The remnants of Oklahoma’s lost fried chicken empire can be seen on the walls of the last surviving Beverly’s restaurant in a strip mall on Northwest Expressway.
Chicken in the Rough, a dish invented by the late Oklahoma City restauranteur Beverly Osborne and wife Rubye in 1936, once had a reach that rivaled KFC. In 1950, the Osbornes were featured in Time magazine and the Chicken in the Rough brand was grossing nearly $2 million a year. The dish, composed of half a fried chicken, shoestring potatoes and a biscuit with honey, was sold at about 250 franchise outlets as far away as Johannesburg, South Africa. By 1950, licensed sellers of Chicken in the Rough had sold about 335 million orders of the dish.
“He was a marketing genius,” Micheal Rodriguez, Beverly’s general manager, said of Beverly Osborne. “When you ordered Chicken in the Rough, everything from to-go boxes to the napkins had the Chicken in the Rough logo on it.”
The logo, a cigar-smoking rooster brandishing a broken golf club, surrounds customers at Beverly’s Pancake House at 3315 Northwest Expressway. Everything from branded matchbooks to cups and china have been framed, and line the walls of the pancake house. The chicken dish is also one of the most popular items at the pancake house.
The restaurant moved to its current location after the building it had inhabited at Northwest Expressway and Pennsylvania since 1956 was sold and demolished in 2008 to make way for a new Talbot’s store.
“Customers were taking bricks and pieces of concrete from the building because it was just so full of memories,” said current Beverly’s owner Renee Masoudy, who purchased Beverly’s in 1988. “I was sitting in my car crying when they tore it down.”
Masoudy managed to save the top of the old neon sign from the building — a seven-foot-tall yellow disk emblazoned with the Chicken in the Rough logo. It now is in the front window of the restaurant — the rest of the sign was too rusted to save, she said.
The restaurant still attracts customers who have been coming to Beverly’s since their youth, including Duncan residents Wes and Shirley Hamilton, who eat at Beverly’s whenever they visit Oklahoma City.
“We come not just for old times’ sake, but because the food is good,” said 85-year-old Wes Hamilton, who first dined at Beverly’s when he was a teen.
According to the chain’s lore, Beverly and Rubye Osborne’s savings had been wiped out by the Great Depression and the couple were driving across the Oklahoma prairie in 1936 on their way to California when Chicken in the Rough was born. The Osbornes hit a bump in the road, which upset a picnic basket of fried chicken the couple had packed with them. Picking up the chicken, Rubye Osborne exclaimed, “this is really chicken in the rough.”
With that offhand remark, the Osbornes turned the car around and opened their first Beverly’s restaurant in Oklahoma City, after selling Rubye’s wedding ring. At one time, Oklahoma City was home to as many as eight Beverly’s restaurants. Bob Hope and Gene Autry were friends of the Osbornes, and customers at one time. A framed, undated black and white photograph on one of the walls at the restaurant shows Bob Hope celebrating his birthday with a cake at Beverly’s.
“When you came to eat dinner at Beverly’s, it was a special occasion,” said Jim Barnett, who worked as a night manager for Beverly’s restaurants in his 20s during the 1960s, and who still eats at the restaurant about once a week.
The rights to the Chicken in the Rough brand are today owned by the Carroll family of Tinley Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.
Ray Carroll, son Jack Carroll and Jack’s wife, Marian, purchased the rights to the Chicken in the Rough name in the 1970s when Beverly Osborne was in his 80s.
In 1984, Osborne died when a dump truck that was aiding in construction work at his home backed over him.
The brand’s reach has dwindled over the decades, but is still served by two restaurants outside of Oklahoma — at Palms Krystal Bar & Grill in Port Huron, Mich., and just across the U.S.-Canadian border from Port Huron, McCarthy’s Bar & Grill in Sarnia, Ontario.
Jack Carroll speaks with a Chicago accent, but says his heart has always been in Oklahoma City. Beverly Osborne gave Carroll a job as a dishwasher at the restaurant’s downtown location when he came to Oklahoma City in 1956.
Skillet is panned
Jack Carroll’s father, Raymond Carroll, traveled the country as a salesman for nearly 20 years up until his death in 1956 as sales rep for the Chicken in the Rough brand. He sold the rights to sell Chicken in the Rough, the secret recipe and preparation method for the chicken, as well as a patented skillet for cooking the chicken, to restaurants across the country.
The chain’s reach dwindled in the 1970s when the Carrolls couldn’t get the patented skillet used to prepare Chicken in the Rough to be certified by the National Sanitation Foundation, which is considered the standard for many commercial kitchen appliances. Restaurants stopped serving Chicken in the Rough after the foundation put out alerts to local health departments about the skillet.
“Restaurants just stopped serving it — it really gutted us,” Jack Carroll said.
Jack Carroll believes he can revive the brand, which now is prepared in a deep fryer. Licensees pay for a special breading and the preparation method for the dish, as well as the rights to use the Chicken in the Rough name and logo. The Carrolls earn a percentage of each Chicken in the Rough sale.
“It’s a good system for those who recognize the value of being different — we’re bringing it back and not going to rest until we get it going again,” he said.
CORRECTION: This story originally noted that Will Rogers was believed to have been a customer at Beverly's restaurant. The first Beverly's restaurant opened in downtown Oklahoma City in 1921. However, Beverly and Rubye Osborne did not develop the dish Chicken in the Rough until 1936. Rogers died in 1935. (This story has been corrected.)
This story is part of a series on Oklahoma’s forgotten retail chains.