Remembering Pioneer Chicken

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The original Pioneer Chicken location in Echo Park closed recently after four or five decades in business, according to the Eastsider LA blog (via LA Observed). The fried chicken stand took its name from the Pioneer Market that originally stood next door.

There are said to be a few lingering Pioneer Chicken restaurants, including one in Silver Lake, but most were sold off to Popeyes in the 1980s after the chain slipped into bankruptcy, Eastsider says.

The above-pictured Popeyes on the corner of East Holt and San Antonio avenues in Pomona is a former Pioneer Chicken. Dig the floor to ceiling glass — very mod. (Photo shot from my car window Thursday after lunch at a better chicken stand, Donahoo’s.)

These images may bring back memories: a photo of a Pioneer stand and the chuckwagon logo.

Anyone want to share memories of Pioneer?

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  • Bob House

    Ate a lot of Pioneer Chicken in the late ’70s and early ’80s while working in Culver City — great chicken. PC also appears in the Warren Zevon song, “Carmelita.” It’s where he meets his heroin connection:

    And I’m all strung out on heroin
    On the outskirts of town
    Well, I pawned my Smith Corona
    And I went to meet my man
    He hangs out down on Alvarado Street
    By the Pioneer Chicken stand

    [I recently heard this song for the first time on a Zevon anthology purchased at the Virgin Megastore for half-off. In the notes, Zevon says nitpickers always tell him there wasn’t a Pioneer Chicken stand on Alvarado. — DA]

  • Bob House

    Right after posting my original comment I remembered that the actor, Hal Smith — Otis the Drunk on “The Andy Griffith Show” — played the “little chef” in PC TV commercials. The little chef can be seen riding on the chuckwagon on the PC signs/logo.

    [Oh, to have Otis the Drunk as your spokesman. — DA]

  • Steve Martinez

    Pioneer was the best chicken around. They did not cut their chicken up in to small pieces. You could get a whole breast piece in your bucket. The other places you have to hunt and never find a breast piece.

  • john clifford

    Does anyone remember who the spokesperson was during their heyday? None other than OJ Simpson.

    My stepbrother was in charge of Pioneer Chicken’s franchisee relations and OJ got something like 4 franchises as part of his promotion contract. I heard some stories about how cheap OJ could be when it came to the running of his stores.

    Interesting how spokespeople become entangled with the companies that they speak for. There was a period of time when Debbie Reynolds was spokesperson for Zodys (remember that place). Her tag line was “I do all my shopping at Zodys.” Of course the reason was that she had been married to Harry Karl of Karl’s shoes who owned the shoe department at Zodys and in her divorce settlement, as I understand it, she got a big hunk of Zodys stock. (hearsay alert: I could be “misremembering”)

  • JMac

    First Pioneer I remember was on Holt and San Antonio Ave. The current El Ranchero on Carnelian & 19th was also a Pioneer Chicken till around 1985.

    Not to hijack the theme, but in another six degrees of Hal Smith and eateries, he was the host of a mid ’60s local LA kids program, entitled “The Pancake Man.” Naturally the sole sponsor of the program was the fairly new IHOP chain. Hal would always close the show with a catchy little ditty. I believe it went something like this.

    “The Pancake man, the Pancake man, no more time for the Pancake man. Got to hurry, got to go, see you on our next show……at the International House of Pancakes.”

    Oh yeah, I liked Pioneer’s chicken.

  • Charles Bentley

    GREETINGS:
    Chicken was always a part of the menu in my family when I was growing up. Most times my mother fried it up herself. On other occasions, whether it was a quick take-home meal or a family gathering (potluck, church supper, picnic, scouting event, etc.), there was almost always a bucket of KFC to be found.

    For a period of time Pioneer Chicken took the place of the colonel’s offerings. My father thought it was better chicken and more consistent (neither undercooked or overcooked). He especially liked the idea you could get an entire order of chicken breasts, which led to far fewer arguments. I seem to remember they had a punch-card promotion where you qualified for a free family bucket following 10 bucket purchases.

    I believe there were two Pioneer stores that we frequented at that time. One was in a shopping center on the SW corner of Francis and Euclid in Ontario, and the other was in the Stater Brothers center on the SE corner of Palo Verde and Central in Montclair.

    In the end, I recall we stopped frequenting Pioneer for two reasons: The quality diminished and they opened a Donahoo’s Chicken on Euclid Ave. in Ontario (and later on Grove Ave. just north of Fourth Street).

    David, here’s a question for your readers: Does anyone still remember Little Bill’s Broasted Chicken? I recall the one on Fourth Street west of Grove Ave., adjacent to the old All States Frosty. Their broasted chicken and broasted potatoes were great!

    [I have the idea there was a Little Bill’s in Pomona too. Readers? — DA]

  • DAve

    Too scared to get out of the car? The price of working the P-town beat.

    [It needed to be shot from the middle of the street to get the full effect. Better out my window at a red light than standing in the crosswalk. — DA]

  • Fred Henderson

    Hi David:

    Speaking of broasted chicken — does anyone remember Chavin’s Broasted Chicken on Central Ave. across from the Montclair Plaza? The food was ok but their pies were very good. They disappeared in the ’70s or early ’80s. I still have a couple of their pie tins. Wonder if I can still get my deposit back?

    Fred Henderson
    Everett, WA

  • shirley wofford

    Chavins has been gone for a long, long time, and many other businesses have come and gone in that area. I never understood what broasted chicken was compared to regular roasted chicken.

    What is now the donut shop in the Stater Bros. strip mall on Central Ave. in Montclair was originally a Pioneer Chicken. My daughter worked there.

  • http://www.myspace.com/the_ron Ronald Scott

    Pioneer Chicken always included comic books with their kids meals. I believe that led to my love of comic books.

  • ray

    Little Bills was on South Garey in Pomona… cross street Olive or County Rd ???? Little Bill’s had killer POTATO WEDGES. PIONEER CHICKEN in San Dimas on Bonita…. later became TACO NAZO. Didn’t PIONEER offer GIZZARDS as an appettizer ??

  • marc c.

    i did not like pioneer chicken. my family usually got kfc, and when we tried pc…no thank you.

    it was that bright orange coating!

    crisp, yes, but weirdly devoid of texture with a taste as artificial as the color.

  • JR

    The best chicken I remember was after Dodger games my dad took us to a place by the stadium called Jim Dandy. It was pan fried chicken, we always got the whole leg and thigh. What happened to it, was it a franchise or just the one?

  • Bob House

    JR – there is still a Jim Dandy Fried Chicken at

    11328 S Vermont Ave.
    Los Angeles
    323-779-5567

  • Russel Fujii

    Pioneer had gizzards and livers as appetizers.The original stand had Pizza Pete’s too. Looking back, the pizza was terrible but we went anyway. I always liked Pioneer over KFC, Church’s and El Pollo Loco. I am glad they are not all gone.

  • SONYA ELLIS

    OMG! PIONEER CHICKEN WAS THE BOMB IN THE EARLY 80’S. DOES ANYONE REMEMBER THE PACKET OF PIONEER SAUCE? I CAN’T REMEMBER THE ORIGINAL NAME OF THE SAUCE. BUT IT WAS TO DIE FOR. MY ALL TIME FAVORITE PLACE WAS PUP N TACO.

  • Shavonda H.

    I thought Golden Bird was better than Pioneer. MMMM…all that grease running down my wrist as I ate my chicken. Even driving past it, the smell made me want their chicken. But now I’m old & have to eat healthy. 🙁

    BTW…there’s a Pioneer Chicken in the San Fernando Valley. It’s on Winnetka, just north of Saticoy. I always see their specials advertised when I drive by. “One million pieces of chicken for $2.99” or something like that. I think that’s a sign that it may or may NOT be real chicken!

    [“One million pieces of chicken for $2.99,” ha ha. If you’re not hungry, just get the half-million piece snack. — DA]

  • Linda Frost

    Having grown up on my mothers fried chicken, I never got into the Pioneer or KFC habit. She fried up a big batch once a week or so, along with country gravy for her creamy mashed potatoes. I can feel the cholesterol overload coating my carotid as I write.

    The only exception she made was Donahoos chicken when it was located on West Holt Blvd. next to the Melody Motel. For that matter, what year did A Street become Holt?

    My mother liked the lady who ran Donahoos. I didnt know about the Pomona location and the big chicken until I was in college. When I cooked for my own family, baking and broiling won out over all the flour and fat. I never learned to make gravy, so mashed potatoes were relegated to Thanksgiving and Christmas when an aunt would take on the gravy task. People who didnt cook would bring KFC to potlucks. Come to think of it, they still do.

    With regard to the Chavins, I went to high school with the Chavin girls — twins — and ran into them years later when our children went to First Presbyterian Nursery School in Upland. Their family had land on Central Ave. in Montclair and owned Holiday Liquor Store. I never tried their pies; Mom baked great pies, too. Alas, I never learned to make piecrust, either. Thanks to Some Crust for performing this task quite well. I choose my battles.

    On another note, my older brother introduced our family to root beer freezes at the All States Frosty Freeze, a pioneer post-war emporium of soft serve ice cream — five cents a cone, vanilla or chocolate. It was few doors from Guidas Market, another post-war, pre-supermarket neighborhood mainstay, where everyone had a charge account and paid their bills once a month. Oh, and they had candy cigarettes and tiny wax coke bottles filled with flavored sugar water.

  • stephanie

    Omg, I remember the pioneer chicken that used to be on lower azusa rd in el monte when I was in grade school. The fried chicken gizzards were the best! Surprisingly even after that building changed to other resturants they actually kept 3 of the original pink and white chairs with the pioneer chicken engraving on the back of them.

  • BRETT SHEPHERD

    hey this is my old stomping grounds…pioneer chicken..7-11 across the street and hughes market was also across the street. Whats funny is Donahoos was the king back in the day, but somehow I always found myself at Pioneer chicken. Loved that place.

  • Jim

    I remember going to the one on Holt/San Antonio Ave. very vividly as a kid growing up. My grandparents lived in Pomona and my grandfather and dad were both retired cops from Pomona PD.

  • jk2001

    There’s one over on Whittier and Soto in Boyle Heights, and another on Garfield in Bell Gardens. (As of 2015.)

  • Johnny Diner