If you’re native to Seattle, “Ezell’s Famous Chicken” has been ringing the bell of your taste buds for the past 30 years.
Since first opening on February 3, 1984 in the Central District, the restaurant has been praised for its Southern homestyle cuisine, and has become a major staple in Seattle’s culinary culture. Over the years they’ve built their business, expanding to locations in Spokane, Edmonds, Redmond, and now… the Middle East?
That’s right. In June, an Ezell’s franchise opened in Sharjah, an emirate right next to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Back in 2013 the Puget Sound Business Journal reported that founder Lewis Rudd was selling franchise rights to Ezell’s Famous Chicken for $400,000 to $600,000, with hopes of turning the hit restaurant into a global franchise. He had the guidance of his new business partner Dennis Waldron, who’d already helped take Cinnabon from a small Seattle shop to over 400 franchise locations — including one in the Dubai airport.
The Ezell’s franchise opportunity got the attention of Rashid Mohamed, a Somali businessman familiar with running restaurants in Africa and the Middle East,
Mohamed had attended the University of Washington in the early years of Ezell’s and was already “hooked on that chicken.” He seized the chance to open Ezell’s first international branch in the Gulf States. In June of this year Rudd, his brother Darnell and other members of an Ezell’s training team travelled to Dubai to help launch the new location.
So can a beloved Seattle staple catch on halfway around the globe? Well it turns out fried chicken may be the great equalizer when it comes to fast food.
On my last trip to Iran, fried chicken and chicken tenders were the most sought after food items for my friends and cousins, who simply referred to it as “Kentucky.” There are suddenly fried chicken restaurants throughout Tehran, operating under different local names since Westernized businesses and franchises are prohibited in Iran.
It was definitely a surprise to me, since it was so far off from traditional Iranian cuisine. But fried chicken has been popular elsewhere in the Middle East for a long time — there’s even a KFC right in front of the Great Sphinx in Egypt.
Dubai is no stranger to fried chicken either. They already have other major chains like KFC (you can even order online!), Popeye’s famous style Louisiana fried chicken, and the notorious Church’s chicken.
But most Seattleites would tell you that the homestyle fried chicken of Ezell’s has a taste that none of those other chains can compete with.
The new Ezell’s location already appears to have outpaced the competition in the Gulf as well. Local reviewers are calling it “the best fried chicken place in UAE,” and declaring, “after trying Ezell’s I can’t eat KFC anymore.”