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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Has the last order been served at Pioneer Chicken?

The deep fat fryers have stopped gurgling and the Orange Bang has stopped flowing at the Pioneer Chicken in Echo Park. It looks the long-time neighborhood restaurant, officially known as Pioneer Take Out, and an oily piece of Los Angeles fast food-history has closed after nearly 40 years of business (though some say the restaurant dates back nearly 50 years). Neighbors – including Rebecca Tuynman, who pointed out the closure to The Eastsider – have noticed that the Echo Park Avenue business has been shut since the first of the month. The phone has also been disconnected. Many residents, including Tuynman, are not grieving over the apparent closure of the dingy, cholesterol hot spot that seemed to draw more pigeons than people. But the Echo Park restaurant just north of Sunset Boulevard served as the launching pad for what became one of the region’s largest fast-food chains, operating more than 200 outlets nationwide and overseas.

Die-hard Pioneer Chicken fans fondly remember their childhood visits and try to track down and recreate restaurant recipes. At its peak, during the early 1980s, O.J. Simpson and Lakers announcer Chick Hearn promoted the restaurant. Pioneer Chicken was even mentioned in the Warren Zevon song “Carmelita” (which Linda Ronstadt covered in 1977) about a heroin dealer that hangs out near the place.

Pioneer Chicken apparently took its name from the former Pioneer Market that stood next door but the owners were not related. The chain began unraveling in the mid 1980s as franchisees battled founder Rick Kaufman. Pioneer Chicken declared bankruptcy twice before most of its outlets were purchased by Popeyes chicken. A few Pioneers outlets, including one in Silver Lake, still remain.

Echo Park, diners, however, still have plenty of places to load up on fried food and Orange Bang.

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