Last week on this page I told you about several chicken houses going up in the county. This week I'm happy to give you definitive news about one of McMinnville's most beloved chicken houses - Chicken Chef.
The love affair between Warren County and Chicken Chef is a long one which dates back to the restaurant's opening on Jan. 20, 1968. Over the years, the business, owned by Donnie Hill since 1975 when he bought it from Vernon Keith, has sponsored countless young ballplayers in different youth leagues, served as a popular gathering place for many, contributed to the community in a myriad of ways and employed generations of Warren countians.
It is a distinctive Warren County trait to know exactly what the inside of Chicken Chef smells like and to be able to tell just from a quick sniff when someone has just eaten at Chicken Chef. The popular eatery has made itself such a part of the Warren County zeitgeist that in 2021, the Warren County High School class of 2023 paid tribute to the iconic A-frame restaurant with red roof by building a homecoming float featuring a replica of the building and sign, complete with Chicken Chef's memorable slogan, "Eat it Here or Take it Home."
It's this iconic status that the 55-year old restaurant holds in this community that led to the internet furor that began on the Saturday morning of Feb. 18 with posts suggesting Chicken Chef would be closing on March 1. That post set off a wildfire of speculation which snowballed into a tumbleweed of rumors that only seemed to roll further from the truth.
Happily, I can tell you the dust has settled and the truth is music to the ears of Chicken Chef fans. As of yesterday, April 1, Chicken Chef has new owners. Kayla Thomas and Chandler Rockwell have bought the restaurant and want to assure customers Chicken Chef will continue to be the same restaurant they love with no changes planned.
Of the change in ownership, Betsy McBride, Donnie's daughter, said, "We've enjoyed it all these years but it's time to let someone younger and fresher come in and take over."
Kayla and Chandler have history with the restaurant, both having worked there before. "Chicken Chef was the first job I ever had and Chandler worked there through high school," said Kayla. "Donnie hired me two weeks before I turned 16 and I'm 33 now. I quit about three and a half years ago but I've worked there off and on forever. Donnie and his family are like my family. I would do anything for them so anytime they needed help I would try to fall in and help where I can. They have been a huge impact on my life. The thought of Chicken Chef not being Chicken Chef exactly how it is crushed me. I've talked about this for years and always said if I got the chance, I would want this so, here we are."
Kayla's and Chandler's love for the place and their respect for Donnie and his family run so deep that they want to stay true to the restaurant's roots. "Nothing is going to change. Chicken Chef is still going to have the red curtains. You're still going to smell like chicken when you leave. It's going to be exactly what it's always been. Nobody is getting rid of Donnie or Betsy. You'll still see them in there. We put that in the contract. I told Donnie, 'You'd still better come in here and eat breakfast every morning just like always,'" Kayla said. "Donnie gets to have his cake and eat it too now. He gets to do what he always did. Now, he just doesn't have to deal with the headaches."
So, I'm happy to wrap up the recent Chicken Chef drama with the assurance that Chicken Chef lives on. The restaurant is located at 1020 Smithville Hwy and can be reached at (931) 473-5020.
One cool (and hot) business
As the weather begins to get warmer, there aren't many feelings worse than switching your home heating and cooling system over to AC and finding out it doesn't work. Luckily, Hometown Heating & Air is just a call away.
Jason Haston has been working with heating and air for 24 years. "I started out on the beach at Gulf Shores as a roofer. I had a guy take me under his wing, a good Christian man, who told me 'I'm going to make a service man out of a roofer.' I laughed at him and said let's do it. He took me in and started teaching me. One thing led to another and I was in a service truck before I knew it. I stayed down there nine and a half years. I worked my way up from nothing to being a service manager then I came up here. I went to work at Bob's around 15 years ago. Then Roscoe Brown bought Bob's out. I became their service supervisor," Jason said.
Jason eventually decided he could offer customers more personalized service by being on his own so he broke away and launched Hometown Heating & Air about three years ago.
"It's been a blessing. I've gotten in with the electric company and started doing work with TVA. We just got on the Home Uplift program where we are approved by TVA," Jason said. Home Uplift is a program designed to assist limited-income customers whose residences are older and less energy efficient.
Jason stresses the importance of proper maintenance to get the longest life out of your HVAC unit. "During the spring and fall, I recommend people get their units checked and serviced. All of us heating and air guys are so busy during the summer and winter, it saves people from catching themselves in a pinch. If you can catch something minor before it turns into something catastrophic, it will save you a lot of problems and money. I suggest you get your unit checked at least once a year."
Hometown Heating & Air won the Southern Standard's Best of the Best heating and air conditioning competition in 2022 and Jason is hoping to repeat the feat this year. He is assisted by William Lallement and Michael Argo. Hometown Heating & Air can be reached at (931) 271-0989.
Until next time,
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If you have a business you'd like featured, please let me know at email@example.com or (931) 473-2191.