December 10, 2014
Virgie’s BBQ owner Adrian Handsborough and his mother, restaurant namesake Virgie Handsborough, display the permits of Virgie’s BBQ and Virgie’s Place, which occupied the same building in the 1960s and 1970s.
Dec. 10, 2014—The small eatery that sits on the 5500 block of N. Gessner Drive was built nearly 50 years ago with students in the Fairbanks community as its cornerstone.
When Virgie Handsborough and her late husband, Jessie, first opened Virgie’s Place in 1965, she referred to it as the “teenage center” for its appeal to the students at nearby Carverdale High School.
Today the business lives on as the revered Virgie’s Bar-B-Que, operated by Virgie’s son, former CFISD student Adrian Handsborough, in the same Fairbanks community where Virgie’s daughter, Pam Handsborough, teaches at Holbrook Elementary School.
Roots in Carverdale
Carverdale School opened in 1951 for African American students, initially serving grades 1-7 and then expanding to middle and high school through the 1950s.
Shortly after that time, Virgie’s name would become synonymous with the Carverdale community. She and Jessie relocated there from Leon County in 1962, and three years later opened Virgie’s Place, a hamburger joint that served as the unofficial gathering place for Carverdale High School students.
The students would meet after school at the North Gessner location to fellowship, play the jukebox and pinball machines and, of course, enjoy the delicious 60-cent hamburgers and 40-cent hot dogs.
“It was a big gathering spot for the teenagers. We’d have 40-50 at a time, just in and out,” Virgie recalls. “I would make the hamburgers so fast and there would be so many, that I remember one young man saying, ‘Ma’am, you didn’t put any meat in it.’ It was very busy, but I really liked it.”
Always a firm believer in public education, Virgie was disappointed when Carverdale was forced to close on Aug. 12, 1971 by desegregation order of the U.S. Department of Education and Supreme Court.
“When you take the school out of a community, you’re really taking a part of the community away,” she said. “A church and a school are the center of a community. That’s the way I feel.”
Education continued to be important for the family as Adrian and Pam went through Bane Elementary School, Dean Middle School and Jersey Village High School.
“I remember my senior English teacher, Mr. Hostetler, telling me I would grow up to be an English teacher,” Pam recalled. “I had another sophomore English teacher, Ms. Parham, who said, ‘She can be anything she wants to be.’ I still remember that to this day.”
Virgie’s Place operated until 1975, after the demand of the restaurant led Jessie and Virgie to phase out food and convert the business to Handsborough Grocery, which served the Carverdale community from 1975-1998.
Adrian and Pam, who serves Holbrook as a behavioral interventionist, would visit the grocery after they got out of school.
“I remember getting off the bus, crossing the street and coming in here,” Adrian said. “We would do homework first and then go to work. We were happy.”
Whether it was a restaurant or a grocery, customers knew they could count on Virgie greeting them with a smiling face.
After high school, Adrian worked for a time as a truck driver and returned briefly in the late 90s to help out with the grocery when Jessie fell ill. Shifting economics forced the grocery to close in 1998, and Adrian continued to rent the property to other businesses while returning to the road.
Raised around food and possessing a gift to create delicious smoked meats, Adrian followed a calling to return to the family business.
A Good Name
When Adrian decided to re-open the restaurant as a barbecue place in 2005, there was only one choice for the name. He took it as a sign when his wife was going through old paperwork from the family business and found an old tax permit with “Virgie’s Place” on it.
“My wife said, ‘That would be a good name for a barbecue place,’ and there it was,” he said.
Virgie, who had taught him how to cook brisket, sausage and pork ribs “just right,” would have her name on the building once again.
“There’s a proverb that says ‘A good name is more desirable than great riches,’ and that is a fundamental principle of this business,” he said. “It couldn’t be anything else but Virgie’s. If we changed the name, the food would change.”
The name soon took off within Houston and beyond. Popular Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook wrote an initial blog post followed by a review that boosted business and soon led to a spot on Texas Monthly’s coveted “Top 50 BBQ Joints” list in 2008.
Virgie’s retained this distinction in Texas Monthly’s 2013 list, an honor that Adrian holds high.
“That was really special to be recognized by them,” he said. “I always point back to my mother and father for any successes that happen here. They instilled so many principles in me at a young age that I still practice as a business owner today.”
Customers who visit Virgie’s on a Thursday may likely find the same smiling face greeting them.
“She’s a celebrity here,” Adrian said. “I introduce her to customers and they love her.”
She frequently orders the sausage and potato salad (“I like it spicy,” she says), and it’s not uncommon to see her chatting or giving out hugs.
“She’ll give people hugs and act like they’ve known each other forever,” Adrian said. “That’s a great thing. That’s one of the better parts about this place. It’s a family business, and not just blood family.”
The Virgie’s Place hamburger is one of the many recipes submitted by local businesses and district facilities for the CFISD 75th Anniversary Commemorative Historical Cookbook, on sale now in the CFISD 75th Anniversary E-Store. To order the cookbook, the 75th Anniversary Art & Literary Book, the CYFAIROPOLY game or other anniversary items, visit the 75th Anniversary E-Store online.
Virgie Handsborough, the 85-year-old namesake of Virgie’s Place, stands in front of the counter at Virgie’s BBQ—one of Texas Monthly’s “Top 50 BBQ Joints.”
A recipe for the Virgie’s Place hamburger can be found in the 75th Anniversary Commemorative Historical Cookbook, on sale now in the CFISD 75th Anniversary E-Store.