Barberton Fried Chicken: The Pride of Ohio. "OH Really?"
Restaurants have been welcoming in-person diners back, but at least one Summit County establishment has decided, after 71 years, to become carryout-only.
Whitehouse Chicken rocked the Barberton fried chicken world with its recent decision to close the dining room and provide food for carryout only, which has accounted for 90 percent of its business during the coronavirus pandemic. The Barberton delicacy has long been known as an area favorite, and listener Ted Smith from LaGrange submitted a question about it to “OH Really?”
“I was wondering about the origin story of Barberton Chicken and what makes it unique," Smith wrote. "I was introduced to it by my wife. Her family had a tradition. She's also from Lorain County, and she went to college at Malone in Canton. When the family would take her to or from Malone College, they would always stop to get chicken.”
Whitehouse is one of several Barberton fried chicken restaurants in the area. It’s owned by the same family that owns Hopocan Gardens in Norton. General Manager Anita Davis says the origins lie in Serbians who emigrated to Northeast Ohio.
“It's a simple recipe; it's just bread crumbs, flour, salt and egg," Davis said. "A lot of places do the pressure-cooking, but we do the deep frying in lard. And I think that's what makes the difference with the taste. You've gotta have the hot rice with the chicken; it's just rice, tomato, red pepper, celery [and] onion.
Davis says Hopocan’s dining room will stay open. But plenty of restaurants have found, during the past 18 months, that they can survive with just carryout and delivery, without the extra expense of a waitstaff. John Barker, head of the Ohio Restaurant Association, says there’s now a shortage of workers.
“With our restaurants and hotels closed for so long, a lot of people who needed to work went off and found other jobs. Whether they became a delivery person for somebody else or worked at Target or got a job at some distribution facility, a lot of people moved out of the industry,” Barker said.
He estimates that of Ohio’s 585,000 hospitality jobs, about 130,000 are unfilled right now.
Ronald Koltnow's 2018 book tells the story of Barberton fried chicken and the many restaurants where it's served.
“OH Really?” is WKSU’s podcast which makes you part of the reporting process. Ask your question here: