Kenny Rogers Roasters

In 1991, singer Kenny Rogers got together with a gentleman named John Y. Brown Jr., who was one of the main builders of the KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) chain, and they launched a chain of “healthier” fast food restaurants. The premise was that America was turning away from fried chicken and would opt for Kenny’s wood-fired rotisserie birds and fresh, unfried side dishes. For a time, they did.

The first one of these I went to was in Las Vegas, secreted away in a failing theme park that had been built behind the MGM Grand Hotel. The park was near-deserted (and would soon be torn down) and when I wandered into the Kenny Rogers Roasters there, I think I was their first customer of the day…and it was 3:00.

I wish you’d seen that place because it was excessive, even for something built inside an amusement park in Las Vegas. It was like the temple for a religion that worshipped Kenny Rogers as Christ figure. There were posters of him and photos and blow-ups of newspaper articles and gold records and the Muzak played the same half-dozen Kenny Rogers records over and over and over. The lady at the counter told me she’d worked there for three weeks and already yearned to never hear “The Gambler” again for the rest of her life.

As it happened though, the food was pretty good. As new, less ostentatious Kenny Rogers outlets appeared nearer to my home in L.A., I began patronizing them and I usually enjoyed the chicken. Enough people did that the chain soon had 350 restaurants around the world. The one I usually went to was on Wilshire Boulevard, a few blocks east of Bundy. (When it went out of business, a succession of other fast food places inhabited the building. Last time I looked, it was a laundromat.)

Kenny Rogers Roasters were apparently on the downslide by 1998 when the company that owns Nathan’s Famous acquired the chain. Many Kenny Rogers stores became combo shops, also serving the Nathan’s hot dog menu, which caused the Roasters side to lose much of its identity. All of these closed. At last report, there was only one Kenny Rogers Roasters remaining in the U.S. — it’s in Ontario, California — though some items from its menu still pop up at other fast food restaurants owned by the Nathan’s people. The chain continues to flourish in Asia and the Philippines.

One factor which may have contributed a little to their demise was an appearance Mr. Rogers made in 1997 on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. He agreed to participate in a blind taste test, pitting chicken from one of his eateries against chicken from the NBC Commissary. To the delight of the audience — but perhaps not his shareholders — The Gambler made a bad bet and picked wrong. But then the whole enterprise was a losing wager in this country, I guess.

16 Responses to Kenny Rogers Roasters

  • Craig L says:

    No discussion of Kenny Rogers’ Roasters is anywhere near complete without its ridiculous product placement in an episode of Seinfeld.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chicken_Roaster

    Kramer had a love/hate relationship with the place that opened across the street from his apartment: loved the chicken, hated the bright neon sign that shone through his window. I never saw a Kenny Rogers sign at any of their California locations that would’ve been that bright, so I was suspicious about whether it really had a NYC store or if the LA-based writers made it all up to get free chicken (which they did).

  • KoHoSo says:

    That last location in Ontario closed on December 31, 2011. It was in the Ontario Mills food court and was shoved out in order to do a complete do-over of that portion of the mall.

    http://www.insidesocal.com/dine909/2011/12/ontario-mills-big-food-gets-mu.html

  • Bob S. says:

    Sad to hear about the last KRR. There used to be one here in San Antonio, Texas on NW Military Drive that wasn’t too far from where I lived at the time. I quite liked the food and was sad when it closed. Later, a similar restaraunt called “Cluckers” opened in the shopping center I worked at but didn’t last too long. We used to have a “Boston Market” but that didn’t hold a candle to KRR.

  • Craig D. Smith says:

    I don’t really care for Kenny Rogers as a personality which probably worked against this chain, at least in my case. It seemed like one of those deals where a celebrity lends his name to an enterprise without a care if it’s any good or not. But when I finally did try Roasters I enjoyed it a lot. Not only was the chicken delicious but many of the sides were as well and you had a lot more choices than at, say, KFC.

  • Dana Gabbard says:

    A friend went to that last outlet in Ontario and reported the food was awful. I guess just another symptom of the downward slide.

    One problem was it seemed whenever Roaster entered a new market that Boston Market often would open up across the street to their mutal detriment. Also my Mom worked at one in the 90s and she told me upper management informed her they only hired from outside for managers etc. So there was no incentive to stick around, since you never advance; if that was how they handled human resources the brain drain as anyone with ambition went elsewhere to advance must have contributed to their demise.

  • Mary MOSHER says:

    I. Ate at a cluckers and it was the best food I had ever eaten the chicken was excellent the soup the ice tea the garlic potato salad everything. We wen all the time. They opened 3 stores in Miami area and than the lawsuit between Kenny Rogers came. The store was gone and Kenny Rogers
    Still open he didn’t use cluckers recipes. KR food was horrible and Boston. Chicken was horrible. The chickens were scrawny and gave us heartburn and they are the only one left open I sure miss Cluckers
    I wish whoever has their recipes woul open up again

  • Phil says:

    KR Chicken still exists in Singapore but that’s a long way to go for roast chicken.

  • Jeff says:

    I trained as a manager in one in 1996 I think and they had very bad management I just didn’t like the company so I vanished in 1 month they seemed lost most of the time and unorganized

  • Jane says:

    I ate at the one in Burbank once. I loved the rotisserie- the seasonings were so delicious. I craved that chicken so much that when I went to Las Vegas, where my dad loves to go for buffets, I begged off and paid for the admission to that awful MGM amusement park so I could go to KRR. I miss it so much.

  • Valley Punk says:

    I used to work at the Northridge location… I’d smoke bowls before going in to work and get an intense case of the munchies. My friends and I would eat everything we could fit into our mouths in the back then we’d go back out and work some more. We used to have to answer the phone by saying “Thank you for calling Kenny Rogers Roasters Northridge… It’s the wood that makes it good. How may I help you?” We’d replace the line with “it’s MY wood that makes it good” and no one would notice… Fun times!

  • Adrienne Slavens says:

    One of his restaurants was in Xi’an, China. We went there twice a week. It was so good to get home cooking once in a while. Yes, we had wonderful local food, but after a while you want a taste of home. We loved it! I miss it.

  • zines says:

    We used to have 2 of them in Appleton WI, one was a standalone restaurant and the other was in the mall. I used to go there all the time, they were always packed. Too bad they closed down, I really miss them. The next restaurant that has good chicken is Hansen’s in Green Bay, WI, they have been around since like 1950 I think, but in the last couple of years they keep closing down. Fortunately one employee or another likes it so much that every time it closes, someone buys it and reopens it. I still miss KRR :-(.

  • Mark Joseph says:

    The single worst meal I’ve ever had in a restaurant was at a KR. It was disgusting. I miss some of the places mentioned on this site, and never went to most of them, but I’m really glad this one is gone.

    Great site, by the way. Any chance you could dig up something on The Falcon, which was somewhere near Sepulveda and Pico? My wife’s grandfather was the chef there back in the late 40s; I think we’ve got one of the menus around here somewhere.

  • JOHN says:

    Well, the simple fact is that the whole rotisserie chicken thing was quite a fad for a minute, with Boston Market (originally called Boston Chicken if anyone recalls that) and Kenny Rogers Roasters fighting it out as the main large players in the midst. My impression has always been that Boston Chicken changed name to Boston Market in 1995 to try to diversify the menu into the other meats it began to serve because it saw the end in sight for the big rotisserie chicken fad, whereas KRR just insisted on sticking to the chicken rut until they went under altogether. Not that Boston Market was very successful in transitioning, because a whole big huge bunch of their locations closed up along the way. Boston Market went into the frozen food retail business pretty heavily and so the name is still pretty mainstream, but Kenny Rogers Roasters in the USA is gone, gone, gone…..

  • Butt crunch says:

    My father broke a plastic fork once at a Kenny Rogers Roasters…the one in Burbank. Memories.

  • Jim Boscaino says:

    Well when it was near penn stats and take my 3 girls there. They loved as I did shame that it didn’t stick around..

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