Where were you during the great Fried Chicken explosion of the late-1960s? Lickin' fingers? After the incredible success of Kentucky Fried Chicken, America's appetite for southern fried birds became insatiable.
Hollywood stars like Roy Rogers, Mahalia Jackson, Minnie Pearl, Tex Ritter, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and even Popeye opened chicken restaurants that (mostly) quietly passed away after a few years. I tasted Roy Rogers' (yum!) but the other chains never got big enough to spread very far from their points of origin.
Minnie Pearl's never made it out of the early-1970s, only Popeye's operation continues to flourish on a worldwide scale... but what the heck did Popeye ever have to do with chicken, fried or otherwise?
I'm dying to know what Mahalia Jackson's "Glori-fried" chicken (It's Glorie-Fried and that's the gospel truth!") tasted like. Established in 1968 there was still one store left in Nashville until a decade ago.
Johnny Carson and Al Hirt both had failed restaurant ventures named after them but I doubt they were known for their fried chicken.
Roy Rogers Roast Beef
Roy Rogers became famous first for fried chicken when it was launched in 1968, it was only later that their roast beef sandwiches ended up dominating the menu. They still serve the bird in dozens of locations alongside highways in the northeast but I can't attest to how it compares with 30 years ago.
I do miss Roy Rogers' restaurants, they were very popular in the 1970s. The secret to the Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich was that it was made WITH ACTUAL ROAST BEEF that they cooked in the store, served on a lightly toasted bun.
Imagine my surprise in 2004 when I was traveling to New York City for VH1 and found the New Jersey landscape dotted with Roy Rogers restaurants beckoning from the rest stops all along the highways. I couldn't resist trying their roast beef again and it was a faint echo of the terrific sandwich they used to serve, not quite the real thing. Still, much better than Arby's, which is some form of a molded gelatinous meat concoction that doesn't fit my definition of roast beef at all.
1978 Roy Rogers Commercial
My life has been in the pursuit of a fine tasting roast beef sandwich and I will continue my journey - but I doubt if any fast food joints today will satisfy that craving.
Kenny Rogers Roasters
Bob Huggins adds: Kenny Rogers Roasters is another celebrity restaurant that is pretty much gone from the U.S. landscape but is apparently doing well in the Philippines. Go figure. My recollection of the restaurant was that it was trying to compete along the lines of a Boston Market. It came and went pretty quickly in my area.
I ate at the Kenny Rogers in Hollywood before it closed and it was no big deal. After the fuss they made on Seinfeld I was expecting more. It was better than most fast food.
In this same vein you should head over to Groceteria, the online museum of former grocery stores from the early days.