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Juan Pollo is a restaurant chain based in Southern California that specializes in rotisserie-broiled Mexican-style roast chicken. It was founded in 1984 by Albert Okura. His first restaurant job was working at Burger King (Harbor City, California) in 1970.
In 1981 Albert was working at the Del Taco in Carson, California. Across the street, a Mexican chicken restaurant opened called El Pollo Loco. He was very impressed with their cooking style (char-broiled) and their simplicity of operations. About this time, Albert met Armando Parra, an immigrant from Mexico (Chihuahua, Mexico) who mentioned that he had restaurants back home and knew all about char-broiled chicken.
In the summer of 1983, Okura's uncle and primary source of financing told him of a restaurant which had become available in Ontario in a heavily Hispanic part of town. Remembering his discussions about restaurants with his friend, Armando Parra, he gave him a call. Upon examining the location, Parra told Okura that the site was inadequate to accommodate a large open-flame grilling system like that used by El Pollo Loco. Parra suggested the use of a rotisserie like he used in Mexico. Armando agreed to help Albert organize the restaurant and come up with a recipe.`
After investing $60,000 in improvements, the restaurant was ready by December 1983. First-day operations in January 1984 totaled U.S. $165.00. Although the first year's sales were sparse, Albert made a personal commitment to stick with Juan Pollo for five years no matter what.
By 1985, sales were on the rise as Okura and Parra perfected the process. Five factors weighed heavily on the outcome, namely the quality of the chicken itself as previously mentioned, the size of the chicken (maximum three pounds/1kg), the length of cooking time (three hours), the temperature of the gas-fired burners and the size of its flames.
A second location opened in nearby San Bernardino in January 1986 on the corner of Fifth Street and Mount Vernon Avenue, an early alignment of Route 66. An unsolicited and highly positive review by Norman Baffry, a popular food critic from the San Bernardino Sun, caused a literal 50% increase in sales overnight.
Growth occurred between 1986 and 1990 and Okura trained his hourly employees in the hopes that they would open their own Juan Pollo restaurant. A majority of current Juan Pollo Restaurants are owned and operated by ex-hourly employees. Juan Pollo is not a family operation and not yet a franchising corporation. It has grown to 33 locations, primarily in the Inland Empire and Orange County; its newest location is in Coachella in 2008.
In 1998, Albert had the opportunity to purchase the site of the original McDonald's restaurant started by Dick and Mac McDonald in 1948. Located on the business loop of Route 66 and near his corporate office in San Bernardino, Albert jumped at the opportunity and along with moving his office, established an unofficial McDonald's Museum specializing in the early San Bernardino years.
Juan Pollo has become involved with the Route 66 revival. Juan Pollo hosts its own annual Veteran's Day Parade and Car Show in front of the McDonald's Museum. Juan Pollo also has been the main toy contributor for the annual Christmas toy give away at the Route 66 park, La Placita on Mt. Vernon Avenue, San Bernardino.
In 2005, the historic Route 66 town of Amboy, California was for sale by the original owner, Bessie Burris. Albert and Bessie made an immediate connection and within a day agreed on a purchase price of $425,000 for the entire town even though she originally sold the town in 1998 for almost $1,000,000 (Amboy's previous owners were foreclosed on). The marketing of Juan Pollo through its increasing involvement with Route 66 is designed to create a name awareness to the numerous world wide visitors of the Route.
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