Golden Fried Chicken Loaf

Golden Fried Chicken Loaf is locked in the memories of those who frequented the restaurant in the 1950s and 1960s. The perfectly spiced fried chicken, the dumpling soup, the pies. All that remains is an empty lot . . . and the memories.

Golden Fried Chicken Loaf was established in 1933 by Mina Bratton. Bratton, whose maiden name was Wolf and who would later remarry and change her name to Evans, immigrated to the United States from Germany at a young age. She was a stenographer, worrying about seasonal unemployment, when she decided to fry chicken for a living.

Bratton made no claim to having originated the fried chicken loaf; a friend told her of one he had eaten in Chicago. Fried chicken was something Bratton knew all about. Her widowed mother had taught her daughters to prepare the evening meal. Little Mina liked to cook. There was a family joke she used to climb back up into her highchair to eat the food she had prepared. Her friend's story of the fried chicken loaf intrigued her, so she made a trip to Chicago to see and taste for herself.

Mina Bratton Bratton's Battery Raised Broilers
St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 12, 1936

With $800 and nothing else but enthusiasm and energy, Bratton opened her first fried chicken loaf restaurant at 748 Hamilton in June of 1933. She told a St. Louis Globe-Democrat reporter in a 1936 interview, "I put all of my $800 directly into advertising, transferred my telephone to my new address and without spending another cent except $25 for some additional pots and pans to add to my kitchen equipment, I opened for business. It was a one-woman enterprise, as I started out doing all the work of killing, dressing and frying the chickens with only the help of a boy who delivered the orders. The first week I sold 28 fried chicken loaves, and I was delighted."

Bratton's "fried chicken loaf" was a chicken weighing exactly two pounds, cut in exactly 14 pieces, fried exactly seven minutes in deep vegetable oil at exactly 375 degrees and then packed between the halves of a special French loaf of bread, toasted exactly so many minutes. Wrapped and boxed, it was rushed to the customer piping hot.

Bratton quickly outgrew her Hamilton location and moved her thriving chicken business to a larger space at 5631 Delmar on September 2, 1933. But she soon learned that frying chickens and selling them was only one phase of her business.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 1, 1933

In her 1936 Globe-Democrat interview she explained, "Getting the right size and kind of chickens was more of a problem than getting rid of them. My advertising brought me customers, but I had to get out and hustle to find the chickens I wanted. They had to be young and tender and weigh a full two pounds, and not over two and a quarter pounds, and they had to be bought at a price that would allow me to resell them for a dollar. And chickens just donít grow like that the year round, I discovered. Part of the year I could not get them the right size, and part of the time not at the right prices to retail them at the flat price I had to sell them for. I made up my mind that although I knew no more about raising chickens than I did canary birds, Iíd have to learn to raise my own poultry so I could schedule its production to suit my particular purpose."

In driving around the country searching for chickens, Bratton had become acquainted with most of the commercial chicken farms, and she had seen the advantages of the battery method of producing poultry. Grown like hothouse plants under the most sanitary conditions and with scientific feeding, a chicken could be made ready for the frying pan in from eight to ten weeks without its feet ever having touched the ground.

Bratton opened her own battery chicken raising plant at 3512 Brown road in St. Louis County. It was a long, two story barn-like structure erected in the rear of her home. It had a capacity of 15,000 chickens and it was kept running night and day to keep her frying pans full at the Delmar address.

The demand for Mina Bratton's battery raised chicken continue to grow. She moved Golden Fried Chicken Loaf yet again in early 1935 to a still larger space at 5867 Delmar; this would be the restaurant's longtime home and Bratton's final move.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 15, 1935 Mina Evans and son Omar, Jr., 1942-1943

Initially, Bratton offered only delivery service for her fried chicken, but she soon added restaurant and pick-up service. An expanded menu included her famous dumpling soup. The deep yellow chicken broth contained free-form dumplings, pieces of which would flake off, thickening the broth. The spicy soup was addicting. Bratton eventually did away with delivery service; her customers were more than willing to come to her.

On Sundays, streams of customers would enter the restaurant through the back door off the parking lot and line up in a crowded hallway to pick up their orders. They'd inch up to a low counter, underneath which were shelves filled with Golden Fried Chicken Loaf's famous pies. The chicken was packed in big white cardboard boxes, with hinged tops. The dumpling soup traveled home in gallon glass jars with large diameter screw caps.

Early Golden Fried Chicken Loaf Menu
(click image to enlarge)

Charles Dohogne worked at Golden Fried Chicken Loaf in the early 1950s, while in high school. He had vivid memories of the restaurant and its owner.

I worked there in high school, 12 hour days on weekends, long nights after school. I was the dish washer/potato peeler/slaw maker etc, etc. Laws against that these days. Slave labor in a concentration camp worked less, but I ate much better!

The owner/boss/slave driver was a middle aged Jewish lady. Iím sure she had a conversational voice, but none of us ever heard it, more something between a scream and an imperative bellow. The kitchen was not kosher, but many of the rules were in place, mostly cleanliness. She would have made a health inspector take a shower before he could come into her kitchen. She checked my dish washing machine at least ten times a day, and that rinse had better be set just at boiling. Or I caught hell. The least trace of lipstick on a cup was a capitol offense! Every piece of china had to be hand scraped, hard spray rinsed and put into the machine. The china was heavy enough to dry almost at once, but you NEVER stacked it with any water. Everything was fresh, nothing was ever frozen, and most things were cooked and served at once. The menu was very limited, fried chicken, period. French fries and cold slaw for sides. You could order a shrimp salad to start, and pie with ice cream or Jell-O with fruit for desert. When you sat down, someone was there to take your order. Within five minutes at most, you had piping hot food. No heat lamps, it had just come out of the grease.

To start at the end of the meal and work back, those pies were works of art. A very nice middle aged, grandmotherly lady, about five feet, two inches and one hundred and seventy pounds, had her own separate kitchen with mixers, ovens and rolling tables. Everything from scratch, she was a whirlwind in there. If I had a stack of pie tins, I could tiptoe in, stack them neatly and get out quickly, nothing else. On a normal weekend day, she would make two hundred pies, mostly cherry, apple and my favorite, pecan. On a big holiday, she might make five hundred. They were served hot from the oven, usually with a huge scoop of French vanilla on top. Heaven should be so good!

The chickens were big and plump and flavorful. The restaurant grew and dressed all their own chickens; they even owned a feed store to make sure of the best grain feed. These were no relations of the scrawny little game hens KFC sells now, always killed one day, served the next, and properly bled out so you never got that bite of red when you bit into one. They were delivered cut up, six chickens to a deep pan, about all you wanted to lift at one time. Every piece was hand dipped in dry crunchies with all the spices and herbs, dipped in liquid batter, then into another pan of crunchies. They were placed at once into the deep-fat fryer, using peanut oil. No one was allergic to peanuts then, it seems. To-go orders started with a big loaf of French bread, sliced the long way and pre-buttered. This was toasted while the chicken was cooking and the pieces for a whole chicken stacked on the lower half and closed with the upper slice, to stay warm while you drove home.

The coleslaw list started out with three hundred pounds of cabbage, shredded with onions and radishes. The dressing was wine vinegar with one hundred Saccharin tablets dissolved in it and mixed with virgin olive oil. That and the Jell-O were the only things made up in advance. The potatoes were peeled, sliced and boiled so they were fully cooked in preparation for frying in the peanut oil. And they were FRIED! Every one had to be crisp, not half cooked as we see today. They were more like potato chips, no catsup needed to hide behind.

Thatís it. No chops, no fish, just the best chicken you can make and fast, friendly service. I have painted the boss as an ogre, and she was, but things got done HER way. I worked twelve hour shifts on the weekends. She was there when I started and there when I left, so she was as hard on herself as anyone else, and we did have a lot of very happy, repeat costumers.

Golden Fried Chicken Loaf thrived throughout the 1950s and 1960s. It attracted the attention of Ben Fixman and a group of investors, who purchased the restaurant from Mina Evans in 1969.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 26, 1969

The new group closed the Delmar restaurant and opened "smaller fast-food carry-out units" at 9773 Olive (at Warson) and 12953 Olive. However, the new endeavor was destined to fail. Mina Evans may have been a vice president, but she was no longer the driving force behind the business. Her son Omar Gerald Evans, Jr. tried unsuccessfully to resurrect the Olive & Warson location in early 1982. Golden Fried Chicken Loaf was dissolved forever on November 1, 1983.

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