Koo Koo Roo

kookooroo02

To the surprise of no one who has followed the chain’s decline in recent years, the last Koo Koo Roo — the one in Santa Monica — is gone. The Luby’s company, which acquired Koo Koo Roo and Fuddrucker’s in 2010, has turned the last location into a Fuddrucker’s…an ironic finish since the operating premise of Koo Koo Roo, once upon a time, was to offer an alternative the traditional burger and fries fare.

Koo Koo Roo started in Los Angeles in 1988 when two brothers, Ray and Mike Badalian opened their first location and before long, their second. The one I went to was in a little strip mall at the corner of Beverly Boulevard and Orlando Avenue, a few blocks east of La Cienega. Before the mall was built, the land housed a Roy Rogers Roast Beef Sandwich stand and then a Golden Bird Fried Chicken shop. Another Koo Koo Roo was located in Koreatown.

The night of the Academy Awards in 1990, Kenneth Berg, a semi-retired real estate broker, passed by and noticed the long line of customers at the Beverly/Orlando location. He decided to stop in and get a “to go” order to eat while watching the Oscars and he was impressed with what he later described as “…the best chicken I ever had in my life.” He soon met the Badalian brothers, invested in their business and later bought them out. He not only liked the chicken but the whole concept of healthy “fast food.”

The story of Koo Koo Roo became one of ups and downs. New stores opened. Other stores closed. Berg’s staff added an expanded menu that included freshly-carved turkey and he renamed the chain Koo Koo Roo California Kitchens. Later, he purchased a controlling interest in the Arrosto Coffee chain and opened coffee bars within his Koo Koo Roos.

It seemed like every few months, Koo Koo Roo was opening more stores and closing others while experimenting with new menu items. The folks who loved Koo Koo Roo (I was one) really loved it but there never seemed to be enough of them. Eventually, Berg’s company sold out to the Fuddrucker’s people and though they added their burgers to most outlets, they didn’t reverse the company’s fortunes…and finally that last one closed.

I miss them. I liked their signature chicken breast. I liked their turkey. I thought their macaroni and cheese was wonderful. But clearly, not everyone liked Koo Koo Roo as much as I did.

44 Responses to Koo Koo Roo

  • DCJB says:

    Thank you for writing about this, Mark :)
    We saw you there dining frequently at the one near La Brea and Wilshire, and got to chat a few times (outside of publisher conventions).
    KooKooRoo was one of our favorite deals with tasty, healthy food, and a terrific dinner could be had for about $7. We’d often visit the one on Lake in Pasadena, or the one in Claremont, but as we saw the branches gradually shutting down, we wondered what was going on, as it was still popular, even though they had started changing menu items despite objections from clientele.
    One of the managers was kind enough to share with me that the acquisition by Fuddruckers was the beginning of the end. He noted that the new management was 100% non-receptive to input from regional managers and customers, and believes the authoritarian changes to the menu items and prices, etc. were the actual death knell for our beloved KooKooRoo. Alas, farewell to the delicious meals and affordable prices!

  • Claudia says:

    I defiantly miss Koo Koo Roo it was excellent food. I was 19 years old and landed a part-time job working evening shift and weekends and I can attests that the food was so delicious and always fresh. I worked in the Orlando and Beverly Location and we did have our regular customers that came everyday to pick up skinless original chicken and our the delicious sandwich. My favorite BBQ Chicken sandwich, Mexican Sandwich and Original Sandwich. The cooks work hard and always marinated fresh chicken over night with many great spices. I remember that the sauce we used for chicken is a secrete to us as well. The food was delicious I have been craving for Koo Koo Roo.

  • Eric says:

    I had the luck to be able to at at this establishment in South Beach in Miami Beach on Alton Rd and 15th in 1992-1994. My all time favorite was there Classic chicken sandwich plain with their Secret sauce; that sauce was the BEST. By any miraculous chance does anyone know how to make that secret sauce???? Please and thank you.

  • Chris Hodgson says:

    We actually had one all the way over and down here in South Miami Beach. I LOVED their mozzarella, tomato, basil and balsamic vinaigrette baguette.. It was the ONLY place to get a sandwich like that 25 years ago….and in a fast food place, none the less. Gone, but certainly NOT forgotten.

  • Eileen Luna says:

    I used to go to the KKR at the corner of Larchmont Avenue and Beverly Blvd. It was pretty much down the street from Paramount Studios. I’m a teacher and one of the moms from my school worked there. It was great to see a friendly face. My “go to’ items were the Chinese Chicken Salad and the Turkey platter with the trimmings. Healthy, great tasting food. God I miss it. :(

  • Toni Fitzpatrick says:

    I loved eating at KKR. Every time we went to LA we ate there. Last visit I was sad that I couldn’t find one. It seems part of the problem really was that they kept closing certain locations. You can’t keep customers if you open and then close.

  • Don says:

    Really sad. I’m shocked that even the buff fitty mcfits of Santa Monica could not keep it alive. When they expanded to the east coast in the late 90s, I was like “wow, a fast food chain that serves really healthy seeming food…what is this, the dawning of the age of Aquarius?” Unfortunately the restaurants in the DC area weren’t near where I was living at all so I wasn’t able to patronize it very often. When they closed I figured “oh well, at least that concept is successful in places like Southern California.” Guess not.
    I suppose it’s hard to position yourself as a “healthy chain” when 1) the chains are trying to make their offerings healthier than back in the 1990s and 2) health conscious eaters might strongly prefer to eat at non-chain places regardless.

  • Daniel Esparza says:

    @ Paul Taylor, so now that the chain is gone, can you tell us how to make the seasoning that went on the chicken? In my opinion, it was the best, and I was sorry to see when the chain left Orange County, but later found one in LA, and now that is gone as well :(

    Thank you,

    Daniel

  • Paul Taylor says:

    I managed several locations. I left a Bar & Grill chain because I was tired of serving crappy food. KKR was the wave of the future (I thought) and I was proud to be a part of this amazing restaurant chain. As mentioned earlier the concept was a sustainable only in wealthy areas that will pay a higher price for the quality. It should never hVe gone public but rather grown slowly.

  • Richard P. says:

    I loved KKR for many of the same reasons already espoused here — tasty and healthy fare. As others have also pointed out, oh those sides. I have never liked creamed spinach, but oh man, I got it every time at KKR.

    I landed on this page after watching a Family Guy episode that included a KKR reference, which led me to wonder how widespread the chain became. Does anyone know how many units they had and in how many states they operated?

  • Ken says:

    My wife and I are ex-pat Californians now living(?) in Dallas and planning to be in LA next month. We googled KKR just now and read all your comments and insights. Appreciating that we are not alone in wanting one more meal in KKR. Now I’m afraid to google Baja Fresh. When will someone invent a time machine?

  • Russ says:

    I miss Koo Koo Roo terribly. The food was absolutely superb. Maybe one day it will come back. I’d love to get my hands on the real, original marinade recipe. I couldn’t get enough of that chicken!

  • Julie says:

    Wow! I really miss the excitement of this great establishment! The food Too!
    The KKR store on N. Beverly is where Demi Moore and Leonardo C. had been caught together. Celebs like Jay Leno would come in. (The owner sent him a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving.)
    After the big earthquake, instead of closing the store, they gave food away! Oh, and the one thing the OJ t.v. series forgot about is that they always ordered in KKR. The CEO, Ken Berg was always in the store tasting and revising the food and menu. They really started the healthy fare. Apparently when McDonald execs came in to taste the food, Ken Berg said, “You’ve been killing people for years, it’s time to give back.”
    I only wish they had sold to Disney! I miss you Ken!

  • Daniel Yang says:

    I just had a chicken tostada salad at Urth Cafe in Pasadena and it reminded me of the best tostada salad ever, from KooKooRoo Chicken. I loved that jalapeno ranch they served with it. So good. I used to go to the one in Woodland Hills off Canoga, or the one on Lake Ave in Pasadena. Always wondered what haooened.

  • Jennifer zimmerman says:

    I loved working for the adventura Florida location, best food ever, miss it so much!!! ????

  • Ben says:

    The food was exceptional good. I never had a bad experience. Wife was in LA hoping to grab some for lunch.

  • Nina says:

    Loved it when it opened in Denver, CO. I will always remember their slogan, ‘Koo Koo Roo is Good For You!’

  • Nudia Fajardo says:

    I worked at koo koo roo in NYC the one on 72nd and Broadway. I loved the healthy menu; I couldn’t get enough of their foods. I miss them; wish the would open.

  • michael says:

    I made some good money off of KKRO back in the mid 1990s.
    My broker use to laugh until it started to make $$$$
    I sold got out and don’t remember much after that.
    Loved the food though!

  • Toni Fitzpatrick says:

    We live in St.Louis and this place has never heard of healthy food. We went to LA on business a number of weeks a year and I really liked KKR and their roasted chicken. I was sad when I couldn’t find it there again.

  • Jl says:

    I remember that original location and ate there more than once. Kinda a sad ending to a eatery that had good food but then again I never understood why unremarkable places with unremarkable food survive (that’s you Pinkberry) and places like this go away………..Oh there’s Tender Greens now, hope their fate is better.

  • Susan says:

    So glad to hear that the Boca restaurant really existed! Almost no one remembers it, while my husband and I ate there all the time. It never caught on in Florida, so sad to know it’s gone altogether.

  • Kelly L says:

    I loved KKR. In 2000/2001 when I was pregnant with my son I craved the Thanksgiving dinner. I would eat there very often, sometimes lunch and dinner. My son who is almost 15 now has never had KKR (we moved out of state when he was young) but absolutely loves Thanksgiving dinner.

  • Walter Acevedo says:

    I worked in the one in studio city for about 3 years under the management of Allan noby truly a great boss, man I miss there Caesar salads and Chinese salad

  • Travis Stair says:

    Have such great memories of Koo Koo Roo on Santa Monica in West Hollywood. Great food, healthy food, good friends and it was so crowded, once upon a time. Will always miss the specially prepared chicken and the great salads.

  • John Hindsill says:

    I’m kinda like Chris A on this. KKR was a bit pricey for this sort of store, but my ma (rip) liked it a lot. Each time I took her there, SaMo, I thought the food was not so good as the previous time. Have not been been to a Boston Market in several years, but I always thought it superior to KKR for similar fare.

  • Chris A says:

    Whenever I had a friend’s portion of koo koo roo chicken or a side dish I loved it. But the 3 or 4 times I went in myself (20th and Wilshire) I was always disappointed at the paltry serving of chicken I would get (they really skimped on serving size) and while the chicken was juicy it was often very fatty so what was left wasn’t edible. And to boot it was typically expensive ( not relative to today’s lunch prices but back in the 90s $8 to $12 was pricey). For those reasons I never was a fan. I tried to like it but just couldn’t. I do recall it had great sides but I was going for the chicken.

  • Vicky says:

    I frequently went to the KooKooRoo in Woodland Hills (Canoga Ave) during my lunch hour. It was always packed and I loved their chicken and salads. I also used their catering services for our office and was shocked and quite bummed when I found out there were closed. It’s funny, not everyone I speak to liked the chain or even knew about KooKooRoo. I miss KooKooRoo and wish they were still around because I really enjoyed the quality of food.

  • Tiffany says:

    I used to LOVE the KooKooRoo in Encino (their original chicken sandwich was the best) and was devastated when they closed. To this day, whenever there is an empty building and my husband asks, ‘what do you think will go in there’ I still say KooKooRoo! (And I’m not even in CA anymore!)

    So sad to hear the last one closed :0(

  • Lucy vignali says:

    i never ate fast food,I loved koo-koo roo I miss it a lot and I know it was the best tasting and healthier food around. The side orders were to die for. Can’t understand what went wrong. I want it back. Pleeese!!!!

  • Mary Millan says:

    My life isn’t the same without Koo Koo Roo. My father use to work there and I grew up eating they’re chicken sandwiches and salads I still remember when my dad would come home late and brought left overs :,( I have dreams of the chicken sandwich and Cesar Salad I get hungry and the first thing that comes to my mind is Koo Koo Roo man this sucks how can you just take that from us shame on you.
    R.I.P Koo-Koo-Roo
    I Miss You :,,(

  • CPH says:

    I discovered the chain around 1996-7 when I was working in Encino. Good food. Not a lot of advertising (the only time I ever heard an ad for Koo Koo Roo was on KMNY-1600 AM, a financial news station with a very weak signal over most of Los Angeles).

    The chain expanded like wildfire. I went to the one in Santa Barbara in 2000.

    Around 2005-2006, though, quality started to drop. Chicken and sides were being held (under a heat lamp?) too long, bread was slightly stale, etc. I stopped going after a bad experience at the Manhattan Beach restaurant.

  • GT says:

    I went into the Encino location once for dinner around 5pm and the cashier told me they were out of chicken. I asked how long it would take to make more and she said “No, we’re out of chicken for the rest of the day.” That’s when I knew the chain was doomed.

  • Martin says:

    At one point in the mid-1990’s, KKR went public and my brother and I invested in the company. Almost immediately the stock price began to drop and yet I was so convinced that the product and concept were a winning combination that I bought more shares. The only stock loss I’ve ever had. As the company began to flounder, they bought and developed Color Me Mine and the coffee roaster mentioned above. Then, before declaring bankruptcy, they brought in Lee Iaccoca as CEO to turn them around (didn’t work), bought Hamburger Hamlet, bought a chain of Midwest Mexican restaurants called Chi-Chi’s, and bought El Torito. The Fudrucker’s connection came later, after bankruptcy and their acquisition by a holding company that already had the hamburger chain.

  • Erin J. says:

    I was crushed when they started shutting down the OC Koo Koo Roos. The best and healthiest food around – I couldn’t understand what was going on. Are there any left? My fave was the chicken bowl with the saffron rice and yellow curry dressing. I still crave that – is there anything comparable to that?!? If so, I’m there!

  • John Hurley says:

    I remember the 20th and Wilshire location. That spot had at one time been “The Fish Kitchen”.

  • John Shannon says:

    In the early days, probably the Badalian days, the chicken was marinated in a yogurt sauce with a Middle-Eastern flavor, and I loved it. Once that got “normalized” to the usual red sauce, I lost interest.

  • CC says:

    I always loved the Original Chicken Sandwiches, they had a special sauce that I could never quite figure out. Does anyone know what was in it or how to make it?

  • Joshua B says:

    I used to work at the Koo Koo Roo in Boca Raton FL for 3 years. I had a lot of fun working there and I still miss the food. People would come in twice a day to eat there and I still see former customers around town 12 years later and they all agree the food was the best.

  • Vincent says:

    I lived in Westfield, NJ, a fairly prosperous suburb, where a KKR opened in its affluent downtown, near the NJ Transit rail station, in 1999. Went there a few times — the food was excellent — but it closed less than a year after it opened. Too bad the chain was so mercurial.

  • Paul B says:

    I worked for Koo Koo Roo as a manager many years ago. Was lured away from Houston’s to run them in South Florida. It’s a shame food quality was good. Labor was to intensive and unless the stores really did a ton of business labor cost was too high. I miss the food!!

  • Dana Gabbard says:

    I should note the Fuddrucker’s at the Wilshire/20th location in Santa Monica hasn’t opened despite many months have passed with a sign in the front door proclaiming it is “opening soon”. I went in the last store within the past year and had an amzing chicken sandwich, just as a snack while doing errands. Left me dumbfounded why this chain was wilting up.

  • Joyce Melton says:

    I loved the food but found the service incomprehensibly bad at the two KKRs I visited. The menu was different every time I went and the staff would argue with me about whether they had ever offered any such thing as I remembered ordering the last time I was there.

    I’m surprised they lasted as long as they did. You can’t succeed when your employee training was as bad as theirs was, in my estimation.

    The food was good, though.

  • Alison Wentworth says:

    The chicken and turkey were great but the best thing about Koo Koo Roo was the sides. Wonderful stuffing came with the turkey dinner, land I oved the Creamed Spinach, and the Yellow Squash. Other items were good too, but sometimes I would just buy large spinach and squash “to go” to have at home with something else for dinner. The SM store was only 6 blocks away. I miss it – even though I invested $400 when the chain went public in the late 1990s and watched the “investment” dwindle to 40 cents over time. I always attributed the decline to the acquisition of “Color me Mine” and a pipe dream the owner had to merge the two businesses.

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