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Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket


A PIECE OF AMERICAN HISTORY


In the late 1930s or early 1940s (no one knows the exact date), two local farm women approached Irv Kolarik, the owner of a small gas station on Route 66, about 50 miles west of Chicago. These entrepreneurial ladies told Kolarik all about their incredible fried chicken recipe and recommended he serve it at his lunch counter — provided, of course, the chicken and eggs were pur- chased from their farm. The rest, as they say, is history � American history. Almost overnight the restaurant out- grew Kolarik’s little counter, first overtaking the two car-repair bays and eventually moving into a building next door as the steady highway traffic brought an endless supply of chicken-loving travelers.


THE FALL OF ROUTE 66 But, like so many Route 66 businesses, the Chicken Basket fell on rough times with the construction of the U.S. Interstate. “It started with Route 66. It grew and thrived because of it, but it also suffered because of it,” explains Patrick Rhea, current owner. Now, some 80 years after the first fried chicken basket was served to cross-country travelers, the iconic U.S. highway, once again, brings road trippers from far and wide to Willowbrook, IL, in search of a piece of American history. That, and the best fried chicken around.


THE RHEA FAMILY The Rhea family has deep roots in the DuPage chicken business. Patrick Rhea recalls that his chicken farmer grandfather used to sell his wares to the restaurant. “I came and ate with my parents when this place was still on the highway,” remembers Rhea.


It was Rhea’s father, Dell, who took ownership of the Chicken Basket in 1963, and, together with his wife, Grace, they gave it new life. Rhea began his first ever shift at the newly renamed Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket at 4 pm on New Year’s Eve 1963 and got off work at 10 am on New Year’s Day. He was nine. For the next 20 years, Rhea learned every- thing he could about cooking fried chicken and running a business from his devoted parents. To this day, he reli- giously follows mom’s recipes and dad’s business plan.


DISCOVERDUPAGE.COM 9


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