i thought some of you would be interested in this article:
Akron Beacon Journal
Posted on Mon, Apr. 15, 2002
BARBERTON CHICKEN BELITTLED?
Restaurant operators, fans of famous fried food clucking angrily about city plan to reshape image
By Craig Webb, Beacon Journal staff writer
BARBERTON - Proprietors of many of Barberton's famous chicken houses are crying foul over an attempt to reshape the city's image.
Community and civic leaders have been meeting since the beginning of the year to discuss ways to change the perception of Barberton from a blue-collar town to one that is on the move.
Part of the discussion has been what to do about Barberton's namesake chicken that dates back about a century.
The recipes are closely guarded secrets among the handful of families who have operated the chicken houses in Barberton and Norton. The chicken, deep-fried in lard, is known for its distinctive breading. It is usually served with rice in a tomato-based hot sauce and cole slaw.
The whole chicken issue hit the frying pan earlier this month when Mayor Randy Hart mentioned that he'd like out-of-towners to think of more than just chicken when they think of Barberton. This ruffled the feathers of those residents who rely on their very livelihood from packed dining rooms at the area's four chicken restaurants.
Brian Canale, whose family operates Hopocan Gardens and Whitehouse Chicken, said abandoning chicken as a community identity is ridiculous.
``We take chicken very seriously here in Barberton, and so do the residents,'' he said. ``We took it as an insult.''
His wife, Carol, said one patron walked into the restaurant with a napkin pinned to her shirt that said, ``My image of Barberton is chicken.''
The chicken craze, she said, extends well beyond the confines of the restaurants.
Tired of the taunts from fans of opposing basketball teams who would show up at Barberton High School games with KFC buckets on their heads, Carol Canale had purple chicken head T-shirts printed up to celebrate the Barberton Magic's colors and, well, chickens.
``My image of Barberton is chicken,'' she said.
And that's not such a bad thing, according to Dale M. Lewison, chairman of the Marketing Department at the University of Akron.
``If it's good chicken, then it's a positive thing,'' he said.
Lewison said Barberton's quest for another marketing catchphrase is not entirely a bad thing, but city fathers still need to incorporate this existing strong image, which in this case is chicken.
``You can't just go about and say this is an image you don't want,'' he said. ``This is the image you've got.
``You want to reshape that image or enhance it.''
Besides, Lewison said, there are many communities that would kill to have something distinctive like Barberton's chicken or Orrville's Smucker's or Akron's rubber industry.
``Ellet -- what's that known for?'' he said. ``Barberton has the advantage of awareness.''
Ever since awakening the big angry chicken, Hart said, he's been henpecked by critics.
One thing, he said, must be made perfectly clear. He loves Barberton chicken. He eats Barberton chicken. And Barberton chicken is part of his life.
``Hey, I eat it,'' he said. ``My doctor says I shouldn't because of my health, but I eat it anyway because I like it.''
Hart said the discussion to look at the city's image was brought about by concerns among several groups -- including representatives from Barberton Citizens Hospital, the Barberton Foundation and the city officials who collectively felt that there are a lot of good things happening in the community of which many residents were not aware.
Since the whole chicken flap has erupted, Hart said, the groups plan to step back and seek additional input from the community.
``Barberton is certainly famous for its chicken and that's good,'' he said.
Kosta Papich, whose family operates the city's original chicken house, Belgrade Gardens, said he's puzzled by the whole thing.
``Anything that's decent, we should be proud of,'' he said. ``If it's bad, we should say it's bad. I'm not ashamed nor anyone else should be to be associated with chicken.''
Papich said people come from near and far to sample Barberton chicken.
He recalls two years ago when a chicken lover from Pittsburgh hired a cabdriver to pick up a six-piece dinner.
Papich said he asked what a fare like that would cost: $300.
``Can you imagine this for six pieces of chicken?'' Papich said. ``I joked that this man either had too much money or this was to be his last supper.''
Brian Canale said anecdotes like that are common.
That is why his family is branching out in hopes of cashing in on the love of Barberton chicken. In addition to their two Barberton chicken restaurants, they have also opened a Hoppy's/White House Chicken in Cuyahoga Falls.
In fact, he is now franchising the restaurant, and the first franchise has opened in Tallmadge. He said the family plans to have nine White House Chicken outlets open by this year in Cleveland, Columbus and Pittsburgh.
The boxes, he said, will boast ``Legendary'' Barberton chicken.
``I don't think there's anything wrong with being the chicken capital of the world,'' he said.
Craig Webb can be reached at 330-723-7119 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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