Kenny Rogers Roasters

In 1991, singer Kenny Rogers got together with a gentleman named John Y. Brown Jr., who was one of the main builders of the KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) chain, and they launched a chain of “healthier” fast food restaurants. The premise was that America was turning away from fried chicken and would opt for Kenny’s wood-fired rotisserie birds and fresh, unfried side dishes. For a time, they did.

The first one of these I went to was in Las Vegas, secreted away in a failing theme park that had been built behind the MGM Grand Hotel. The park was near-deserted (and would soon be torn down) and when I wandered into the Kenny Rogers Roasters there, I think I was their first customer of the day…and it was 3:00.

I wish you’d seen that place because it was excessive, even for something built inside an amusement park in Las Vegas. It was like the temple for a religion that worshipped Kenny Rogers as Christ figure. There were posters of him and photos and blow-ups of newspaper articles and gold records and the Muzak played the same half-dozen Kenny Rogers records over and over and over. The lady at the counter told me she’d worked there for three weeks and already yearned to never hear “The Gambler” again for the rest of her life.

As it happened though, the food was pretty good. As new, less ostentatious Kenny Rogers outlets appeared nearer to my home in L.A., I began patronizing them and I usually enjoyed the chicken. Enough people did that the chain soon had 350 restaurants around the world. The one I usually went to was on Wilshire Boulevard, a few blocks east of Bundy. (When it went out of business, a succession of other fast food places inhabited the building. Last time I looked, it was a laundromat.)

Kenny Rogers Roasters were apparently on the downslide by 1998 when the company that owns Nathan’s Famous acquired the chain. Many Kenny Rogers stores became combo shops, also serving the Nathan’s hot dog menu, which caused the Roasters side to lose much of its identity. All of these closed. At last report, there was only one Kenny Rogers Roasters remaining in the U.S. — it’s in Ontario, California — though some items from its menu still pop up at other fast food restaurants owned by the Nathan’s people. The chain continues to flourish in Asia and the Philippines.

One factor which may have contributed a little to their demise was an appearance Mr. Rogers made in 1997 on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. He agreed to participate in a blind taste test, pitting chicken from one of his eateries against chicken from the NBC Commissary. To the delight of the audience — but perhaps not his shareholders — The Gambler made a bad bet and picked wrong. But then the whole enterprise was a losing wager in this country, I guess.

37 Responses to Kenny Rogers Roasters

  • Jeff Hurwitz says:

    Does anybody have a photo of the Kenny Rogers Roasters in Las Vegas at Sahara & Maryland

  • KAREN BARTON says:

    R.I.P., Kenny Rogers.
    BTW his partner John Y. Brown is a former governor of Kentucky and was once married to 1971 Miss America, Phyllis George. Their daughter is CNN correspondent Pamela Brown.

  • David B. says:

    I used to go to the Cheyenne and Rainbow location in Las Vegas in the mid 90’s. Possibly my favorite chicken of all time. Walking in the restaurant, the aroma was incredible.

  • Hcshannon says:

    The chain has enjoyed a resurgence in Asia in recent years.

  • Rockhead says:

    cool restaurant

  • K.T. says:

    I helped open the Santa Barbara store and later was a manager. The food was top notch at first. The chicken was all hand marinated and seasoned. The flavor changed a little once the birds started to be delivered with some brine injection that took the place of the 3 day marination. The side dishes alway continued to be made in house by hand and everything was great. I think the store would do good agian in many of the US markets, if it was ran as it first started. You can not cut corners because of size. Would love to see them bring this food back, even if they did it under a new program name.

  • Eduardo Barcelona says:

    The chicken in Kenny Rogers was really good, me and my wife often goes there in the Philippines located in Glorrieta Mall in Makati City back then. Now we are in Los Angeles California since 2008 and still want to eat on the said Restaurant KRR but I can not find any here in Los Angeles.Me and wife missed this kind of chicken in KRR and the sidings it was really Good.

  • Conrad Rosenthal says:

    I liked your story about Kenny Rogers’ Rosters we had one in Layton Utah I was sorry to see it close. I was in the Rotisserie chicken business and would like to know were to buy a cooker like they had.

  • Daniel Stehura says:

    The coleslaw was not as good as KFC. The food had no salt on the side dishes.
    Overall it got a C- . Not to make a better Slaw then KFC is a SIN. The chicken was good but not as good as COSTCO for $5 a Whole Chicken. I’m a Chief and been in the kitchen since I was 7 years old. Met the guy that created Bob’s Big Boy the worlds first double decker hamburger. I made mine with Avocado back
    in 1965 when the French called Avocados Pig Food, because they fed avocados to their pigs to make them fat. Kenny Blew it because he did not send around a food taster to give these piss ant cooks an education in how food should taste like.

  • cindy says:

    We lived in SC and would drive down to Savannah GA on the weekends just to get chicken from KRR. Sure do miss that chicken and the corn muffins. We now call home a little farther up the coast and would LOVE to have some KRR chicken. We have tried to make our own, but it’s never quite right. I would drive across several states just to get some. Anyone willing to bring it back?

  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (NM) says:

    Frustrated with links that go dead over time as the first one herein so let’s try
    MGM’s “amusement park”. Much like Circus Circus’ enclosed park, I thought a diversion for those of us driving to/fro DisneyLand was a great excuse for a stop in Vegas. Alas, living there and having inconsiderate Moms/Dads riding strollers up the back of your ankles IN THE CASINOS was a PITA let alone if you were visiting for a romatique tryst. Kudos to Steve Wynn (albeit with love in his heart for Kenny) for standing up and saying Bah Humbug! Let’s get this Family Destination Resort Schtick outta here!!!! Vegas is an adult DisneyLand Only!

  • CPH says:

    One of the first KRR’s in LA opened in Chatsworth sometime in early 1994. I and several co-workers would go there for lunch often, sometimes once per week. Loved the place.

    Of course they expanded to just about everywhere. I saw one on Robson Street in Vancouver, Canada.

    Quality started to fall down around 1997. The chicken and the sides just didn’t seem as good. (See my other post in the Koo Koo Roo page….something similar happened there as well). Also, around 1997 I went to the KRR on Reseda Bl. and saw a roach running around….

  • Dennis M. says:

    We used to go to the KR in Palm Desert, Ca and loved the food, sorry to hear there all gone from mainland USA, the company should think about bringing them back to the United States. Keep the menu original as Americans are wanting good old fashion real tasting kitchen cooked meals. Bring back the icon, bring back KR to America.
    Dennis M.

  • Bonnie Beck says:

    We loved KR restaurant. Especially his Creamed Spinach. I use to stop there many times to pick up dinner when I was running late from work.

    My family and I still talk and miss the KR restaurant that was just around the corner from us…

  • John G says:

    Now they are called Kenny Rodgers International.
    No restaurants in the USA, but lots in Asia, where he himself
    and his restaurants are very popular.

  • Big H says:

    I worked for them as a manager,the tastes test HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE DEMISE! Corporate changed the marinade process,and also changed the marinade, to a RED color. That is what killed them! Their chicken was the best rotisserie chicken I have ever tasted!!!!!! The specification for the chicken was a top secret marinade that came in bags, we then put the whole chickens into a large plastic container, and it had to stay there for at least 24 hours, so you constantly had a cooler full of marinating birds.You then put it onto a spit, then applied a pepper rub to it,and cooked it.We sold out all the time,best chicken ever!

  • Ruben Olague says:

    I used to live a few blocks away from the KKR in Hollywood on Highland & Selma. I remember just trying it the first time because it smelled so great. I went back repeatedly because that chicken was addictive! I miss that shop and I miss that chicken.

  • Bill Long says:

    Kenny Rogers Roasters are all over Southeast Asia. I had a small business on the island of Mindanao in the city of Cagayan de Oro. We didn’t have a Roasters there but there was one on the other side of the other side of the island. Interestingly, after that last one closed in Ontario they began to play down the image of Kenny Rogers in their advertising. I was in Manila for my last few months in the Philippines and everything changed after that. (Manila has quite a few Roasters…)

  • Mike says:

    I ate at the one in Northridge a few times in the mid 90’s, and I thought it was very good! Pretty good food for the price! I also ate at the one at the Fallbrook Mall in West Hills once a couple of years later and that one was good as well! I’ve also always liked Boston Market, not just for their chicken, but their family meals as well, and I’m glad there’re still a few of those around.

  • Joslyn says:

    Great list, but the Source and Old World Restaurants must be added! They were iconic and the first health food, organic restaurants on Sunset strip and having worked at the Old World for many years, so many celebs frequented the place, I could name many many whom I waited on!

  • Banjo says:

    I live 2 blocks from the old Wilshire and Westgate store the author recalls. It was never a laundry; that business is actually behind the building that the KR occupied. After KR closed, it became a Wahoo’s Mexican taco place, as it remains to this day.

    KR was pretty good though. The service was a bit hit and miss, I must say.

  • Jim Boscaino says:

    Well when it was near penn stats and take my 3 girls there. They loved as I did shame that it didn’t stick around..

  • Butt crunch says:

    My father broke a plastic fork once at a Kenny Rogers Roasters…the one in Burbank. Memories.

  • JOHN says:

    Well, the simple fact is that the whole rotisserie chicken thing was quite a fad for a minute, with Boston Market (originally called Boston Chicken if anyone recalls that) and Kenny Rogers Roasters fighting it out as the main large players in the midst. My impression has always been that Boston Chicken changed name to Boston Market in 1995 to try to diversify the menu into the other meats it began to serve because it saw the end in sight for the big rotisserie chicken fad, whereas KRR just insisted on sticking to the chicken rut until they went under altogether. Not that Boston Market was very successful in transitioning, because a whole big huge bunch of their locations closed up along the way. Boston Market went into the frozen food retail business pretty heavily and so the name is still pretty mainstream, but Kenny Rogers Roasters in the USA is gone, gone, gone…..

  • Mark Joseph says:

    The single worst meal I’ve ever had in a restaurant was at a KR. It was disgusting. I miss some of the places mentioned on this site, and never went to most of them, but I’m really glad this one is gone.

    Great site, by the way. Any chance you could dig up something on The Falcon, which was somewhere near Sepulveda and Pico? My wife’s grandfather was the chef there back in the late 40s; I think we’ve got one of the menus around here somewhere.

  • zines says:

    We used to have 2 of them in Appleton WI, one was a standalone restaurant and the other was in the mall. I used to go there all the time, they were always packed. Too bad they closed down, I really miss them. The next restaurant that has good chicken is Hansen’s in Green Bay, WI, they have been around since like 1950 I think, but in the last couple of years they keep closing down. Fortunately one employee or another likes it so much that every time it closes, someone buys it and reopens it. I still miss KRR :-(.

  • Adrienne Slavens says:

    One of his restaurants was in Xi’an, China. We went there twice a week. It was so good to get home cooking once in a while. Yes, we had wonderful local food, but after a while you want a taste of home. We loved it! I miss it.

  • Valley Punk says:

    I used to work at the Northridge location… I’d smoke bowls before going in to work and get an intense case of the munchies. My friends and I would eat everything we could fit into our mouths in the back then we’d go back out and work some more. We used to have to answer the phone by saying “Thank you for calling Kenny Rogers Roasters Northridge… It’s the wood that makes it good. How may I help you?” We’d replace the line with “it’s MY wood that makes it good” and no one would notice… Fun times!

  • Jane says:

    I ate at the one in Burbank once. I loved the rotisserie- the seasonings were so delicious. I craved that chicken so much that when I went to Las Vegas, where my dad loves to go for buffets, I begged off and paid for the admission to that awful MGM amusement park so I could go to KRR. I miss it so much.

  • Jeff says:

    I trained as a manager in one in 1996 I think and they had very bad management I just didn’t like the company so I vanished in 1 month they seemed lost most of the time and unorganized

  • Phil says:

    KR Chicken still exists in Singapore but that’s a long way to go for roast chicken.

  • Mary MOSHER says:

    I. Ate at a cluckers and it was the best food I had ever eaten the chicken was excellent the soup the ice tea the garlic potato salad everything. We wen all the time. They opened 3 stores in Miami area and than the lawsuit between Kenny Rogers came. The store was gone and Kenny Rogers
    Still open he didn’t use cluckers recipes. KR food was horrible and Boston. Chicken was horrible. The chickens were scrawny and gave us heartburn and they are the only one left open I sure miss Cluckers
    I wish whoever has their recipes woul open up again

  • Dana Gabbard says:

    A friend went to that last outlet in Ontario and reported the food was awful. I guess just another symptom of the downward slide.

    One problem was it seemed whenever Roaster entered a new market that Boston Market often would open up across the street to their mutal detriment. Also my Mom worked at one in the 90s and she told me upper management informed her they only hired from outside for managers etc. So there was no incentive to stick around, since you never advance; if that was how they handled human resources the brain drain as anyone with ambition went elsewhere to advance must have contributed to their demise.

  • Craig D. Smith says:

    I don’t really care for Kenny Rogers as a personality which probably worked against this chain, at least in my case. It seemed like one of those deals where a celebrity lends his name to an enterprise without a care if it’s any good or not. But when I finally did try Roasters I enjoyed it a lot. Not only was the chicken delicious but many of the sides were as well and you had a lot more choices than at, say, KFC.

  • Bob S. says:

    Sad to hear about the last KRR. There used to be one here in San Antonio, Texas on NW Military Drive that wasn’t too far from where I lived at the time. I quite liked the food and was sad when it closed. Later, a similar restaraunt called “Cluckers” opened in the shopping center I worked at but didn’t last too long. We used to have a “Boston Market” but that didn’t hold a candle to KRR.

  • KoHoSo says:

    That last location in Ontario closed on December 31, 2011. It was in the Ontario Mills food court and was shoved out in order to do a complete do-over of that portion of the mall.

  • Craig L says:

    No discussion of Kenny Rogers’ Roasters is anywhere near complete without its ridiculous product placement in an episode of Seinfeld.

    Kramer had a love/hate relationship with the place that opened across the street from his apartment: loved the chicken, hated the bright neon sign that shone through his window. I never saw a Kenny Rogers sign at any of their California locations that would’ve been that bright, so I was suspicious about whether it really had a NYC store or if the LA-based writers made it all up to get free chicken (which they did).

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