Koo Koo Roo
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.