On Aug. 20, real estate agent Don Chin of Community Realty set tongues wagging and mouths watering when he posted on Facebook that escrow had just closed on a vacant lot on Broadway. "What's coming there in the future you might ask? Hint: It's finger lickin' good," he wrote. Once again, Kentucky Fried Chicken is coming to Eureka.
There was some genuine excitement over the prospect of the return of the Colonel and his oily southern charms — who among us hasn't chased the extra crispy dragon at one time or another? — and some curiosity about who would try to turn that grim patch of land into a restaurant.
That vacant lot was once the site of the infamous and profoundly unappetizing Blue Heron Motel, a squalid property owned by Floyd and Betty Squires, whose storied battles with tenants and the city of Eureka over neglect have been chronicled in this paper and others. Highlights include then Eureka Police Capt. Steve Watson's description of having roaches rain down on him in the motel, its burning in an act of arson in August of 2017 and the city of Eureka sending out a press release to local media repeating fairly scandalous unconfirmed allegations about Floyd Squires.
But a year later, its charred bones razed, the Blue Heron has left a highway-facing plot ripe for a drive-thru. Location, location, location.
Listing agent Tina Christensen, also of Coldwell Banker, said over the phone that, despite the property's "interesting condition," it isn't such a surprise that the place sold close to its asking price at $1 million without ever officially going on the market. Christensen said it was a score to find "frontage near the 101 corridor and [a chance to] get anything done in a reasonable amount of time." The opposite side of the street, she notes, is largely under Coastal Commission jurisdiction, leading to all kinds of potential environmentally related delays for developers.
"We drove up and down Eureka and he really wanted to be in the area down by the mall," said Chin of his scouting trip with buyer Todd Stewart, CEO of Argonaut Food Partners LLC and Argonaut California Ventures based in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Stewart eventually paid $1 million for the property and plans to build a Kentucky Fried Chicken there.
Eureka has been home to the chicken chain before, with a location at 823 Broadway and Washington Street and another at 1019 Myrtle Ave. — the same spot where Church's Chicken briefly stood — but they slipped away like flimsy crust off a drumstick.
According to KFC's franchise help website for prospective owners, slinging slaw for the Colonel is no light undertaking — it takes a lot of cabbage. You need $750,000 in liquid capital and a net worth of $1.5 million. The estimated start-up cost to make your Kentucky-fried dreams come true ranges from $1.2 million to $2.5 million, which makes the $45,000 franchise fee and monthly royalty and advertising fees — 5 percent of gross for each — look like a mere biscuit on the side of a 1.5 million-piece bucket.
The old image of the local mom-and-pop franchise is hard to square with the amount of capital it takes to get on board with the company. All the McDonalds joints in Humboldt are owned by a couple who live in the county, but the Burger Kings belong to Eureka Restaurant LLC, based in Dublin, California, and kin to a spread of other companies with the same owner. While Stewart was tied up in meetings and unable to talk with the Journal, his assistant was able to confirm Stewart Restaurant Group is the management group for his (and his partners' in some cases) 86 restaurants, KFCs, KFC/Taco Bells, KFC/A&Ws and one Long John Silver's among them.
As for jobs and other impacts on the local economy, it's unclear how many full or part-time staff will be needed for the new location. However, Indeed.com lists average wages for KFC employees in California as hovering around $10 per hour, with cashiers coming in at $9.62, shift managers at $10.42 and cooks at $9.22. For the most part, even locally owned fast-food operations don't buy local, instead trucking in their supplies from paper hats to patties from out-of-town — with the exception of Burger King, which uses Franz buns. KFC locations use the same supply method, shipping in everything from the fry oil to the napkins it ends up on.
While we may never get the Colonel's secret recipe, we can guess some fraction of the profits will likely end up with political candidates. According to OpenSecrets.com, which tracks political donations, Stewart regularly gives to the Kentucky Fried Chicken Franchisees Inc. PAC, with a total of $4,500 in donations from 2014 to 2018. The PAC has supported 90 percent Republican candidates, including Ted Cruz, Kevin McCarthy, Mimi Walters, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. The PAC's 2018 donations tally up to $190,000 and it's only September.
Still unconfirmed is whether the Eureka location will be solely a KFC or a Janus-like hybrid with, say, an A&W or one of the other chains owned by the Yum! Brands, Inc., (yes, the exclamation point is part of the name) on one side. Who knows? Maybe the third time's lucky and Stewart's outpost will stick. Location, location, location.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.