Healthy chicken was the concept for a restaurant bearing the name of founder Kenny Rogers, who launched the chain in 1991 with former Kentucky governor John Y. Brown. Both men had the experience to make the Kenny Rogers Roasters successful. Brown was an early investor in Kentucky Fried Chicken who had led the company as its CEO. Rogers was a spokesperson for Dole Food Company.

The first restaurant was opened in Coral Springs, Florida, touting the wood-fired rotisserie chicken that was to become a competitor to the usual fried chicken fast food offerings with the slogan “less fat…less salt…less calories.”

Within the first three years the menu expanded to include turkey, ribs and various side dishes growing to more than 350 restaurants with locations in Canada, the Middle East, Asia and throughout the U.S.

The restaurant soon found itself competing with other eateries offering roasted chicken. KFC introduced its own version, and Boston Market had a similar mainstay roasted chicken served in a deli atmosphere. When a small chain called Cluckers sued Kenny Rogers Roasters claiming it had copied its recipes and menus, Roasters bought majority ownership of the company.

By 1996 worldwide sales topped $300 million from 425 locations. It won the American’s Choice Award
three years in a row – 1996, 1997 and 1998 _ for the Best Chicken Chain by Restaurants and Institutions Magazine.

While at its peak, Kenny Rogers Roasters became forever embedded into popular culture when a 1996 episode of the wildly popular TV show Seinfeld centered around the opening of a Roasters location. The character Kramer was vehemently opposed to the restaurant because its neon sign could be seen day and night from his apartment. Finally, he tries it and cannot stop eating it.

However, Roasters success was short-lived. It filed bankruptcy in 1998 and was bought by Nathan’s Famous Inc. for $1.25 million the next year. By 2000 only 90 locations were left, and only 40 of those were in the U.S. Through a series of sales over the next few years the chain became a primarily Asian restaurant, closing down all its locations in the United States.

The menu includes Caesar salad and roasted chicken salad, soups, muffins, veggie sticks, pasta dishes, stuffed potato meals, a variety of side dishes from fruit salad to mashed potatoes and gravy, desserts, specialty teas, coffees and other drinks and sandwiches. The company capitalizes on its Kenny Rogers connection, which is in name only. One set of menu selections are called “Kenny’s Greatest Meal.” Most dishes come with one of Kenny’s Home-made Muffins, with a choice of chocolate raisin, banana raisin and golden vanilla.

“Today’s consumers are making healthy lifestyle choices by becoming more aware of what they eat and consuming wholesome foods that are not only healthy but convenient,” the company states in its franchise recruitment literature. “Chicken consumption is increasing and Kenny Rogers ROASTERS’ rotisserie roasted chicken which is marinated in natural citrus, herbs and spices provides consumers the healthy and convenient alternative to traditional fried chicken. 

The company offers franchises for $30,000 plus a 5 percent royalty and marketing fee. Another $310,000 investment is expected in capital cost to launch a 2,500 square foot store. Franchising has proven successful. Owned by Berjaya Group, the company has expanded into Cambodia, Dubai, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kuwait, India, the Philippines and China with a couple of hundred locations and plans for continued growth.

The award for Master Franchisee of the Year was presented to the company for 2000/2001 and 2002/2003 by Malaysian Franchise Association. It won the Master Franchisee of the Year for 2009.

In an award endorsed by the monarch of Malaisa, The Brand Laureate Award was given to the company “as a testimony of the brand’s success and as an acknowledgement of the brand’s value, strength and character.”

If a trip to Asia for feasting at Roasters is not possible, one location has opened in the U.S. at California’s Ontario Mills Mall.


This copyrighted story by Sasha Dunavant was originally published in Country Reunion Magazine and Country Reunion News.