“A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” – Henry Ford
It was a beautiful fall day in my new home city when I first walked through the glass doors of the store front on Camden Road. I was there to pick up lunch, having been told how I wouldn’t be impressed by its decor or the look of the neighborhood, but how I definitely would fall in love after my first bite of their fried chicken.
Price’s Chicken Coop already had 17 years of success in Charlotte when I arrived in 1979. It was stuck in the middle of a row of similar old buildings way before the arrival of the looming apartment buildings, trendy shops, or the LYNX Blue Line. All that would arrive later with a boom that transformed Dilworth’s historic industrial corridor into today’s hip “urbanism.”
The menu was taped in the window. I had been warned to study it before entering so I could be ready to order without hesitation and pay the exact amount in cash, never plastic.
After I got my box of chicken I walked outside, just like all the other customers, in search for a place to eat. Price’s has great chicken, but it has never had tables.
Still, this spot draws the most diverse group of customers in our community. You can be with nearby construction workers, suited bankers from the canyons of Tryon, doctors still in their scrubs, your minister from church, and probably a few bikers.
Although the neighborhood has changed over my years in Charlotte, Price’s Chicken Coop has not. Thank goodness.
Getting to know the people behind the counter made my choice of Price’s even better. During each visit, I would nod to the fellow with the full beard, standing a full head taller than others. I was in the food business, so Walter became a good contact. In time, I was able to sell him my perch from Les Îles de la Madeleine, but only “When I got my heart right”, as he would say.
I soon learned how that expression had everything to do with my offer and nothing to do with my anatomy. I never landed any of his chicken or frying oil business, but not for a lack of trying.
After the Carolina Panthers began playing football nearby, I suggested to Walter how opening on game day Sundays would be a no brainer.
I reasoned that my advice, one business man to another, would be well received. “Just think of all the money you guys will make in a few short hours before home games!” I added.
Walter thought for a minute, stroked his beard in his usual fashion, and then said, “Bruce, what would we do with any more money?”
“Good point Walter Broome,” was all I could muster.
The Great Charlotte Fried Chicken Debate
If you ever want to start an argument, or at least a very lively discussion, bring up who has the best fried chicken in our Queen City.
I have been a loyal Price’s customer for as long as I’ve been in Charlotte, but others disagree. Not too long ago, the people at Charlotte Agenda did their own Fried Chicken Top Five. Their No. 1 choice may surprise you.
Where do you go for bird? Let’s talk about it.
I have always remembered that day, not for my takeout lunch, but for the wisdom in this business philosophy on how enough could be enough.
That day I had walked in those smudged glass doors to deliver advice for Walter, but walked out with Walter’s wisdom for me. I got the best of that deal, even if it took time for me to understand.
Have you been to Price’s Chicken Coop? If you have, tell me your favorite story about them.
If you don’t know this iconic spot, or those like it in your home town, you better pay a call before it’s too late. I’m afraid this part of our American experience is on the ever growing endangered species list.
As always, the conversation starts here.
“In the ordinary choices of every day we begin to change the direction of our lives.” – Eknath Easwaran
Take time for Roger Holloway’s short talk with Stephen Price to hear about the simple business model of Price’s Chicken Coop.
It’s a different conversation than you would have with any of his new neighbors. With that crowd you would learn about “leveraging shareholder value,” and “driving out cost in the system.”
Yet, both sets of owners understand the simple lesson Walter taught me about a “backward-bending labour supply curve.” It’s just that the folks at Price’s applied it to themselves.
We need to listen to these elder storytellers while we have them with us, because I’m afraid they will all be too soon gone.