A billboard depicting a cartoon green bean sporting a bowl cut and pointy ears next to the phrase “’Bean’ Me Up Scottie” got the creative and digestive juices of Spartanburg County residents flowing in 1995.
“It started as a quirky, fun advertising campaign,” said Hamp Lindsey, co-owner of Wade’s, an iconic meat-and-three eatery in Spartanburg. “Our billboards really connected with the community. It became much more than just a marketing campaign.”
After 22 years, Lindsey said the restaurant located at Pinewood shopping center will end the campaign in order to focus its marketing dollars on social media and other efforts that will impact the community in a more “tangible” way.
Wade’s supporters will still be able to submit their ideas, and the best ones will be illustrated and posted on the restaurant’s website.
“All good things must come to an end,” Lindsey said. “We knew it wouldn’t last forever… I’m sure there will be some who take this as a sign that the restaurant is closing, but that couldn’t be further from the truth… We feel like it’s our responsibility to do something more.”
The first two efforts Wade’s will sponsor include a stage at the Hub City Farmer’s Market and the new 7-acre community park that will be built along the Mary Black Foundation Rail Trail between Forest Avenue and Country Club Road. The park will be near Wade’s corporate office off South Pine Street.
“Pretty much all of our marketing budget was dedicated to the billboards,” Lindsey said. “We are excited. We think this is going to free us up to do some more permanent things.”
Lindsey and his sister, Carole Miller, own the popular restaurant founded by their parents, Wade and Betty Lindsey, in 1947.
It wasn’t long after the owners introduced the campaign that they began asking the community to submit ideas, and that’s when it began taking on a life of its own.
Each of the ideas that made it to the billboards included the name of the person who submitted it. For some local residents, it was a chance for a moment in the spotlight.
Throughout the years, Lindsey has kept a notebook full of ideas submitted by the public.
Customers can purchase magnets, T-shirts, and other memorabilia featuring the ideas that have made the cut.
A few of those ideas have included “Darth Tater,” “Spider Ham,” “Yam Newton,” and a depiction of now-President Donald Trump telling a chicken, “You’re fried!”
He estimated Wade’s has produced between 150 and 170 billboards during the life of the campaign. The restaurant only received one cease-and-desist order.
“We consciously stayed away from anything we felt might be controversial,” Lindsey said. “We always wanted to appeal to different groups of people.”
While the billboards may have attracted customers, Lindsey said the eatery’s ability to consistently deliver delicious home-cooked food and friendly service has been key to its success.
He said the restaurant employs 125 people and has been averaging 3,400 “covers” or meals served on Thursdays.
“It’s a testament to our staff and what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.
In 2016, Wade’s began accepting credit card for the first time.
“[Lindsey and Miller] know how to run a successful business,” said Will Rothschild, a spokesman for the city of Spartanburg.
“I’m going to be the last person to question their decision. They have just crushed it… I’m personally going to miss the campaign. Like a lot of people who loved those billboards, whose kids loved them, we’ve had many of those magnets on the fridge in our house. But everything runs its course and I’m glad they’re putting their energy into other things. There is plenty happening in Spartanburg. We need all of the energy we can get. To have that family behind it is a win in itself. The park is going to be great for Spartanburg. There is a lot of momentum behind expanding recreation and healthy living opportunities in the community. The park will be a key part of that and we’re looking forward to having them behind it.”
Jaime Nash, director of marketing for Spartanburg-based Roebuck Buildings, said she too will miss the campaign, but will continue to dine at Wade’s.
“In general, as a business, you have to do marketing,” Nash said. “How much you spend should be scalable based on what you’re selling… When it comes to a well-known local establishment, long held traditions are important because it promotes community pride. But there are certainly times where it makes sense to change things up and try something new… I was devastated when Hardee’s stopped giving away little California Raisins in their happy meals… Each organization has to make those decisions. When you’ve got a restaurant that values bringing families together for dinner, I think it’s a great message for them to sponsor a park that will bring families together.”
Lindsey said he has not completely closed the door on bringing the billboards back in the future.
“It may come back at some point, you never know,” he said. “We just feel like this is the right decision for us at this time.”
For more information, visit: www.eatatwades.com.