Harolds Is Growing Beyond Chicago
Harolds Chicken Shack may have spent most of its 70-year existence as South Chicagos best-kept secret, but its reputation and corporate footprint has started to expand beyond the Windy City. While its long had branches just across the state border in Indiana, under the leadership of Kristen Pierce, founder Harold Pierces daughter and current CEO of Harolds Chicken Shack, the restaurant has established franchises farther across the country. Currently, Harolds has branches in locales as varied as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and St. Louis, as well as three restaurants in Georgia . It also has plans to expand to Charlotte and Houston ,
In the Harolds tradition of letting each branch choose its own operational strategy, the out-of-state outposts of Harolds may be quite different from what South Chicago traditionalists expect. While most of the earlier branches were modest, functional spots meant mostly for takeout orders, some of the newer branches feature lavishly decorated event spaces and a full bar. The fried chicken and mild sauce, however, remain non-negotiable.
Theres A Lot Of Variation Between Harolds Branches
For most restaurant franchises, consistency is king. No matter which McDonalds you go to, youll see the exact same menu and promotions and a very similar dining room. A Big Mac that you could order today in New York will look and taste almost exactly like the one you had in Los Angeles last week.
Harolds Chicken Shack is a conspicuous exception to this rule. From the beginning, per the Chicago Reader, founder Harold treated his franchisees with a light hand once theyd gotten their restaurants established. Over time, many started to deviate from his operational procedures and even branched out with their own recipes. Many began adding or subtracting menu items at will.
According to Americas Test Kitchen, Pierce was aware of this and allowed it, believing that local owners knew what their immediate community wanted and needed. As a result, serious fans of Harolds pride themselves on the ability to discern the relative advantages and disadvantages of each branch and its offerings. “A true Harolds typically has a bulletproof window in front of the cashier and almost never has WiFi,” comedian Larry Legend told Chicago magazine.
W 87th St West Chatham
In a strip mall abutting a larger strip mall, this reliable and charmingly ramshackle outpostwhere Katie Couric once broke white bread with Chance the Rapperboasts plenty to do while you wait. Galaga! Digital jukebox! Unfortunately, youre always waiting fortunately, the blistered drumsticks are worth it.
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A Ranking Of Harolds Branches Sparked Debate
The differences in quality and atmosphere between different Harolds branches is so well known that fans dont simply love Harolds. They love their particular Harolds and will happily defend their favorite outlet against all others.
For this reason, Chicago magazine must have known it would get some blowback by printing a supposedly definitive ranking of Harolds branches, but they had no idea how outraged some readers would be. Before presenting an alternate ranking by South Chicago native and YouTuber Larry Legend, they explained that some branches favored by readers werent ranked because they werent official Harolds franchises. Legend, however, disagreed and for a good reason. “I understand and respect the concept in which the list was made, but Im a true South Sider, and we dont care about whats an official Harolds and whats not,” he said .
S Wabash Ave South Loop
Slow down, you move too fast, No. 62. At this ginormous, suspiciously clean double storefront with copious flat screens and LED menus, my number was called approximately three minutes after I ordered. And what I got was lukewarm and ridiculously peppery. Crisp, seasoned fries were not enough to redeem this glossy pretender.
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Heres How You Order At Harolds
Aficionados will tell you that Harolds isnt just any generic chain restaurant. Rather, its more like a club, with its own unique code of conduct and expectations for all who enter. For instance, even if youre a first-time diner, one thing you must never do is stand at the counter, silently gawking as you try to make sense of it all. Instead, be sure that you make up your mind before you get to the counter and dont dawdle, as per Eater Chicago.
Being specific means knowing exactly how to order to get the full Harolds experience. “If youre not from here, youve got to be taught how to do it. Youve got to,” Harolds superfan Larry Legend told Eater Chicago. He offers the following advice: “Even if they fried the chicken to perfection, youre always gonna ask them to fry it hard, and you have to have the sauce on the chicken,” he said.
You can also request extra seasoning , Harolds CEO Kristen Pierce told ABC 7. And, Legend explained to Chicago, if the cashier taking your order seems gruff, dont take it personally. “The meaner the cashier, the better the food. This is Harolds science,” he said.
Theres A Secret Menu Item You Can Make Yourself
When you order a chicken dinner at Harolds, the chicken parts of your choice will be served atop a pile of fries. In most Harolds outlets, that will in turn be placed on top of a slice or two of white bread . The fries will probably be soft rather than crunchy, as per Eater Chicago, and the bread may seem like a bland afterthought. Still, dont ignore them, or youll be missing a quintessential Harolds experience known as the French fry sandwich.
This sandwich is not just carbs. Instead, as per Chicago Reader, its pure synergy of all the meals components. And once youve got all those components together, from the sauce to the chicken and yes, even that grease you can assemble a seriously delicious sandwich.
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Harolds Fried Chicken Is A Piece Of The Black Chicago Experience
When outsiders think of iconic Chicago foods, they think of deep-dish pizza and hot dogs. But for Black South Siders, its Harolds fried chicken.
If Black Chicagoans have a favorite local chicken spot, its likely Harolds Chicken Shack, which has been serving the city since 1950. Harolds famous chicken, with its sweet-and-spicy sauce, is a pleasant reminder of home, of family gatherings, of a Black experience meant for them. In an ever-changing city with a history that runs deep in multiple directions, Harolds Chicken has been a constant in Black communities.
The art of ordering and eating Harolds Chicken can only be passed from one person to another, whoever they choose to share this delicacy with. You must know your order beforestepping up to the cashier.
If youre not from here, youve got to be taught how to do it. Youve got to, says local Harolds Chicken expert Larry Legend, a comedian who wrote about his favorite Harolds locations for Chicago magazine in 2019.
Even if they fried the chicken to perfection, youre always gonna ask them to fry it hard, and you have to have the sauce on the chicken. So if I see somebody not having the sauce on the chicken, Im questioning them because youre taking away the experience of the restaurant. Everything about it has to do with the sauce on the chicken. The chicken itself isnt the draw. But the sauce with the chicken combination is made in heaven, said Legend.
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- Meal delivery | Meal takeaway | Restaurant1415 W, IL-19, Chicago, IL 60613, USA
- Meal delivery | Meal takeaway | Restaurant3949 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60613, USA
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Harolds Chicken Shack Is Deeply Rooted In Chicago
Few fast-food franchises reflect a sense of place more vividly than Harolds Chicken Shack. According to the Chicago Reader, its founder, Harold Pierce, already ran a restaurant in the south side of Chicago offering chicken feet and dumplings when he decided to branch out to fried chicken. His first few experiments were such a hit that in 1950, he partnered with a local poultry vendor to open his first Harolds Chicken Shack, a modest take-out shop. As demand for his chicken grew, he started offering franchises to friends and family members, keeping a running tally in his head of what each owed him.
Even the restaurants logo an unforgettable image of a crown-wearing, axe-wielding king chasing a chicken was inspired by the surrounding community. Locals started calling Pierce “the chicken king,” and he embraced that image. Critics agree that his reputation was well-earned.
Beyond the deliciousness of the chicken, Harolds origin story is a point of pride for Black Chicagoans. “The family story of Black entrepreneurship and creating something new in this place that is full of opportunity is such a Black Chicago story,” Northwestern University lecturer Arionne Nettles told Chicago Eater. “Everything about Harolds is Black and everything about Harolds is really Chicago.”
Harolds Store Numbering Is A Mystery
Though Harolds restaurants are numbered, the numbering system is far from transparent. A quick glance at its list of current restaurants shows 27 Harolds establishments in the Chicago area, where the chain was founded. Yet those numbers range between three and 64, with many digits in the sequence missing. And Harolds Chicken No. 2, which logically should have been one of the earlier branches in Chicago, is instead one of its newer outlets near Las Vegas. Chicago magazine confirms that Harolds numbering system is neither chronological, nor is it based on any geographic factors. Yet, its pure coincidence that Harolds No. 95 is on 95th Street.
Some have posited that the numbers are either meaningless or up to the owners whims, as a podcast for Americas Test Kitchen guessed. Chicago magazine hypothesizes that the numbering system may be related to the fact that different restaurants were originally owned by different branches of the Pierce family, each with its own numbering system. But current Harolds CEO Kristen Pierce offers a simpler explanation. “Being in business for 70 years, some of those old locations have closed. So we have skipped around in numbers to come back and fill those numbers,” she explained.
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Whats Up With The Store Numbers
Are they chronological? Nope, because No. 36 opened long after No. 47. Are they geographical, since No. 95 is on 95th Street? Nah, just a coincidence. Its all a bit of a mystery, even to the company. The best theory for explaining the convoluted numbering is that in the early days of Harolds, several stores were run by founder Harold Pierce, while others were run by various family members, who had their own store-differentiating system. When ownership was finally consolidated, the stores were never renumbered.
Joliet St Dyer Indiana
Just across the Indiana border, this cheery little box of a restaurantwhich sports a custom welcome mat emblazoned with the store number and locationis everything a Harolds should be. The fowls delicate but rich batter shatters at first bite. Go at lunch and join other patrons in callingout answers to Family Feud on the TV.
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Harolds Has Been Celebrated By Hip Hop Stars
There are foods that are so special that they not only inspire cravings, but move fans to burst into songs. For quite a few Chicago rappers, the fried chicken from Harolds Chicken Shack is just that food. So beloved is Harolds chicken that, over the past three decades, its gotten plenty of unsolicited free advertising in the form of affectionate shout-outs by popular hip-hop artists.
The Chicago Reader traces the first Harolds hip-hop reference to 1992, when Commons debut album featured a production team that worked under the name “2pc DRK” . In 2015, Chance the Rapper name-checked his favorite Harolds branch in his track with Lil B, “First Mixtape Based Freestyle.” So deep is Chance the Rappers love of their chicken that he even commissioned a Harolds-themed birthday cake with decorations that resembled sauce-dipped wings and fries, as well as the Harolds logo. The most specific musical shout-out to Harolds, however, was Lupe Fiascos 2018 track entitled, simply, “Harolds” .
N Milwaukee Ave Wicker Park
This high-traffic entry gets plenty of homespun details right, including the framed poster of Harold, and adds some oddball touches like a magazine rack. As for the chicken, it has a clean, fresh-tasting exterior craggier than a Martian landscape. But the kitchen gets docked for serving the fries separately instead of letting them soak in the sauce as God intended. Blasphemy.
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When Ordering At Harolds Dont Forget The Mild Sauce
Besides its unique take on pizza and hot dogs, Chicago and Black community in south and west Chicago in particular has its own distinctive style of fried chicken. The version at Harolds Chicken Shack is arguably its best-known exemplar. Its exceptional richness comes from the use of both vegetable oil and tallow for frying . But the most distinctive feature of Chicago-style fried chicken is that it almost always comes with mild sauce, a sweet, tangy concoction said to be a combination of ketchup, barbecue sauce, and hot sauce
Some Harolds fans will tell you the mild sauce is non-negotiable, and omitting it will instantly brand you as an uninformed outsider, as per Chicago magazine. However, Harolds superfans are not a monolith and not all devotees agree. “No sauce. Im not a sauce eater. I wanna taste the flavor,” Harolds CEO Kristen Pierce told ABC 7.
E 35th St Bronzeville
Here you see exactly what made Harolds a legend. The golden, muscular birds are fried in consistently fresh oil, seasoned to peppery perfection, and saturated in the famous acidic sauce. The Muhammad Alifixated decor makes perfect sense, because No. 88 floats like a butterfly, even during the heavy lunch hour, and the sweet, salty, and tangy flavors sting likewell, you get the idea. The agreeable staff and the nonstop crush of customers know it: This Harolds is the truth.
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Chicago’s #1 Fried Chicken Joint
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.
Serving Chicagoland for more than 65 years – we continue to bring the most succlent fried chicken this city has ever known!
Beware Of Harolds Knockoffs
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, its a testament to Harolds popularity that the chain has been plagued by numerous unauthorized knockoffs, as some Redditors have reported. We must report that not every place with “Harolds” in its name and fried chicken on the menu is an official branch of Harolds Chicken Shack. So, do your due diligence. Checking the list of branches on the Harolds official website is a good place to start, as it looking for the distinctive Harolds logo .
Its not just diners who get fooled by these knockoff restaurants. In 2017, an investor bought was he thought was an official Harolds branch, only to discover it didnt have a licensing agreement with the chain, according to DNA Info. “Had I known the previous owner did not have a license agreement I would not have spent my money buying it,” he said, adding that he planned to work with Harolds corporate office to become an official affiliate. Still, South Chicago diners care less about corporate structures than whether the chicken tastes good, as comedian Larry Legend told Chicago magazine.
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Sibley Blvd Calumet City
Dont forget to ask how to jazzy up your meal, a note on the menu reads. When I asked the lady behind the glasswho could hardly be bothered to listen and couldnt master the ancient-looking Casio ordering systemshe all but shrugged. Apparently it means thin-skinned legs with an off taste born of not-terribly-inspiring oil.
Your Meal At Harolds Is Made To Order
Harolds Chicken Shack may be a casual take-out joint, but its not fast food. So, dont expect to walk in, choose a few pieces from under a heat lamp, and be on your way, because thats not going to happen. Instead, per founder Harold Pierces instructions, your chicken wont even go into the fryer until you place your order. This will ensure your chicken comes to you as fresh and flavorful as possible. “We dont use heat lamps, we dont use frozen product. Everything is fresh,” Harolds CEO Kristen Pierce told ABC 7.
This means that when you go to Harolds, you should be prepared to wait. According to Harolds, your order will take between 12 and 15 minutes to prepare. While the growing popularity of Harolds shows that diners dont mind the wait, many franchisees have attempted to speed up the process , resulting in some of the well-known variations in flavor and quality amongst branches. Even at a corporate level, attempts have been made to streamline the cooking process while honoring Harold Pierces founding vision. One proposal would have had franchisees pre-cook the chicken for five minutes, then complete the process once an order is placed, shortening the customer wait time to eight minutes.
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