Monday, June 21, 2021

Darkness Falls on Old Charlotte: The Sad Demise of the Chicken Coop

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

George South sent a text to me last Thursday morning with the sad news that was spreading like wildfire around Charlotte and the local area - - after nearly six decades, the iconic Chicken Coop had announced it was closing its doors for good.  

This news broke my fried-chicken-loving heart. Another piece of the old Charlotte dies a sad, tragic and needless death. Price's Chicken Coop had stood strong and steadfast at its location on Camden Road downtown. It had and survived the economic recessions of the 1970s and the 2000s, the homogeneous gentrification of the the South End neighborhood, and even the worst worldwide plague in a century in the form of the covid pandemic. Ironically after all that, the reasons given for what finally brought this beloved walk-in, take-out, cash-only institution to its knees were conditions largely unnecessary: (1) a labor shortage (as we continue to pay people not to work), (2) out-of-control price inflation of raw chicken, and (3) a coin shortage. Yes, a freakin' coin shortage, which cripples a cash-only business. What is happening to this country? Mr. Price is wondering the same thing, I guarantee you. 

So a tradition beloved by families going back three generations dies a needless death, casualty of the modern world we live in. 

Back in 2006, George South first took me to get fried chicken at Prices Chicken Coop. Not living in Charlotte, I had never heard of the place until he told me about it and its loose connections (for George, anyway) to Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. I just  dove elbow deep into that take-out box of chicken and tater-tots, and thus began a culinary love affair that I've enjoyed over the last 16 years. 

So in love was I with that perfect fried chicken and the stories George told about running errands to pick up boxes of it for the Crockett wrestlers stuck in day-long promo TV tapings on Briarbend Drive, I actually wrote about it on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway. That original article is still on the old Gateway Archive site. I'll be re-publishing it here later this week. That article reflects on a great memory for me of that little hole-in-the-wall chicken shack, a memory that will now have to fill the hole in my heart left by its closing. 

A box of fried chicken, tater tots, slaw,
hush puppies and a roll from
Price's Chicken Coop in Charlotte.

I created my own wrestling connections to the Coop, too, spearheading a side trip for a group of out-of-town friends during a Charlotte wrestling fanfest to picnic at nearby Latta Park with boxes full of Chicken Coop fried chicken. I even returned to the Coop after that picnic to pick up one more box to take back to the convention hotel where Bob Caudle and his lovely wife Jackie eagerly awaited my return. Jackie had insisted I bring the Chicken Coop to her, having heard me go on about it after Bob had read the article on the Gateway. I happily obliged.

I must admit that I haven't been to the Coop as often in recent years because of the horrendous traffic problems in the South End neighborhood created by the out-of-control development in that area. The Chicken Coop is one of the last holdouts not to sell to the developers, and so the condos and office buildings just grew up all around it, nearly swallowing whole the tiny little brick building that remained just as it had looked for the last several decades. Mr. Price apparently still owns the building and the parking lots around it, estimated in recent news reports to be worth nearly 1.7 million dollars in total. If he chooses to sell the property, I hope he holds out for twice as much. This last little bit of the old Charlotte now just fades away and the next generation of upwardly mobile hipsters to move in to those expensive condos will have no idea it was ever there to begin with. 

"There will always be more fried chicken. There will always be debates over the best fried chicken. But the announcement that Price’s Chicken Coop will close Saturday after 59 years is about more than dark meat vs. white or whether you’ll sneak in an order of gizzards on the side. The loss burns a deep-fryer-sized hole in Charlotte’s soul."- Kathleen Purvis, Charlotte Magazine

Traditions die hard. This one has finally done the job, taken the three count, looked up at the lights. I wish the long-term employees there all the best in their lives after the Coop. They always took your order with smiles on their faces, quick service, and delivered a box of good food for a fair price. Those things are becoming rarer in this world, too. They certainly are rarer after last Thursday in Charlotte.


Photos from that Final Saturday