Monday, August 16, 2004

one for the chicken-heads

if I had 24 hours to kick the bucket, fuck it
I'd probably eat some fried chicken, and drink a Nantucket

I’m a Popeye’s man but was once a Kennedy frequenter. This is definitely a piece with local interest but anyone who has ever lived near a Kennedy Fried Chicken (Not to be confused with some other KFC joint…or any of these) will dig this breakdown called “Chicken Little” by Steven Kurutz for the NYTimes.

Some highlights that any former Kennedy customer will recognize or not be surprised by…

For those unfamiliar with the institution, a brief primer. Kennedy Fried Chicken is a New York-born outfit that is owned and operated largely by Afghan immigrants, and its shops are typically found far from the well-traveled canyons of Manhattan - on Webster Avenue in the Bronx; in Flatbush; near the Queens Plaza subway station. Devotees say Kennedy serves a good bird, not too oily, not too dry. But its true notoriety comes from being a kind of second-rate imitation of the popular Kentucky Fried Chicken chain, right down to the same red and white colors and those familiar initials.

"The boss will be back on Friday, between 1 and 3," was a common response. Equally common was the boss's seemingly abrupt absence on those Fridays.

Unlike McDonald's, say, or Kentucky, which has about 215 branches in the city, Kennedy is not a chain,… no one owns the rights to the Kennedy name. Once someone decides to open a store, he is a Kennedy unto himself.
Which may be why, even though a judge ruled in favor of Kentucky in the 1990 suit, finding that Kennedy's signs infringed on KFC trademarks and ordering them changed, it has been hard to get individual branches to comply. Pursuing a suit against Kennedy is almost like shadowboxing.

Some branches call themselves Kennedy Chicken, others Kennedy Fried Chicken, while still others are Kennedy Pizza & Chicken.

The Kennedy menu has swelled to such diverse proportions (Jamaican beef patties, hamburgers, pizza) as to nearly undermine its reputation as a purveyor of fried chicken. At the St. Nicholas branch, the walls are papered with generic ads that could appear in any number of fast-food spots. One sign urges customers: "Try Our World Famous Philly Steak."”

Few outlets have customer bathrooms, and many have no seating. The branches are often in poorer neighborhoods, and the interiors are sparse and bunkerlike. Workers take orders through a small opening in a shield of bulletproof glass. (Perhaps not surprisingly, Kennedy has the distinction of appearing more often in the newspaper crime blotter - "Fast Food Stabbing,'' as one headline put it - than in the dining section.)”

...customers tend to treat the place like their own personal kitchen, running in and out all day and exasperating employees to no end. Not all do so, of course…. But more often, customers harass Kennedy workers almost as sport.

And this seems straight out of the Chris Rock scene…
Then came a teenager who wanted to negotiate his own menu prices.
"How many rolls can I get for a quarter?" he asked.
"One," the employee replied.
"How much is one roll?" the teenager asked, switching gears.
"Fifteen cents," the employee answered warily.
The teenager shot him a look of disdain. "You can't give me two rolls for a quarter?"
“workers at some branches were similarly circumspect about a special recipe, while others said no single formula existed.”

…the growth of Kennedy Fried Chicken was shaped less by its marketing practices than by the sweep of world events. Around the time the company was forming, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and several thousand Afghans immigrated to New York, settling mainly in Queens. Many new arrivals found work waiting for them at Kennedy, where they were set up in business and taught to navigate the complexities of the chicken trade. Owners hired other Afghans as carpenters and countermen, and an immigrant career path was forged.

Told that a reporter was working on an article about Kennedy Fried Chicken, he said, "Don't mention my name."
But it had never been offered.
There was a pause, and the supervisor looked up from his clipboard. "This has something to do with Kentucky Fried Chicken, doesn't it?"