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Harold's Chicken Shack
Type Fast Food
Founded 1950s
Headquarters Chicago, Illinois, United States
Key people Harold Pierce
Industry Restaurants
Products Fried chicken

Harold's Chicken Shack (also referred to as The Fried Chicken King, Harold's Chicken, or simply Harold's) is a chain of fried chicken restaurants located primarily in Chicago, particularly on its South Side. Harold's has been a Chicago South Side institution for many years and is known both for its uniquely prepared chicken and for the unique experience upon entering one of the restaurants . There are dozens of "shacks" on Chicago's South Side, and several on the West Side and a few, more recent, franchises are located on the North Side. Additionally, Harold's has opened franchises in Detroit, Milwaukee, and the Dallas area. They also recently opened a restaurant in Minneapolis, on the city's North Side.



Harold Pierce, a black Chicago entrepreneur, founded the restaurant in 1950. 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.

Food facts

Harold's Chicken Shack on South Wabash Avenue (#62) 2007Jan10
Harold's Chicken Shack #62 2007Jan31

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 sells wing dinners 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-style 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 significant 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 other chains use only vegetable oil. This provides a taste that is more similar to the traditional home-cooked 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 most 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. Harold Pierce's son has altered the original method, however: the chicken is now fried half-way 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 one constant is the basic chicken dinners and the emblem of a cook chasing a chicken with a hatchet. 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

Harold's is an integral part of South Side culture, and is also very popular among the students and faculty of the University of Chicago. In addition, the restaurant is often referenced in the hip-hop community. The most prominent example of this is its appearance in Kanye West's music video for his song "Through the Wire." (A Harold's is on Wabash Avenue in Chicago's South Loop near Columbia College Chicago, where West attended classes in his 20s.)

A Harold's can also be spotted at the end of Common's video "I Used To Love H.E.R." Other prominent Chicago natives, such as basketball star Dwyane Wade, have been known to discuss their love for the restaurant as well. The chain has also been referenced by many other Chicago rappers including Common, Juice, R. Kelly, and Lupe Fiasco.

U.S. President of the United States Barack Obama, in his first interview as President-elect (on 60 Minutes), referred with nostalgia to the proximity of a Harold's to the apartment he lived in when he met his future wife Michelle.

In addition, in Internet personality Tucker Max's story "Tucker Ruptures Appendix, Hilarity Ensues," some of his friends brought him Harold's Chicken after Max had spent days in a hospital eating its bad food.

Harold's relies on word-of-mouth, not advertising, to fend off all competition. Popular chains like Popeye's and KFC have been unable to garner a successful foothold in neighborhoods harboring a nearby Harold's. Of particular note is Harold's strong showing on social networking sites like facebook where the fan-based page Harold's Chicken Shack No. 1,000,000 has thousands of members sharing their love for the crispy bird.




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