only 25 institutions in the country selected for the preservation project. It's significant because they recognized an opportunity to preserve an institution here in Jackson, for a place I consider to encompass all of Jackson."
As the lunch crowd begins to roll in with faces from all different economic, social, and racial backgrounds, regulars and first-timers, Phil II and his staff greet each person with identical warmness and a smile as Algernon and Barbara fondly look upon the scene from a large photograph in the corner. That's what's unique about a first-rate burger. It doesn't take rocket science to bring people, and generations, together in one space — just an 11-ounce patty, mayonnaise, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard, and onion. Love and care at no extra charge.