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Owner Blake Benton next to the drive-through at Guthrie's, one of the latest restaurants to open in Athens.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Owner Blake Benton next to the drive-through at Guthrie's, one of the latest restaurants to open in Athens.

Plethora of poultry
Athens restaurants offer something for everybody - as long as it's chicken

By Holly Hollman · 340-2445

ATHENS — Giving a litany of chicken dishes available in Athens is like hearing the character Bubba from Forrest Gump rattle off ways to serve shrimp.

There’s fried chicken. Grilled chicken. Chicken tenders. Chicken wings. Chicken sandwiches.

Get the idea?

Athens can tout four restaurants that specialize in chicken, plus two more that are coming.

Two of the newest to open, Bojangles and Guthrie’s, are at the U.S. 72 and Interstate 65 junction. Chick-fil-A will open there soon.

“I’ve heard people referring to that area as Chicken Bottom and Chicken Valley,” Mayor Dan Williams said, referring to where U.S. 72 dips into a valley just before meeting the interstate.

Mayor’s theories

The mayor has a couple of theories about why this city of 19,000 has attracted so many chicken eateries.

“I reckon people come off the interstate to get something quick to eat, and chicken, you can get it pretty easy and eat it prepared a variety of ways,” Williams said.

There are chicken legs. Chicken fingers. Barbecue chicken. Chicken wraps.

Sorry. Had a Bubba moment.

Blake Benton, owner of Guthrie’s, said the city’s growth attracted him to Athens. Starbucks, also located in Chicken Bottom, helps draw interstate traffic to the area, Benton said.

“Activity creates more activity,” Benton said.

Everybody eats it

He said chicken also is popular because most everyone will eat it.

“The kids are happy. The adults are happy,” he said. “And we consider ourselves somewhere between fast food and a sit-down restaurant. You can get it quick, but you can also relax and eat at a table if you want.”

Will all this clucking hurt business?

Bojangles unit director David Freeman said his customer flow has remained steady.

“There still are those in Athens who only drive as far as Wal-Mart and turn around and go back home who don’t realize we’re here,” Freeman said. Wal-Mart is about 3 miles west of the interstate. “But we’ve been getting a lot of the arsenal (Redstone Arsenal) traffic, and a lot of TVA folks coming in from Tennessee and Madison County.”

Got a hankering for chicken now? Don’t get those feathers ruffled. Here’s a list of where to go for chicken bowls, chicken biscuits, chicken pot pie — whoops. Did it again.

? Roosters is on U.S. 31 north of Forrest Street.

? Kentucky Fried Chicken is at U.S. 72 and South Jefferson Street.

? Guthrie’s is on U.S. 72 west of Starbucks.

? Bojangles is on U.S. 72 east of Starbucks.

? The city’s public works director, James Rich, said Chick-fil-A has submitted a site plan for U.S. 72 at Athens-Limestone Drive near Regions Bank.

? Rich said Zaxby’s has submitted a site plan for U.S. 72 across from Wal-Mart.

This chicken commotion isn’t unique to Athens.

According to Amber Waves, a publication by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Economic Research Service, chicken consumption more than doubled between 1970 and 2004.

The poultry passing American’s lips increased from 27.4 pounds per person to 59.2 pounds.

Where are folks going for their chicken cravings?

The National Chicken Council reported in Amber Waves that 42 percent of chicken is sold through food service outlets.

Of this amount, 60 percent is sold through fast-food chains, which have introduced new lines of chicken products to meet public demand.

Like chicken nuggets. Chicken soup. Chicken salad. Chicken family deals.

Sorry. Couldn’t help it with Bubba and chicken on the brain.

Where’s the steak?

If your taste buds are tempted by beef more than chicken, you’ll have to wait for Athens to get a steakhouse.

Lone Star Steakhouse bought a lot at U.S. 72 and Interstate 65, behind the Holiday Inn Express, in 2005. It received site plan approval in 2006. Since then, steak lovers have waited for construction.

Plans went into limbo in August when Lone Star signed a definitive agreement to be acquired by affiliates of Lone Star Funds, a Dallas-based private equity firm. Athens Public Works Director James Rich said Lone Star has withdrawn its site plan.

A spokeswoman from Lone Star Steakhouse is checking the status of its Athens site but did not have information Wednesday evening.

- Holly Hollma n

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