Oklahoma’s oldest barbeque restaurant continuously owned and operated by the same family is Van’s Pig Stands. First finding fame in the heart of historic Shawnee, nearly a century later its history is palpable. From the mouthwatering food to the friendly service and comfortable atmosphere, Van’s is a place of nostalgia and great eating.
The roots of this venerable establishment were originally planted by Tennessee native Leroy “Van” Vandegrift, who moved with family to Oklahoma City, where he graduated from Central High. He served in the Army before working as a tool dresser in the oil fields of North Texas and began cooking for fellow roughnecks on rig sites. Around 1928, Van opened his first Pig Stand in a hotel in Wewoka, Oklahoma. It was a small little store serving barbecue such as the Pig Sandwich® and Ribs. The menu also included other types of sandwiches such as Liverwurst, Pimento, Chicken Salad, and Cream Cheese. In 1929 a second Pig Stand opened in Seminole and was then sold in 1935. Pig Stands were later opened in Wichita Falls, Texas and Wichita, Kansas.
On June 5, 1930, Van opened his third Pig Stand Location at 714 Highland in Shawnee. In the same year, Van married Thelma Maree Glenn. In 1935 the Shawnee store moved across the street to its present location.
The stories of these earliest days in the life of Van’s flourishing Pig Stands are legendary among the family. During the Great Depression that swept across America throughout the 1930s, Van’s sandwiches—which originally cost 10 cents and had risen to 30 cents for hungry customers—returned to the 10 cent price, with a malt and pig sandwich costing a whopping 20 cents. The restaurant was also home to the area’s first ice cream machine.
Specialized menu items and secret sauces quickly became a trademark event at the Pig Stand. Its loyal customers enjoyed hot BBQ sauces with jalapeño and cayenne pepper mixed so perfectly on-site that they were eventually sold in six ounce bottles from the back seat of Van’s son’s car. Van’s wife, Thelma, came up with the twice-baked potato that packed full of bacon, onions, salt and pepper, and served with garlic butter. Later, she was in charge of dinner banquets that included large private parties where she served her famous chicken pilaf.
Van’s son, Jerry, remembers the time well. “When I was working the sandwich corner, my mother was making chopped pork ‘pig’ sandwiches and putting the buns on the grill with butter. We later took the BBQ sauce and thinned it down to paint the buns before we dropped them in a bun toaster. We included a relish, too. On those older menus, we didn’t have BBQ though. We sold pimento cheese, bratwurst, and even a cow’s tongue sandwich for real cheap. Our specials included chicken fried chicken or chicken and dumplings, beans, Rueben sandwiches. I felt like we had too much on the menu in those early days, but dad wanted it that way.”
Within its first twenty years, the stand in Shawnee was a bustling place and even included the famous Charcoal Room by the early 1950s. It was originally created with a dance hall and shuffleboard and included an impressive Wurlitzer jukebox.
Without a doubt, Van’s remains another great reason to spend some time in Shawnee and get to know its many assets. The restaurant continues to welcome guests from around the country. They have also been catering for more than twenty years and continue to build on its past successes with numerous resources to handle parties attended by thousands.
Today, Oklahoma’s historic Van’s Pig Stands is located at 717 East Highland Street and 3815 North Harrison Street in Shawnee and at 320 North Porter Street in Norman, and its newest location opened at 1991 Tower Drive-in Moore in April 2014.
It’s a Family Tradition
Van’s Pig Stands has been a Vandegrift family tradition since the 1920s. Leroy Vandegrift got his start in the restaurant business while working in the oilfields in early 1900’s by selling breakfast and lunch to his coworkers in the field. In 1928, Leroy opened his first Van’s Pig Stand in Wewoka, OK. The same year that his brother Briggs opened a Van’s Pig Stand in Wichita Falls, TX. They opened another pair in 1929, in Seminole, OK and Wichita, KS. On June 5, 1930, Leroy opened his third Pig Stand location at 714 Highland in Shawnee, OK, which moved across the street to its present location five years later. Wanting to keep Van’s a family-owned and operated business, Leroy passed the restaurant onto his son, Jerry Vandegrift. The family tradition continues into 2015. Jerry oversees the business, while the day-to-day operations are managed by the third generation which includes Jerry’s son, Jev Vandegrift, and Jerry’s daughter and son-in-law, Mark and Nina Shuman. This long standing family tradition makes Van’s Pig Stands the oldest single family-owned and operated Bar-B-Q restaurant in the State of Oklahoma.
Van’s Pig Stands has been doing Bar-B-Q right since 1930, and has been an Oklahoma tradition for decades. Famous for their hickory-smoked ribs, brisket and Pig Sandwiches, customers across the state and even across the country consider Van’s among the nation’s top barbecue restaurants. There are currently 4 Van’s Pig Stands locations, two in Shawnee, OK, one in Norman, OK and one in Moore, OK.