Tag Archive | "chicken"

Controversy calms for Harlem’s Obama Fried Chicken and Pizza restaurant


Obama Fried Chicken and Pizza in Harlem renamed its restaurant after President Obama after he was elected. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)


The bright red signs reading “Obama Fried Chicken & Pizza” still hang proudly atop the fried chicken store in Harlem, while inside, the new name is written on tape covering the original name,  “Kennedy Fried Chicken.”

For those not from the neighborhood, it’s still a sight to see, said Mamadou Diallo, manager of the store at 116 Street and Nicholas Avenue.

“Tourists driving by always stop to take pictures in front of the restaurant,” the 32-year-old said.

But after causing a stir last spring by renaming the fried chicken restaurant after the first black president, people in the neighborhood have gotten used to the new name and questions of cultural identity have faded away.

“Things are pretty quiet now,” Diallo said.

After President Obama was inaugurated, several New York City establishments renamed or began naming products to pay homage to him. In Brooklyn, a shop opened named Obama Beauty Supply; the Sixpoint Craft Ales brewery named a beer after Obama; and then came Obama Fried Chicken in Harlem and Brownsville.

The Harlem restaurant was tied into an uproar with community leaders in Brooklyn, including Councilman Charles Barron and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who held rallies protesting the name as being stereotypical and degrading toward African-Americans.

Harlem’s Obama Fried Chicken, which operates under a separate owner from the Brooklyn location on Rutland Road, took its signs down for about a month, said Diallo. Then other members of the community complained, he said. But after checking into possible legal issues with having the name, the signs went back up. The Brooklyn owner kept his signs up because they cost $5,000, according to a New York Times report. Diallo said his signs cost only $500.

“You’re never going to make everyone happy,” Diallo said.

Apparently, many who were offended by the signage at first have warmed up to it.

Stopping into the restaurant recently, Ebony Brown, 26,  said she thought the name was ridiculous at first.

Though the signage outside the restaurant have been updated, inside the old "Kennedy" in Kennedy Chicken is taped over. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

Though the signs outside the restaurant have been updated, inside the old “Kennedy” in Kennedy Fried Chicken is taped over. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

“Everyone was excited with Obama’s win, naming their kids after him and all sorts of stuff. But when I saw this, you know, naming a chicken spot after Obama just reinforces stereotypes of us black people,” said Brown, who lives in Harlem. “It’s passing by now, though.”

In a New York Daily News poll, readers were asked whether the shops should be allowed to use Obama’s name. A 68 percent majority selected the option: “Sure, it’s capitalism.” Others are indifferent. For Calvin Bowers, good food is good food, he said. Bowers works as a super across the street from Obama Fried Chicken and said he’s been going there “for five months straight, every day.”

Bowers said that as a black man, it doesn’t make a difference to him who it’s named after and what stereotypes people think it puts off.

“I am just trying to get something to eat,” he said. “You can’t beat it.”

Some African-American cultural sensitivities aren’t always as obvious to business owners from other parts of the world. Diallo, who emigrated from Guinea, Western Africa, in 2000, said the owner simply liked the new president because of his African heritage. As far as connecting fried chicken and a black president, Diallo said in his country many tribes are associated with different foods. His tribe, for example, is associated with eating lots of yam.

“If you go to a Hispanic area of town, you’re going to see a lot of tortillas, and that sort of thing,” Diallo said. “Well, then what’s the big deal?”

A lot of the criticism also came from people saying the restaurants were exploiting Obama’s name for profit. But Diallo said the Harlem business has stayed the same.

He also points to the many other products that took on the Obama name after he was elected, like Change Hot Sauce, which bears a drawing of Obama and was made as a limited product by Garden Row Foods in Illinois. The company sent the restaurant a sample, saying it could make more if the restaurant wanted to buy it.

"Change" hot sauce was send to Obama Fried Chicken and Pizza after they renamed. The company would not say whether they have sold the product or not. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

“Change” hot sauce was sent to Obama Fried Chicken & Pizza. The company would not say whether it has sold more of the product. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

A worker at that company, who would not give his name, said Garden Row makes lots of different hot sauces for different occasions and this was no exception. He would not disclose whether they had sold any of the Change hot sauces or not.

But even though Diallo said business is the same, it at least draws some new customers.

Amin Nuani, 32, came into Harlem’s Obama Fried Chicken after seeing the name.

“Wow, it was the first time we saw something with Obama’s name on it like that,” Nuani said. “I think something with his name on it will definitely draw people in, especially in Harlem. But why not, he is our president.”

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Chickens bring a country feel to city dwellers

Plymouth Rock chickens are dual-purpose fowls- they are valued for their meat and egg laying.

Plymouth Rock chickens are dual-purpose fowls- they are valued for their meat and egg laying. (Photo: Althea A. Fung)

Rose Unes raises two Rhode Island Red hens in her backyard.

Rose Unes raises two Rhode Island Red hens in her backyard. (Photo: Althea A. Fung)

Rose Unes' Rhode Island Red hens are American heritage birds raised for their eggs and meat.

Rose Unes' Rhode Island Red hens are American heritage birds raised for their eggs and meat. (Photo: Althea A. Fung)

Karen Oh and her husband built a coop for her six chickens with wood she found in dumpsters.

Karen Oh and her husband built a coop for her six chickens with wood she found in dumpsters. (Photo: Althea A. Fung)


It all started as a quest to find good chicken manure.

In 2000, Rose Unes, a farm girl from Minnesota, bought a house in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn. The two-story structure needed a lot of repairs when Unes moved in, especially the backyard that was entirely cemented. Unes removed the concrete, only to find five feet of glass in the soil. After hiring contractors to remove everything, she was left with a backyard of dead soil.

That’s when she decided she needed chicken manure to fertilize her yard. According to her, chickens have the best manure around. “There was nothing back there. I couldn’t find chicken manure on the East coast other than mailing away for it and the postage would be outrageous,” she said.

“So I thought I’d get my own chicken and get my own chicken manure.”

That was four years ago. Since then, Unes, 61, has doubled her chicken herd and joined a unique group of city dwellers raising hens in their backyards, though raising chickens isn’t for fair-weather farmers.  It takes a lot of time and money to get a sturdy coop, find food and protect the birds from predators.

But Unes has a lot of experience with chickens. Growing up, her parents would raise up to 500 chickens on the farm each year. She left the farm long ago to pursue a career in graphic design – working in production at ‘Newsweek’ for over 20 years– but felt her farming roots drawing her back.

“I’m a big gardener. I think chickens round out the picture,” she said.

Unes left ‘Newsweek’ last year and currently teaches part-time at Rider University in New Jersey. Considering herself semi-retired, she has a lot of time to tend to her two Rhode Island Red hens. She hasn’t named them; she sees them as livestock not pets.

And that seems to be a general feeling with multiple chicken owners.

“I can’t really tell them apart,” said Karen Oh, a fellow urban chicken grower.

Originally from Ohio, Oh has always wanted to raise chickens. When Oh and her husband, Chris Rado, moved to the Prospect-Lefferts Garden section of Brooklyn from Maine four years ago, she decided she wanted to live her dream of raising chickens.

“My husband grew up in Maine, he has bad memories of chores like collecting eggs. So he was like ‘I don’t want chickens, I don’t want chickens,’” she said. “But I think when we moved to the city, we wanted more to be in touch with the land.”

Oh, 37, considered getting a hedgehog or even a goat but they are illegal in New York City, unlike hens.

In March, Oh ordered six chickens online – three Plymouth Rock hens and three Rhode Island Reds.

Unlike Unes, Oh had no farm experience to rely on in raising chicks. So she turned to the Internet and books to teach her the ins-and-outs of raising chickens. On the Internet she was able to connect with Just Foods, a non-profit organization that gave her tips on raising the chicks and introducing the chickens to the neighbors.

Neither Oh nor Unes had any trouble when it came to the neighbors. Oh lives in a predominantly West Indian neighborhood. According to her, her neighbors didn’t have a problem with the chickens because in their native countries they had chickens.

Unes’ neighbors also welcomed her chickens. For both women, offering the chickens eggs seemed to help the situation.

Oh gets about six eggs a day from her hens, more than she and her husband can eat. Because Unes’ hens are still young they aren’t producing eggs yet, but she recalls when she had her first set of hens having too many eggs.

“I was giving away dozens of eggs,” said Unes. “I could have been charging a fortune.”

But Unes doesn’t see her chickens as a business. In fact, she says, she spends so much on maintaining her chickens she will never “recoup the cost.”

Because New York City isn’t known for chicken farming, very few stores – only two – sell chicken farming supplies.

Unes and Oh have found ways to defray the cost like building their own chicken coops. Oh and her husband “dumpster dived” for wood to build their coop. It encroaches on her neighbors yard. Unes built a completely enclosed “penitentiary” for her chicks that is insulated.

Both women have taken precautions to make sure their chickens don’t get out of their cages, but more importantly, so other things don’t get in.

“You have to be more careful of pests. I have friends in Oregon and their chickens run all over,” said Unes.

She continued: “There are hawks from the park. My other ones that I had four years ago, there was such a racket back here. They were going nuts, the other birds were going nuts. I was like ‘what’s going on?’ I came downstairs and it was dead silent, they were nowhere to be found. The birds were gone and I looked up and there was a big hawk in the fence.”

Oh has similar stories of hawks, so both women make sure they keep their chickens fenced in at all times. The chickens also face danger from below. Burrowing animals are among the dangers. Most frightening are raccoons and possums that would eat the chickens.

For the first six weeks, Oh kept her chicks inside her home to protect them from the cold and animals. Her brownstone, which is undergoing major renovations inside and out, appeared to have its own danger inside – six cats. Unes also has a cat that is intrigued by her chickens. But in the case of the cats, the chickens tend to be the predator pecking the cat when it comes around.

Pest are a major issue that is discussed among the city chicken groups online and in a class Unes teaches at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden called “Chickenomics: the Art of Raising Chickens.” Within the group people share ideas on how to trap raccoons and keep away hawks.

Bats, Unes said, are a pest  deterrent. She has been trying to capture some to help the chickens. So far, though, Read the full story

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