Saturday, March 3, 2018

Old postcard: "The World's Most Famous Chicken Dish"

This amazing vintage postcard was a gift from Sarah and Joan many moons ago, and I have been quite delinquent in writing about it. It's an advertising postcard for the Chicken in the Rough franchise. You probably haven't heard of it, because while it had about three hundred U.S. locations at its peak, today it has just one restaurant in the entire country.

First, though, let's look at the green-and-orange postcard, which is full of interesting text and illustrations. There's a golf-playing, cigar-smoking rooster, which is the company's logo. (Get it? The chicken's shot went "in the rough.") And there's a chick that is improbably serving as a caddie and is stating — much to my horror1"I'll gladly be fried for Chicken in the Rough." The other text on the front of the card, for the digital record, states:

  • Where You See This Sign, It's Genuine
  • Chicken in the Rough
  • Fried 1/2 Chicken
  • Served Unjointed Without Silverware
  • Every bite a tender delight
  • Lots of Shoestring Potatoes
  • Jug Honey and Hot Buttered Rolls
  • Copyright by Beverly Osborne
  • Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.

More on some of that in a bit, but I just wanted to note how interesting it is for the restaurant to brag that you get no silverware. But there's a good reason for that, it turns out.

This unused postcard was supposed to be used as part of a contest to win a $100 cash prize. To win, you had to be the first person to eat at 25 different franchise locations, with each stop documented by one of these Genuine Curteich-Chicago linen postcards mailed to Oklahoma City. Here are the full details:
"A $100.00 cash prize will be award to the first person who eats 'Chicken in the Rough' in as many as 25 places listed on our Place Mat or Picnic Box over a period of six months. Mail one of the post cards, which may be obtained from the cashier, to the home office, Beverly's Chicken in the Rough, 209 West Grand, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Each post card mailed must be signed by the owner or manager of each restaurant and Beverly Osborne reserves the right to be the sole judge in issuance of this award."
So who was Beverly Osborne? For the early history of Chicken in the Rough, we can turn to the company's own history page online. Here's an excerpt:
"In 1936 Beverly and Rubye Osborne were driving west from Oklahoma to California. They had no reason to be joyful. They were middle aged and the Depression had wiped out their savings. On this particular afternoon it seemed that everyone in the state was attempting to escape the famine of the Oklahoma dust bowl. With not much more than their meager belongings and a basket of fried chicken, Beverly Osborne coaxed his Ford pickup across the barren prairie. Suddenly, a bump in the rutted road scattered the chicken and basket. Picking it up, Rubye complained 'this is really Chicken in the Rough®.' With that chance remark, a fortune was born. Beverly turned his truck around and headed back home. A man who, on instinct, had made a modest fortune and lost it — Beverly reasoned that 'fingers were made before forks' and that chicken could be a cheap source of food at a time when incomes were sparse. Beverly learned from his previous business experience and failures that every business must provide customer satisfaction by identifying customers' needs and how to satisfy those needs better than anyone else. Soon, with the money he had received from the sale of his wife's wedding ring, he had an operation serving fried chicken with shoestring potatoes, hot biscuits and honey."
I'm sure there are elements of that tale that are exaggerated or apocryphal, but every company needs its own mythology and legend, right? And so Chicken in the Rough was born, and it soon began franchising fried-chicken restaurants, apparently many years before Kentucky Fried Chicken got the same notion.

Chicken in the Rough grew from its first Route 66 restaurant to many, many more locations along that fabled highway2 and, eventually, a worldwide total of nearly 300. Its decline began in the 1960s. Today, there is just one United States location, in Port Huron, Michigan. There are also two Chicken in the Rough restaurants in Sarnia, Ontario.3 The corporate website duly notes all three.

I can't find a recipe for Chicken in the Rough, which I reckon makes sense, because the brand still exists and would want to protect its proprietary blend of spices and its specific cooking methods.

Finally, here are a few memories of Chicken in the Rough from a circa 2003/2004 Roadfood forum. If you have your own memories, please share them in the comments section!

  • "When I was a kid, we dined at Novack's Chicken in the Rough in Lincolnwood. I loved the chicken and fought with my brother and sister for the hot buttered rolls and the dipping honey. When Novack's closed, the building on Lincoln Avenue was sold and became the first Lou Malnatti's Pizza in the Chicago area. The last Chicken in the Rough was in Northbrook on Dundee Road. It was located on a golf course which was sold in the 70's and the land was developed into an upscale subdivision."
  • "There was a 'Chicken in the Rough' in Richmond VA many years ago on West Broad Street. The name of the restaurant was the Wakefield Grill. Great fried chicken, but I was too young to remember much else about it. We would go there after church for lunch on Sunday. They had great homemade biscuits too. It was near another bygone great place called The Clover Room, which had great ice cream, malteds and sodas."
  • "I moved to Oklahoma City in 1944, and there was one Beverly's at that time, on Lincoln Blvd. By the time I was in high school and college, there was the May Avenue location too, and they became the place to go after a movie or game. Sixty years later, if we've been to a play or movie, often we'll say, 'Let's go to Beverly's!' So far, no one has mentioned the 'finger bowls' that were brought to the tables along with the chicken baskets -- little metal buckets with warm water and a lemon slice, for rinsing off the chicken grease! One of the charms of '40s and '50s Beverly's!"

1. It's been about 58 months since I've eaten poultry or red meat. I wish I had started down that humane path much sooner.
2. The 2010 book Greetings from Route 66: The Ultimate Road Trip Back Through Time Along America's Main Street contains several pages about Chicken in the Rough.
3. James "Scotty" Doohan attended high school in Sarnia.

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