LEWIS PLACE – After being closed for nearly a year for remodeling, Arkansas Fried Chicken restaurant has crossed the road to become a grill – and bar.
Why did the “Home of the Three-Legged Chicken,” 4656 Dr. Martin Luther King Dr., step over to the night life scene?
“It was time for change,” said Niasha Denise West, 37, who will celebrate her birthday there with live entertainment this Friday, Jan. 31. West is the granddaughter of the original owner.
The grand reopening of Arkansas Fried Chicken Grill and Bar is set to kick off at 11 a.m. on Feb. 2, Super Bowl Sunday.
“I miss the food … can’t wait to see the remodeling and have a drink there,” said Raymond Watson, a longtime regular.
He remembers going there to buy chicken and burgers from the first owner, West’s grandfather, Edward Simms, who passed away in 2008.
An Arkansas native, he was a pastor and Army veteran whom people called “The General.”
He and his wife, Dorothy, a nurse by profession, first opened Arkansas Fried Chicken about 1997, transforming an old auto repair garage into a takeout restaurant.
That was about 20 years after the couple owned a convenience store called Ed and Dot’s Confectionery just around the corner at 2601 Marcus Ave. Half of the store’s building was used as a church, where Simms preached on Sundays.
Working beside them during summers was then-8-year-old West, counting penny candy.
About 1993, Granddad decided to sell deli sandwiches, tripe and hamburgers at the confectionery.
With the new items selling like hotcakes, the couple decided to move to the current location. They added the fried chicken, making the store the “Home of the Three Legged Chicken.”
Over the years, people have wondered about the meaning behind this “three legged chicken.” It was a mystery to Watson, among many customers.
West knew pieces of the answer. She knew, at least, that the name was her granddad’s way of getting people’s attention with a joke that many people in Arkansas would tell.
Google, of course, has the joke in its entirety.
The joke involves a farmer who is part of a three-member family who all like to eat the leg of the chicken. The farmer resolves to breed a three-legged chicken, so they all can have a leg. He succeeds, but when asked how the chicken tastes, he admits he doesn’t know because the extra-legged chicken can run so fast!
West may not have remembered the whole joke, but she’s completely knowledgeable about running the business, which won an award under her leadership in 2011. She has worked there every day since age 18. And she’s been heading it primarily since 2010, with her grandmother, whose health as of 2018 has kept her from the business.
It was then that West fed her own need to do something different, but it left her emotions mixed.
“I’m anxious, exited and nervous, because this is something totally different now, and I don’t have my grandparents to run up behind,” West explained. “This is all new to me, and if it doesn’t work, it’s all my fault.”
West has survived colon cancer, teen and single motherhood and, subsequently, missing out on college. What is already working for West, an entertainer at heart, is controlling her destiny, making the decisions and being her own boss.
“I love to host parties; I get to entertain and do all of the stuff I love to do in my own place,” said West, who acknowledges that her grandparents didn’t want her to do a bar.
The new venture, however, is her way of keeping their legacy alive and the business growing and thriving.
Though the menu is largely the same, she has taken away some items and added others. There are more flavors of wings on the menu, and she has added veggie and turkey options. And, of course, spirited beverages.
Also on tap are six big-screen TVs.
“It will be cool to watch a game there,” said Watson, an avid sports fan, whose favorite dish there is the cheeseburger.
West also gives back. Along with her close friends, they started the BillionHeiress Girls Club.
Earlier this year, they gave an unsuspecting single mother a brand-new car. They also show up at gas stations and laundromats and surprise customers by paying for their gas and washing fees, respectively.
As a girl, West attended school in the Parkway district in St. Louis County, but she wanted to go to high school in the city. One of the factors in that decision was her interest in performing in the annual Annie Malone May Day Parade. She got her wish, and is a graduate of Soldan High School.
She’s also a true sports mom, with two offspring, Michael and M’Kenzie-Skye, who keep her on the road a lot – running like a three-legged chicken.