It is the best of times, it is the most exhausting of times.
For Aricka Westbrooks, owner of Jive Turkey, where deep-fried turkeys are the signature (heck they’re the only) dish, the week before Thanksgiving should be highlight of the calendar. And it is — for all of Westbrooks turkey-scarfing customers.
Starting on Tuesday and continuing through the Nov. 27 holiday, Westbrooks’s Fort Greene restaurant has been in a constant state of alert. The phone literally does not stop ringing from the shop’s 9 am opening time until its 10 pm closing. Turkey fry cooks are operating round-the-clock on two, 12-hour shifts.
Even Westbrooks’s mother, Alice, has flown in from Chicago to help manage the crowds and work the door when the lines start forming (in other words, be nice to Alice if you want turkey).
“I’m not complaining because Thanksgiving gives us the exposure that lasts all year,” said Westbrooks, now overseeing her fifth holiday at her Myrtle Avenue take-out joint. “But it’s bittersweet because where I come from, Thanksgiving was always such a family holiday. Now, I work so hard before Thanksgiving Day that I just about collapse on Thanksgiving night.”
She collapses so you don’t have to, making Westbrooks a veritable patron saint of America’s true national holiday (no wonder she ships her deep-fried birds all over the country).
“It is a great holiday and I’m thrilled to make it a happy one for people,” she said. “Let’s face it, no one likes to cook a turkey when the house is full of people you’d rather be talking to.”
The goal when Westbrooks started in 2003 was certainly not to ruin her own Thanksgiving, but to find a niche in New York’s competitive ethnic and comfort food market.
Seeing a complete lack of deep-fried turkey restaurants in the city, Westbrooks made a decision that others had clearly considered madness: she opened a deep-fried turkey restaurant.
“Just because no one had opened a deep-fried turkey restaurant didn’t mean that there wasn’t a market for it,” she said. “Once you have a deep-fried turkey, you know how good a turkey can be.”
Westbrooks’s background is in marketing, so once she came up with the food — turkey — and the name — Jive Turkey — this thing marketed itself. Now the walls are covered in tributes from customers, newspapers and national magazines — plus the ubiquitous proclamations from Borough President Markowitz (bet you didn’t know that Aug. 4, 2003 was “Jive Turkey Opening Day in Brooklyn”?)
She started with one fryer. Now she has six, all bubbling and hissing day and night, birthing moist, insanely flavorful birds every 20 minutes.
Do the math: That’s simply not enough fryer capacity to keep the lines from forming next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Worse, once people get on line, they tend to call friends on their cellphones — and the friends add on their own requests.
“By the time they get up to the front of the line, their order has gone from one peach bourbon turkey to a peach bourbon turkey, a Cajun turkey and two Jive Turkeys,” said Alice Westbrooks.
The Westbrooks aren’t the only people who long for the quieter days this time of year.
“I come in here five times a week,” said David Washington, a regular who lives and works in the neighborhood. “The taste is truly unique — juicy and delicious.
“But I never come in during Thanksgiving!”
Jive Turkey [441 Myrtle Ave., at Waverly Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 797-1688] does not take advance orders. Store is open 9 am–10 pm in the week before Thanksgiving and 9 am-3 pm on Thanksgiving Day. Lines are long. Prepare accordingly. Turkeys are $75.50–$88.50 during the holidays.