The aprons Mark Woodard and Mike Staggs wear might as well be capes. More than 10 years after opening, many restaurant owners aren’t pulling regular kitchen shifts. But at Woodard and Staggs do, at their superhero-themed restaurant Supper Heroes.
These two longtime friends aren’t merely restaurant owners though. They’re owners/operators in the true sense of the term and continue to work 40 to 60 hours each week.
Back when Supper Heroes opened in early 2013, Woodard says, “If we could do 40 to 60 people [guests] a day, we would’ve been happy. We had sort of designed it [the restaurant] so that we could still make a living. We wanted was something that we could go be proud of on a daily basis, pay our bills.”
Now on a typical Friday, Supper Heroes will serve around 300 guests. On Facebook, they have more than 14,000 followers, an impressive number for a locally owned restaurant in this market.
Supper Heroes’ food is tasty affordable, hearty and accessibly creative, especially the signature burgers. For example, their “Huntsvillain” flagship is topped with fried jalapenos, pepper jelly, pepper jack cheese and served on a grilled brioche bun. It was recently featured on AL.com’s Huntsville’s best burgers list.
“When you’re building your sandwich,” Woodard says, “you’re trying to think of how things hit your hit your tongue and the roof of your mouth and that sort of stuff to give you both texture and taste and heat and cool, that sort of stuff.”
Meanwhile, “The Cowpoke” is Supper Heroes’ version of a standard barbecue bacon cheeseburger. But here they give normally mild-mannered burgers superpowers to set them apart. In this case, it’s house-made sweet-heat barbecue sauce and Tabasco-seasoned fried Vidalia onion straws.
“The main thing that we were trying to do when we were building this burger,” Woodard says, “is something familiar yet had enough different notes in it that it was new. One-note food is boring. To be fair, most of the burgers that we have on our menu we have seen other places we just try to put our own personal spin on them.”
To paraphrase something Anthony Bourdain once wrote, restaurants that start mainly to show off someone’s memorabilia collection almost always suck and are doomed to fail.
Yes, Supper Heroes walls are dotted with framed vintage comic books – “The Flash,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Ghost Rider,” etc. — from Woodward’s personal collection of 60,000 or so, which includes every issue of “Daredevil.” Action figures, signed photographs and other geek-chic-ery also adorn Supper Heroes, housed in a humble former residence at 1812 Winchester Road N.E., in the unsexy Huntsville outskirts towards New Market and Buckhorn High School.
But at Supper Heroes, the comic-book-theme actually came last, Woodard says. “We didn’t say we didn’t say, ‘Hey, we got a bunch of comic books, let’s open a restaurant.’ We said, ‘Let’s open a restaurant.’ And then we were thinking, ‘Well, what are we going to put on the wall?’”
Staggs says they would have done a sports-themed restaurant, “but we didn’t want to do what everybody else is.”
Around this time, DC Comics’ “The Dark Knight” trilogy of Batman films was lighting up the box office like pinball machines. Recalling Woodard’s comic-book collection, he and Staggs had a lightbulb moment.
“Our thought,” Staggs says, “was the kids would have something cool to look at and be quiet and the parents can enjoy their meal. And we’ve heard that 10,000 times: ‘We come here because our kids are engaged in something else, and we can enjoy our meal.’
“A lot of folks were surprised by the how good the food was because with all the comic stuff they thought that the food wasn’t gonna be that great. That [the comic book theme] is the hook. It’s like, ‘No, that’s just something extra and different.’”
Recently, after years of Marvel Cinematic Universe films making megabucks, superhero movie fatigue appears to be here. Several big budget films have flopped. “The good news is,” Woodard says, “is I think our food may outlast the MCU.” In addition to burgers, Supper Heroes menu also gets into sandwiches, wraps, salads and beyond.”
Even if the glory days of superhero films may be reaching end credits, Supper Heroes still gets a nice bump from them. In 2022, Woodard told me a new Marvel movie gives the restaurant a 15 percent or so increase in business. For some movies, that lasts a week or maybe two. Whenever there’s a pop culture convention being held in Huntsville, that levels up the eatery’s business, too.
Woodard and Staggs first bonded at Auburn University when they’d skip class to binge video games like the popular football titled “Madden NFL” on a Sega Genesis console. They began developing long careers in the service industry, including Auburn gigs and at places like Darryl’s, Subzone and Bowtie’s in Huntsville.
Eventually, Woodard and Staggs moved into more corporate and managerial jobs with the likes of Applebee’s, Chili’s and Cracker Barrell, where they learned how to use and analyze valuable data like traffic counts, projected growth, etc.
Around 14 years ago, they started talking about starting their own restaurant together. Those conversations got more serious after Woodard worked a 17-hour day on a Thanksgiving due to another manager calling in sick and three cooks not showing up.
“And I called Mike on my way home,” Woodard says. “He was at home cooking for Thanksgiving, and I said, “I’m not going to be here [at his current job] next year. We have one year to get it figured out.’ And that was it.”
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