Jack Pirtle's Chicken


Jack Pirtle built a local chicken business by taking care of the people he knew best: The working man. Mr. Jack, as he came to be known to the thousands of loyal customers Jack Pirtle’s Fried Chicken has known over the years, was exactly that.

He opened the first Jack Pirtle’s restaurant at 1217 Bellevue in 1957, but he’d already been in the restaurant business for 12 years.

In 1945, Jack and his wife Orva moved to Memphis and opened Jack’s Café at Thomas and Firestone. The Firestone plant was open 24 hours a day, so Jack’s was, too. The couple lived in a back room with their 1-year-old son, Cordell, because they couldn’t afford to pay rent after buying the restaurant. Two years, and a few places later, Jack ended up with the Jefferson Café at Jefferson and Third in Downtown Memphis. That’s when things started happening. Jack recalled hearing about the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in a 1981 interview with a reporter for The Commercial Appeal:

“In 1957, my breadman at the café was the nephew of Harlan Saunders,” he said. “He told me his uncle was selling fried chicken and people were just going wild after it.”

Jack and Colonel Saunders struck a deal and soon Jefferson Café was serving fried chicken three days a week, beginning on Valentine’s Day in 1957. By May, Jack was selling so much chicken that he needed a new restaurant. In November, he opened a drive-thru restaurant modeled after one Colonel Saunders had taken him to see in Bismarck, North Dakota. The sign read “Jack Pirtle, Featuring Tender and Tasty Kentucky Fried Chicken.” Like several of the restaurants to follow, Jack actually constructed the building himself.

Learn more about the Jack Pirtle story on our website, www.jackpirtleschicken.com/history.