A journey to Maple Ridge to visit a once dominant chicken franchise
By Craig Allan, Buisness Manager
I will simply say that Brownies chicken is the best fast-food chicken I have ever eaten.
Metro Vancouver residents love their chicken. In the last few years, there has been an explosion in the number of chicken restaurants that have opened in the area. Whether it’s the Popeyes Chicken restaurants that have been expanding at a feverish pace, the Newfoundland favourite Mary Brown’s Chicken & Taters that have sprung up south of the Fraser, or the upcoming openings of Jollibee’s, the Philippine chicken establishment, Vancouverites have a hankering for the white meat. However, before these restaurants came into the picture, another chicken establishment had a commanding presence in the market before seemingly disappearing: Brownies Chicken and Seafood. After a visit to their Maple Ridge location, I enjoyed the chicken so much that I later drove down to their Mission location to talk to franchise owner Gary Acutt about Brownies, the history, and what makes his chicken better than the big franchises.
First, my journey to try Brownies Chicken. Though Brownies is known for their fried chicken, I went for the four-piece boneless, skinless chicken (which despite the title still did have a crispy breaded skin, but I’ll get to that later) with two original and two Cajun pieces. After receiving my order in a cardboard container packaging with a cute bear that has been a notable feature going back to the company’s early days, I took the meal back to my car.
As for the chicken, my main reaction would involve me describing a vulgar exclaim of ecstasy that I will spare readers from. So, to bring this review to a PG rating, I will simply say that Brownies chicken is the best fast-food chicken I have ever eaten. The meat was tender and fresh likely because it was from the local Rossdown Farms, and the chicken breading was better than any other that I have ever tried. The Cajun chicken had the right amount of spice and the breading was so light and crispy that it was almost falling off the chicken. Being that I ate this chicken at the end of 2020, where nothing seemed to go right, Brownies was the best food experience I had that year.
After engaging in this chicken experience, I had to know more about this Fraser Valley gem. So, I spoke to franchise owner Gary Acutt, who has been associated with the Brownies name for 42 years. Brownies was once an institution in Vancouver, with locations all over the Lower Mainland in the ’70s and the ’80s. “When I got involved in 1979, there were 66 in BC and Alberta,” said Acutt. However, the restaurants lost traction in the market and lost their standing as Vancouver’s dominant homegrown chicken franchise in the ’90s due to high-interest rates and bad ownership. The Brownies locations that are around now are not the Brownies of old, but Acutt’s Brownies-inspired take on the legendary chain. The inclusion of seafood was not on the original Brownies menu, but is part of the new form of Brownies.
What makes Brownies chicken so good is a combination of its use of ingredients, animal fat-free oil, and the constant need to do the chicken right from start to finish. “If you start with something of good quality you will end with something of a good quality […] If I am going to sell something, I have to believe in it, and I do.”
With so many other chicken chains opening in the area, I asked Acutt if Brownies has any plans to expand. Acutt informed me that the Mission location actually opened recently, just a year and a half ago, and that there are plans to expand, but only by one, maybe two more locations, because Acutt wants to keep the franchise local. “We are looking to keep it small; we want to keep it family-run.”
Whenever I travel to the Port Coquitlam Fremont Village, I always see people lined up around the building to get a Popeyes Chicken. Little do they know that a couple of towns over resides the best fast-food chicken establishment in the Lower Mainland. In the great chicken wars the winner is not Popeyes or Mary Browns, but Brownies; the family-run chain making locally sourced chicken with quality ingredients has the competition beat.