Saturday, February 9, 2008

Celebrity Chicken Franchises

Street sign at the only remaining Yogi Bear restaurant in SC

Building at the SC location (both above photos courtesy of David at Groceteria)

Charlotte has always had great fried chicken restaurants (Bon Appetit even ranked one of them last year as one of the best in the country). In the late 1960's, Charlotte was home to several chicken franchises that were associated with celebrities (real and cartoon). I never ate at any of them, but I would have loved to have tried Yogi's "Honey Fried Chicken".


  1. I've heard Mahalia Jackson Chicken and Minnie Pearl Chicken were the same product marketed to different neighborhoods. Though I do wonder what the equivalent product to Mahalia's 'Soul Bowl' was at Minnie's.

  2. Mahalia Jackson's and Minnie Pearl's were definitely NOT the same product, although there was a relationship. Mahalia Jackson's Chicken System Inc. was founded in Memphis,Tennessee in the spring of 1968 by a group of prominent Black businessmen including then-Judge Benjamin F. Hooks. Lacking needed capital (or experience in fast-food, for that matter) they turned to former Democratic gubernatorial candidate John J. Hooker, who was wowing Wall Street at the time with the seeming success of Minnie Pearl's Fried Chicken. Unfortunately, he had no experience with fast food either. He agreed to take a 50% stake in the Mahalia Jackson venture, and soon outlets were opening across Memphis. Two planned for Nassau in the Bahamas probably never opened, but locations did in Jacksonville, FL; Nashville, TN; Chicago, IL; Shreveport, LA and Charlotte, NC. The latter had been a Minnie Pearl's and had closed until it was acquired by something called the Eastern North Carolina Development Corporation and reopened as a Mahalia Jackson's. An article I have says that the recipe was "based in part on Miss Jackson's" and was "different from the Minnie Pearl one." However things went wrong from the beginning. Mahalia Jackson outlets were located in inner city ghettos, and were robbed with frightening regularity. Furthermore the Memphis leaders foolishly expanded into burgers (Mahalia Jackson's Parlors), dry-cleaning and eventually frozen foods. Meanwhile, things were going from bad to worse at Performance Systems Inc., the former Minnie Pearl operations. They had been reporting one-time, non-renewable franchise fees as profit, but now they had sold the rights to the whole US, and most of those restaurants had not been built. The ones that ahd weren't doing very well, and the company's acquisition of the Royal Castle system in Florida didn't help any. After a despearte venture into child care centers, the company collapsed, and Mahalia Jackson wasn't far behind, going bankrupt in 1971. Locations were gradually renamed, or closed, until just one remained, in Nashville, Tennessee. When it was scheduled to close as well, it was purchased by E. W. Mayo, who felt that the closure would be an insult to the great gospel singer's memory. He controls the rights to the Mahalia Jackson Chicken name, and continues to run a location on Buchanan Street in North Nashville. Unfortunately his restaurant has none of the original signage or memorabilia, nor does he use the Mahalia Jackson corporate recipe for his chicken. That is actually a recipe I've been looking for. I have a considerable amount of Mahalia Jackson advertising that I can scan if anyone's interested. Thanks.

    1. I am preparing a documentary on Mahalia Jackson and would very much like to see the advertising for her various efforts outside of Gospel singing.


  3. 1968 WSJ franchise ads in classifieds, and later mention in WSJ, Business Week, Fortune, and elsewhere.