Nov. 3, 2021
The Story of San Francisco's Legendary Krispy Krunchy Gas Station Fried Chicken
San Francisco, Nov. 3, 2021/Stuart Schuffman, SFGate/ -- “Gas Station Chicken! Gas Station Chicken!”
That’s what my friends and I chanted as we left a backyard Mission District day party to make an important stop before heading to the next bash. We planned on bringing a very special treat: “Gas Station Chicken! Gas Station Chicken!”
It’s hard to believe that some of the best fried chicken in San Francisco is inside a spot called “Gas & Shop” at 17th St. and South Van Ness. It’s the kind of place where the cashier makes you leave your debit card when you fill up your car because they don’t trust you not to use a stolen one.
I’d been mildly obsessed with “Gas Station Chicken” for a couple years, occasionally popping in when I was walking by or after a few drinks. Entering the place, it’s impossible not to smell the delicious goodness emanating from the left side of the counter where the food sits under heat lamps. I actually had no idea it was a chain, and didn’t really even care to call it by its real name, until one day when I saw another location on a dodgy stretch of Eddy Street in the Tenderloin.
“What the…?” I said to myself and then texted my wife a photo with the message, “There’s another Gas Station Chicken and it’s not even in a gas station!!” And it was then that I realized I needed to learn more about Krispy Krunchy Chicken.
It ends up that what I thought was just a single phenomenal fried chicken joint inside a gas station in the Mission is actually part of a chain of over 2,600 locations spread across 47 U.S. states, American Samoa, Malaysia and Mexico. They are almost exclusively in liquor stores, gas stations and convenience marts. Which explains why in recent years I’ve seen one inside the corner store by the Lake Merritt BART station, as well as one in a gas station in the hinterland near the border of California and Oregon. At that last one, I got to turn my folks onto the glory of Gas Station Chicken during a road trip this summer. They too are now believers.
So how is it that one of the country’s best fried chicken chains is always surrounded by bottles of Boone’s Farm and racks of Slim Jims? It’s pretty interesting and kinda brilliant.
Krispy Krunchy Chicken founder Neal Onebane had spent 18 years in the convenience store business when he realized that customers didn’t really have a lot of options for fresh, delicious food. So in 1989 he created the KKC brand when he started frying up chicken in one of his Lafayette, Louisiana stores. Within six years, KKC was in 50 locations because Onebane had hit upon something special; not only were customers lacking good food choices, convenience store owners were looking for ways to make more money without having to take on the overhead of renting another location.
The next 2,599 locations are proof that he was obviously on to something. Onebane and KKC Executive Vice President Dan Shapiro were even once named Louisianans of the Year.
What makes the chicken so good though? I knew you were gonna ask that. Onebane and Shapiro claim it’s because they inject the marinade into both the chicken and the breading so the bird tastes good throughout, instead of on just the crispy fried part. I’m more of an eater than a cooker so I’ll take their word on that, but holy hell it’s delectable.
The outside has the perfect level of crunchiness while the inside stays juicy, soft and flavorful. It has more character than KFC and less spiciness than Popeye’s ...even though I do love me some Popeye’s. That said, the sides at the other chains are probably better, and I do not recommend getting the fried shrimp at KKC. Besides the alarming concept of getting shrimp at a gas station, it also isn’t nearly as good as the chicken. I’ve yet to try their entry into the great chicken sandwich war though, so I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of tricks old KKC still has up their sleeve.
After marching down 17th St. chanting “Gas Station Chicken! Gas Station Chicken!” we finally reached our hallowed destination: Gas & Shop. Of course, we wanted to grab some beer and White Claws for the next party, but most importantly we needed to grab a bucket of Krispy Krunchy Chicken. So, we loaded up $25 worth of delicious fried goodness (which is a lot of KKC) and marched on to the next party. When we arrived, we were greeted by someone yelling, “You brought Gas Station Chicken?!?”