Winnipeggers craving fried chicken and taters can now get some at a new Mary Brown’s location that opened on Portage Avenue over the weekend — the fifth franchise location to open in Manitoba within the past year.
Owner Tom Chen, who also owns the Mary Brown’s on south Pembina Highway and several locations throughout Ontario, said the opening of the 1,900-square-foot restaurant was delayed because of construction, but added that the new location had a practical purpose.
"Portage is a main street," Chen said Monday afternoon. "We have a couple of stores in town, but we didn’t have a restaurant in the (West) Portage area I found out, so that’s why I thought we should serve that area as well."
Chen fell in love with Mary Brown’s chicken when he tried it for the first time in Toronto a couple of years ago.
"It was just awesome, I was shocked," he said.
"The size of the chicken, the freshness. It’s completely different."
Chen was intrigued and flew to St. John’s, N.L. — where Mary Brown’s was first established — to study the restaurant’s operations. Having lived in Winnipeg for over a decade, he quickly realized the chain could work in the Prairies.
"It has worked really well," Chen said, adding that he has plans to open more locations throughout the province, such as along Henderson Highway and in Winkler, a fast-growing community 115 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg.
The recent expansion of Mary Brown’s restaurants in the province appears to be part of corporate plans dating back to 2012, when the company made its intentions of invading the Prairies known at an information session it hosted for potential franchisees.
At the time, the Toronto-based chain had more than 90 locations in Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. But then-president Nigel Beattie said his goal was to open 50 stores throughout Manitoba.
"We made the jump from Ontario to Alberta and now we think it’s time to fill in the two central provinces," Beattie said at the time.
KFC, Chicken Delight and Chicken Chef are just a few of the deep-rooted competitors that Mary Brown’s would face during its expansion, but Beattie didn’t care.
"If the area is densely populated, with good access, good visibility and good parking, we wouldn’t hesitate setting up shop next to a competitor," he said. "We have stores across the street from KFC in pretty much every market."
The first Mary Brown’s location in Manitoba opened in 2015 on Regent Avenue, near Kildonan Crossing. The second location didn’t arrive until June 2017, when Chen opened his restaurant on Pembina Highway. But since August 2018, a Mary Brown’s restaurant opened in Brandon and four more locations have opened in Winnipeg, including a restaurant in the Walmart on Taylor Avenue.
In 1969, as Neil Armstrong made one giant leap for mankind, Pat Tarrant and Cyril Fleming opened The Golden Skillet in St. John’s. About a year later, Tarrant and Fleming renamed the restaurant after Mary Brown, a Virginia woman who sold them her recipe for southern fried chicken that her husband wanted to monetize.
Fifty years later, Mary Brown’s has about 160 locations in Canada, including several restaurants inside Walmart — space usually reserved for McDonald’s restaurants. By 2020, the company estimates it will surpass 200 locations worldwide.
Updated on Tuesday, August 13, 2019 at 10:14 AM CDT: Photos added.
August 19, 2019 at 12:15 PM: Clarifies there are only locations in Canada.