Holiness Today (HT) recently sat down with Steven Vough (SV) who, along with his wife, owns and manages Steve’s Classic Burgers, a restaurant near Columbia First Church of the Nazarene in Columbia, South Carolina. This is no ordinary burger restaurant. Steve’s is a place where good food and the mission of Christ go hand in hand.
HT: Steve, your restaurant has a bold mission statement that combines business and ministry. Would you share that with us?
SV: Steve’s Classic Burgers is a faith-based food ministry and restaurant that seeks to serve the community and touch lives for the Kingdom of God. Though we are a “for profit” restaurant, our guiding Scripture is from Matthew 25:35: “I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”
HT: How do your mission and message connect with your business?
SV: We desire to be a place where people from all walks of life can feel at peace and where those who need food in our community can come to be fed. We now have a network of churches and other organizations that refer people to us, and we feed those who cannot afford to buy our food. Our community and our customers know this, and it is common for customers and for others in the community to donate extra money—even beyond their “tip” on the bill—to provide for any who might be in need of food. We have been doing this since we started in March of 2015.
HT: What led to you and your wife starting this restaurant?
SV: We both had a wide range of business experience before starting the restaurant. I worked for 17 years in a pizza restaurant located in the same building we now occupy. When the building closed, my wife and I prayed and asked our pastor and church family at Columbia First Nazarene to pray with us.
God began working out the financial details through a variety of very clear ways, which allowed us to begin the process of transforming the building into the restaurant we envisioned. We encountered several obstacles along the way, all of which could have been too costly to fix. But each time, God provided—sometimes in very tangible ways, like through the volunteers from our church family and community who assisted in electrical, architectural, and legal assistance, saving us thousands of dollars.
Each time, God provided.
Even when we were approaching our target opening date, we had a few last minute issues that could have forced us to either delay opening or to scrap the business entirely. Even then, through both a late-night Facebook post by a woman in our church that my wife and I took to be a sign and a last-minute, unexpected financial provision that solved the issue, my wife and I agreed that this had to be from God.
HT: Talk about ways in which this restaurant has been able to be a witness for Christ.
SV: There are two ways we see that happen, with the first being direct, and the second more subtle. As far as direct means of witnessing, people are seeing our genuine desire to feed those in need, regardless of the background or lifestyle of the person needing food. We are not “for Christians only,” even though we are transparently Christian. We also directly witness with signs throughout the restaurant, such as the one that says, “Saying grace encouraged.”
We have an encouraging word of the day from the local Christian radio station posted, and there are Bibles available at every table.
Customers can leave prayer requests in our prayer request box, and we as a staff pray for these needs. It is not uncommon for people to allow us to keep track of the progress of these prayer requests, and some even share the progress on our Facebook page. If customers request a Bible, they are allowed to take a Bible for free.
HT: What are some of the more subtle ways you see your witness in the community?
SV: We are a business, and we believe that in addition to our loving and welcoming atmosphere nothing speaks louder than excellence. We have recently been voted “Best Burgers in Town” by the local media, and that is something we are especially excited about: the fact that a Christian business can be transparently Christian in our witness without skimping on excellence.
In other words, whether or not you are interested in faith when you come to this restaurant, you can get a good meal for yourself and your family. Sometimes this becomes a way to provide a greater witness later on.
HT: What has been the most rewarding part of this adventure for you and your family?
SV: It is rewarding to hear people say “Thank you” and to see every race and background—even non-Christian groups and individuals—compliment both our food and our atmosphere. We believe that Jesus welcomed all people and had fellowship with them, and in many ways, we see our restaurant doing just that. It is also encouraging to see people learn about our commitment to feed those in need and give extra to make sure that part of our ministry continues.
HT: Not all Christians can be in a business where they can witness in the way Steve’s Burgers does. What advice do you have for Christians in other various workplaces?
SV: I know it sounds cliché, but you may be the only Bible someone reads. That means that our lives can be a witness for God regardless of where we work, and we can be obviously Christian without violating principles of our workplace.
Even if you cannot blatantly share your faith at work, let people see something different if the way you approach business and relationships—something in your life that sets an example for Christ.
Holiness Today, May/Jun 2018.