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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Sep. 18, 200112:00 PM EST

A local icon

Beach Road Chicken has endured for over 60 years
by: Bill Johnson

In today’s high-tech, cutting-edge world, a business that hasn’t changed in 20 years probably hasn’t been in business for at least the last 19. Computers, cell phones, silicon chips, fiber optics and an information superhighway reigns today.

Now, consider the chicken.

Preferably, fried golden brown and crispy. Log off. Hang up. Slow down. No need to speed past this.

There’s a few things in this world that haven’t really needed much improvement. Fried chicken dinners, the likes of which you can sit down to at a little time-warp bubble on Atlantic Boulevard called Beach Road Chicken Dinners, is one of them.

For more than 60 years now, the little red and white structure on Atlantic near the Hart Bridge Expressway has served up this homestyle favorite much the way founder Earl Majors did back in the 1930s: hot and a lot. And, according to current owners Ken and Tena Ferger, there’s been no reason to change it. If it ain’t broke, Ken says, don’t fix it.

“One of the things that we pride ourselves on,” Ken says, “is we’ve had customers who come who haven’t been here for 20 years and say it’s just like it was 20 years ago.” He says they see that as a great compliment.

Of course, not too many people who have eaten at this Jacksonville icon can wait 20 years until they come back, a fact that the couple is very grateful for.

The Fergers only purchased the restaurant about three and a half years ago, according to Ken. But the business has actually been in Tena’s family for about 20 years. They purchased it from her brother, Vincent DeSalvo, who had purchased in 1980 from Majors.

But the chicken, for the most part, has remained the same.

“We pride ourselves on being consistent,” Ken says. “If you give a good product and its the same way that it was 20 years ago, people aren’t disappointed.”

The only people who might be disappointed are new customers who look for Beach Road Chicken Dinner on Beach Boulevard.

“It confuses some people, because they see Beach Road Chicken Dinners and they call and say, ‘I’m on Beach Boulevard. Where are you?’”

Back in 1939, when Majors was the one cooking up the birds, there was only one road out to the beach, according to Ferger, so there was no way to confuse it. But when you have an icon restaurant with nearly a household name, you don’t change the name no matter what road you’re on.

Ferger says the restaurant hasn’t been completely changeless.

“We’re always striving for a little bit more, to improve.” Part of that improvement is the catering business, which has taken off since the couple took over. Although they didn’t really pursue it, once it became more known that that service was available, it kind of grew on its own, he says.

“We do very little advertising,” Ken says. “A lot of it is by word of mouth.”

Besides the quality of the meal, he says, value is selling point.

Many catering jobs come out to about $4 and change per customer, “including the drink. It’s tough to go to Burger King and have a sandwich and a soda at that price,” he said.

The catering is also another form of advertising. As churches and businesses provide the meals to their members and employees, they, in turn, help spread the word.

“Hopefully, those people come back with their families,” he says.

One other minor change made at the restaurant since Majors’ days was an addition to the dining room and a small addition to the kitchen. None of it changes what you get on your plate, though.

“It’s family style,” Ken says. “You come in, whether you come in by yourself or come in with 20 people, the chicken’s going to come out on a platter and the vegetables are going to be served in bowls, just as if you were at home. And I think that’s also one of the things that people remember. We’ve maybe added some things, but if you were in a time warp in the ‘40s and all of sudden came into the oughts (‘00s), it would be the same.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean the times don’t change around Beach Road. The addition of Alltel Stadium and the Jaguars has meant a lot of Sunday tailgating business, Ken says.

“Aside from the new hotel downtown,” he says, “I think we’re probably the closest restaurant to Alltel Stadium, even though we’re across the river.”

The most gratifying part of all, Ken says, “is to see people come in who are third and fourth generations. I don’t know a lot of them, but my wife knows a lot of them. And, to see people, and you got grandparents and their children and their children. It gets passed from generation to generation.”

The other thing that gets passed on from generation to generation is the work.

“Some of them have been where we’ve had their mothers and their grandmothers working here,” he says. “Aunts, cousins and so on. Quite a few of our people have been with us for in excess of 20 or 25 years. Now we’re seeing their children and their children’s children. So, it’s nice. I know a lot of businesses say, well, we’re family. This place almost literally is.”

As for the future, well, probably more of the same, Ken Ferger says. After all, if ain’t broke ....

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