Chicken & Catering
"When you come back to have it again it will taste exactly the same. Consistency is what we’ve been doing for 35 years.”
Cooking skills often are handed down from mothers to children, a way of teaching kitchen survival skills and of passing culinary history from one generation to the next. Johnny Pollard, owner of Pollard’s Chicken & Catering in Virginia Beach, Va., parlayed those delicious mother-to son-lessons into something more, a vibrant family business that has grown and thrived in the many years since.
“Practically all of our recipes are the exact same ones she taught me to make, the ones that she used for catering, starting way back in the early 1950s,” says Johnny Pollard, adding that her fried chicken, deemed by many loyal devotees as the very best in town, has always been the menu’s centerpiece and best seller.
The catering business she launched in the family’s home kitchen as a way to bring in extra cash has morphed and expanded to eight units of Pollard’s Chicken, the first of which opened in Norfolk in 1967. “My brother and I were looking to start our own business and actually considered a service station. As a practical measure, my mother suggested a food business so she could have a commercial kitchen, a place to run her catering,” Pollard says. With seed money from their father, they made it happen.
Then it was known as Pollard’s Chicken Ranch, the Chicken Ranch part a holdover from the restaurant they bought. Because the catering component was so strong, they soon agreed that Pollard’s Chicken & Catering summed it up best.
“We were just a small business then. We used our personal cars to deliver catering orders and just had a small chicken fryer, not really big enough,” Pollard recalls. Not long after, he was newly married and on a road trip in New York. He and his wife saw a deep fryer they thought could help them keep up with demand. “It really helped change the business, allowed us to grow,” Pollard recalls.
Equipment may have expanded output but other fundamentals remain solidly in place.
“We’ve never had a holding box for fried chicken. We always cook it fresh just before serving. We buy it fresh, too, killed one day and here the next. Our tenders are not a composite; they’re a natural part of the chicken breast, nice and meaty. We season and marinate all the chicken overnight for flavor that goes all the way through,” he explains. Several years ago, Pollard says that the cooking oil formulation was changed to a zero trans-fat blend, a rare change in the chicken’s original formula. “It took us a year to find the right one, but we’re pleased with it and it’s healthier.”
Pollard says that he is a stickler for consistency — of product and of the guest experience. “We’ve always strived for the highest grade products and served them well within a strong, friendly and welcoming system. That has worked for us, even during downturns in the economy. We built the business on word of mouth and that has served us well. We support the community and it supports us.”