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Lewis Rudd’s Chicken Restaurant Is On The Fast Track To Success With 17 Locations After Winning Oprah Winfrey’s Heart In 1989

Rudd is the owner of Ezell’s Famous Chicken, a Seattle, WA, restaurant chain he co-founded in 1984 alongside his sister, Faye Rudd, and a high school friend Ezell Stephens, according to Oregon Live. Stephens is no longer associated with the company after severing ties over a decade ago.

The idea to start the business was inspired by a Louisiana-style fried chicken restaurant located in Texas where they grew up, and the founders have made it their own by serving chicken in original or spicy and frying with pure vegetable oil, paired with fresh baked rolls. Additionally, they offer optional sides such as mashed potatoes and gravy, heritage mac and cheese, BBQ beans, and kernel corn, the company website lists.

In 1989, Ezell’s Famous Chicken caught the attention of Winfrey, who received a lead on the restaurant while she was in Seattle.

“She was doing a production at King 5 and she asked someone where she could get some good food, and specifically some good fried chicken. They said Ezell’s, of course,” Rudd explained to Oregon Live.

The only problem is Ezell’s Famous Chicken was not open for delivery as Winfrey called in on a Saturday. However, after Rudd heard the order was for the Queen of Daytime TV, he knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime.

“[Our employee] heard a voice: ‘This is Oprah Winfrey, and I want some of that chicken, and I want it now,’” Rudd recalled. “He said, ‘Well, how do I know this is you?’ And she said, ‘Bring some of that chicken down and you’ll see.’”

Winfrey loved the food so much she ordered another round on Sunday and the restaurant hosted her 36th birthday in Chicago, IL, in 1990. The exposure greatly benefited the restaurant.

“We had people literally driving from Longview, Washington to get chicken,” Rudd detailed to the outlet. “We couldn’t keep up with the demand.”

The success of the restaurant over its 39-year tenure is reflected in its growth since inception. According to the Restaurant Leadership Conference website, Ezell’s Famous Chicken can be found in 17 locations, has more than 325 employees, and has landed national recognition.



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