IN THE KITCHEN Nazir Ahmed and Qudratullah Baber are co-owners of the Avon outpost of Crown Fried Chicken, an informal network of small restaurants around the country operated by immigrants from Afghanistan. According to The New York Times, the wave of Afghan-American fried chicken joints started in New York in 1975 when a man from Kabul opened a Kennedy Fried Chicken to compete with the quintessentially American KFC chain. The business employed other Afghan immigrants, who then took their newfound knowledge to start their own places with similar names and business models.
Just like Indian-run convenience stores or Vietnamese nail salons, the Afghan fried chicken restaurant has gained a foothold in America. In Avon, Ahmed and Baber (with Riaz Shenwane as a silent partner) are natives of Afghanistan. Ahmed, 28, immigrated to the United States when he was 14, settling in Maryland with an uncle, and now lives with his wife in Brockton. Baber, 26, worked as a translator for the US military in Kabul before immigrating to Florida in 2008. He now lives in Randolph and awaits the arrival of his wife and three children from Afghanistan.
The pair have experience working in fast-food restaurants, and when the opportunity arose, they took over the spot on North Main Street in Avon just more than a year ago.
THE LOCALE Under the Crown business model, the restaurants typically operate in underserved communities, where rents are cheaper. The Avon store is no exception, situated in a nondescript strip mall on North Main (Route 28) near the Randolph border. The restaurant is mainly takeout; there’s a long counter stretching across the width of the interior, with photos of the menu offerings posted directly above. If you can’t wait to dig into the finger-licking good chicken or beef kabob and rice, sit at one of three booths next to a refrigerator with a selection of soda.
ON THE MENU The Crown offshoots use the same business model but adjust the menu to satisfy local customer preferences. In Avon, in addition to the delectable fried chicken, the menu is heavy on Latin American and Caribbean offerings, such as burritos, fajitas, Jamaican beef patties, plantains, taco salads, and quesadillas. Sides lean to the American South, including biscuits, coleslaw, and collard greens.
KFC chicken had been my guilty pleasure, but I found Crown’s version to be superior: crunchy yet juicy, flavorful but not too salty, fall-off-the-bone tender but not greasy. Prices start at 99 cents for a single piece to $30 for a dinner bucket (21 pieces of chicken, 5 servings of mashed potatoes, 5 biscuits, and 2 containers of coleslaw). The hot wings (6 for $4.75; 20 for $13.75) were just as delicious; the mild heat creeps up to a slow burn that doesn’t overwhelm the flavor of the chicken. Baber says they marinate the chicken in a mixture of garlic, vinegar, lemon juice, and special spices before coating it with a seasoned batter.
Even though fried chicken isn’t traditionally Afghan (however, two Crown outposts have since opened in Kabul, Baber said), Afghan-Americans have learned to perfect the beloved Southern staple. For a taste of traditional Afghan cuisine, try the beef kabob or grilled chicken with rice (both $8). While the meats are tender and juicy, it’s the rice that really shines. The long-grain Afghan rice is similar in texture to basmati, and Crown’s version is savory and flavorful.
Crown is halal in keeping with Muslim dietary restrictions.
Crown Fried Chicken, 17 North Main St., Avon; 508-587-4555.
Wendy Chow can be reached at email@example.com.