Albert Okura is the founder and CEO of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain in Southern California. He is also a philanthropist and is active in the revitalization of Historic Route 66. In 2005, Okura purchased the town of Amboy, California, which is located along Route 66. The corporate headquarters for the Juan Pollo chain now sits on the original location of the first McDonald's restaurant where Okura created and hosts a museum, preserving artifacts and memorabilia about the landmark.
Background and education
Okura is a third-generation (or sansei) Japanese American, born in Wilmington, California in 1951. His first full-time job was with Burger King in 1970, which led to managerial positions in the chain as well as Del Taco, and ultimately founding his own Mexican-influenced chicken rotisserie chain.
In 1981, while working for Del Taco in Carson, an El Pollo Loco opened near him. At the time El Pollo Loco was a new char-broiled Mexican chicken chain. Okura tried the restaurant and was impressed with the food and the simplicity of its operations and began to investigate opening his own restaurant.
Okura’s uncle initially invested in his idea to open a restaurant and made Okura aware of a restaurant location in a shopping mall he owned in Ontario, California. This location would become the first location for his restaurant. With Armando Parra, a friend who grew up in an area of Mexico where char-broiled chicken restaurants are popular, Okura looked into opening the restaurant. However, Parra told Okura the restaurant was not big enough for the grills and suggested rotisserie cooking instead.
The first location opened in January 1984. Sales were initially modest, but it wasn’t until the opening of the chain’s second location in 1986 that became popular, due to a large part because of a food review written by Norman Baffry, a food critic for The San Bernardino Sun.
There are now a total of 26 Juan Pollo locations in Southern California, most of them in the Inland Empire. Okura has said he plans on turning Juan Pollo into a national and ultimately, an international chain.
Juan Pollo hosts an annual Veteran's Day Parade and Car Show in front of corporate headquarters in San Bernardino and the company has been one of the main toy contributors for the annual Christmas toy give away in the city.
In April 2014, Okura’s book about his experiences in fast food, founding Juan Pollo and scaling his chain to its current size was released, Albert Okura: The Chicken Man with a 50 Year Plan.
Route 66 Restoration
Okura purchased the location of the original McDonald’s opened by Dick and Mac McDonald in 1948 for $135,000, which was being foreclosed on in 1998. Though the restaurant had been demolished, Okura recognized the property and moved his corporate headquarters to the site, which he described as "destiny." He also opened an unofficial McDonald’s museum next to his headquarters.
In addition, in 2005 he bought the town on Amboy, California, located along Route 66, for $425,000; Okura’s plans for the town include adding improvements for tourists interested in and traveling along highway and building a museum. He reopened the gas station in 2008, after $100,000 worth of renovations to the building housing the gas station, diner, and café. Counting on the traffic from a renewed interest in travelling Route 66, the gas station is stocked with candy and souvenirs.
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The San Bernardino museum is the brainstorm of Albert Okura, a businessman who owns and runs Juan Pollo, a chain of Mexican rotisserie chicken restaurants in Southern California. Okura built the museum as a tribute to Kroc, his longtime hero.
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- Okura, Robert (2011). Albert Okura The Chicken Man: With a 50 Year Plan. LCM Publishing CO. pp. 63–103. ISBN 978-0983416913.
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