Harold's Chicken Shack
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|Headquarters||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Harold Pierce (founder)|
Harold's Chicken Shack (also referred to as Harold's Chicken, or simply Harold's) is a chain of fried chicken restaurants located primarily in Chicago, Illinois. Harold's has been a notable part of Chicago's South Side culture and is known for its uniquely prepared chicken. Harold's Chicken is also available in Northwest Indiana; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Iowa City, Iowa; Peoria, Illinois, and Momence, Illinois.
Harold Pierce, an African-American Chicago entrepreneur, and his wife, Hilda, founded the restaurant in 1950 as a small operation on 39th Street. The name of the restaurant was H&H, and they specialized in dumplings and chicken feet, both common soul foods. Gene Rosen, a friend who owned a poultry shop nearby, supplied chicken to Pierce. The character of Harold's developed primarily out of necessity, because the larger fast food chains tended to avoid African-American neighborhoods. In turn, Chicago's legal and social obstacles to black-owned businesses at the time prevented Harold's from expanding into downtown or the North Side. Harold's became one of the few examples of a thriving fast food chain that was owned by, and primarily served, the black community.
The basic Harold's Chicken Shack dinner is a half or quarter chicken served with french fries, two pieces of white bread, and a cup of cole slaw. The chicken may be all white meat, all dark meat, or a mix (known as regular). Harold's also purveys wing dinners, livers, and gizzards, and some restaurants offer catfish, perch, and a number of side items including fried okra. The chicken can be served plain, but usually either hot or mild sauce is added. In Chicago-styled fried chicken, the sauce is drizzled over the chicken and fries which results in the chicken skin softening as it soaks up the sauce.
Harold's fried chicken is different from that served at other fast food chicken restaurants (Kentucky Fried Chicken, Brown's Chicken, Popeyes, etc.) in two ways. The first is the cooking medium: Harold's chicken is cooked in a mix of half beef tallow and half vegetable oil, while most chains use only vegetable oil. This provides a taste that is closer to the traditional fried chicken that was invented in the American South. The second major difference between Harold's chicken and most other restaurants is that at Harold's, the chicken is not fried until it is ordered, while some chains fry their chicken in large batches and store it on warming racks until it is purchased. Harold Pierce set up a chain-wide policy from the beginning that all Harold's chicken would be cooked only after it was ordered, in order to preserve the freshly cooked taste of the chicken. Originally, this meant that there was a twelve- to fifteen-minute wait between ordering the chicken and receiving it. The family have subsequently modified the original method, however: the chicken is now partially fried beforehand, and then cooked to completion when it is ordered. This maintains the chicken's freshness while shortening the delivery time to seven or eight minutes.
Harold Pierce differed from other fast food innovators in his development of the Harold's brand. He wanted each of his franchises to develop its own personality rather than forcing each to fit the same mold. This individuality continues today even as Harold's has expanded into other areas of Chicago. Some Harold's restaurants are very informal, with take-away chicken served by employees standing behind a window of bulletproof glass (originally introduced as a necessity rather than an aesthetic concern as Harold's often served some historically "rough" neighborhoods). Others offer a more welcoming environment, in which most of the clientele has the option to dine in. Harold's Chicken Shacks may or may not offer fountain drinks, additional menu items, catering services, or delivery. The only constants are the basic chicken dinners and the emblem of a cook chasing a chicken with a cleaver. Even this varies greatly, sometimes rendered in lights and sometimes hand-painted. The cook and chicken do not have a uniform model, but are interpreted in many different ways. Often, the cook is dressed like a King (Harold's restaurants are also referred to as "Harold's: The Fried Chicken King", which can be seen on many of the older South Side signs).
Connection to culture
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Harold's Chicken Shack is a notable part of the culture of Chicago's South Side. The restaurant is often alluded to by the hip-hop community. The chain has been referenced by Kanye West, Common, Rhymefest, JUICE, Chance the Rapper, Freddie Gibbs, Lupe Fiasco and Dreezy. Rapper Wale stated in the song That Way, that Harold's Chicken was over rated. Top Dawg Entertainment rapper Kendrick Lamar mentioned Harold's Chicken in his song, Jealous, where he claimed he loved it so much he flew a private jet there straight from Rome.
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