The chain was established within the United States in 1983 by his son, Mardiros Iskenderian, after the family immigrated to Los Angeles, California. After considering opening a dry cleaning business or selling men's suits, Iskenderian recognized a lack of restaurants catering to the growing Middle Eastern immigrant population in Los Angeles. The first restaurant in Los Angeles is still located in Hollywood, at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Normandie Avenue. The restaurant is especially known for its thick, paste-like garlic sauce, created by Vartkes' wife, Markrid.
In 1991 the family agreed to divide the business when Mardiros wanted to open additional restaurants. The new restaurants would be owned by Mardiros, while the original Sunset and Normandie store would be owned by his parents and two sisters. Vartkes Iskenderian died in 1992.
The chain has expanded to 9 restaurants in the greater Los Angeles area; the second Zankou Chicken opened in Glendale (2 locations), followed by Van Nuys, Anaheim, Pasadena, Burbank, and West Los Angeles, as well as a branch in Montebello opened by the same part of the family that still owns the original Hollywood branch.
January 2003 murder
On January 14, 2003, after a heated argument, Zankou Chicken owner Mardiros Iskenderian shot and killed his sister, Dzovig Marjik, and his mother Margarit Iskenderian; he then took his own life in a double-murder suicide. It is believed that Iskenderian was in the late stages of colon and brain cancer, which might have affected his mental faculties.
In the California Court of Appeal case Iskenderian v. Iskenderian, Mardiros Iskenderian's widow Rita unsuccessfully sought to attain sole control of the Zankou Chicken trademark. The Hollywood and Montebello restaurants operate under the control of Dzovig's son Vartkes Marjik, his brother, and Dzovig's sister Haygan Iskenderian.
In popular culture
- The restaurant was mentioned by Beck (rhyming "Zankou chicken" with "ripe for the pickin'") in his song "Debra", from the album Midnite Vultures.
- Arax, Mark (April 2008). "The Zankou Chicken Murders". Los Angeles Magazine. pp. 124–129, 202–206.
- Satzman, Darrell (March 18, 2010). "Zankou Chicken's tragic family rift impedes chain's growth". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-03-18.
- Iskenderian v. Iskenderian, 144 Cal. App. 4th 1162 (2006)
- "LA EXAMINER: JANUARY 12, 2003 - JANUARY 18, 2003 ARCHIVES". Archived from the original on 2006-02-21.
- Blankstein, Andrew; Michael Krikorian (January 16, 2003). "Restaurant Family's Tragedy: Cancer and stress may be why the operator of Zankou Chicken killed his sister and mother.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-03-18.
- Deborah Picker, "Preppie Living Wage: Ménage À Garlic Paste", LA Weekly, December 23, 1999.
- Janelle Brown, "Valet Parking? That's So 2000. In Los Angeles, Strip Mall Food Is Way Cool", The New York Times, August 20, 2003.