The savory smells of Thanksgiving once more permeate the Greenberg Smoked Turkeys building on McMurrey Drive in Tyler.
The call center is staffed and bustling with activity, an electronic board at the front of the room indicating when one of the workers is on the phone, taking an order. Smokers heat up each morning to cook that day’s batch of turkeys and the business’s usual UPS driver arrives before noon to pick up a batch of turkeys for delivery, expertly backing up the truck to a new loading dock at the facility.
About a year after a fire devastated the longtime Tyler company and brought a halt to its holiday turkey season, Greenberg Smoked Turkeys is up and running, with a season that is breaking company records, said Jake Greenberg, son of owner Sam Greenberg and assistant manager at the facility.
“We really did not know what to expect,” Greenberg said of production that restarted Sept. 16, several weeks earlier than normal. The company didn’t know when it turned the smokers back on whether customers had found another source for their holiday turkeys in the year the company has been closed.
“Since we started so much earlier, we’ve been hitting higher numbers earlier than ever before,” he said, adding the company isn’t sure what that means yet. “But it has been fun.”
A typical production season — the business is seasonal and only in operation for several months each year, ending on Christmas Eve — sees the company smoke and ship 190,000 turkeys. This year, that number is going to be about 215,000 to 217,000, Greenberg said. The company specializes in turkeys only, which come in 15 sizes, but the company already is sold out of about half of those.
Greenberg had just been heading to bed in November about a year ago when he received notice the power was out at what was the company’s shipping and freezer area. Then the fire department was dispatched.
When he turned down the street to the business, “It’s lights and sirens all the way down,” he said, adding it was “awful.”
“Luckily, it just hit our shipping room” and freezer area, Greenberg said, as well as the boxes and bags that would have been used in shipping. It was enough to shut the business down for 2020’s holiday season.
The company began planning to rebuild immediately, completing a new shipping and freezer area in less than a year. That happened with “a lot of help and a little luck,” Greenberg said.
“Once you come to terms with ‘there is not going to be a season,’” then the question becomes “how is there going to be a next season,” Greenberg said. “It’s no secret the last year and a half has been a complete nightmare for construction and materials of any kind.”
Embarking on a construction project in that environment made the Greenbergs nervous, but Greenberg said vendors worked with them to move their project to the front of the line. The company also rented a storage facility so that as supplies became available, they could go ahead and be delivered in anticipation of the reconstruction.
The company also was concerned about its employees. Greenberg said most of the more than 100 employees have been coming back for the production season for years.
“They’ve always been very good to us,” he said.
Ultimately, the business decided to pay all the employees for what they would have earned working that season.
“We want to take care of them because we’ll need them this year,” Greenberg said, recalling the thought process. “It seems like a pretty big commitment, but it made the most sense. It’s not their fault, and a lot of these folks — they either only work here every year or they have a variety of seasonal jobs and this one is a very important part of that for them to be able to make it through the year. We were not going to leave all those people high and dry.”
The family-owned business also used the reconstruction opportunity to build efficiencies and improvements into the new freezer and shipping areas that hadn’t existed in the previous facility. Now, the four-day production process is back and running — starting with thawing the turkey, then trimming and seasoning it with Greenberg’s closely guarded secret recipe, smoking the birds and then cooling and freezing.
“It’s going really well,” Greenberg said. “We’re surprised and relieved and thankful.”