SINCE THE TIME THOMAS DELPIT founded Chicken Shack in 1935—with less than a dollar in his pocket and only a third grade education—the restaurant has remained a fixture in Baton Rouge dining for 77 years.
Many trials and tribulations have long setback the opening of new Delpit Enterprises restaurants and the company has even had to closed two restaurants over the years.
But this summer, Joe Delpit expand the family-owned chain again when the third Chicken Shack restaurant opens at the former Popeye’s, 8372 Scotland Avenue, in North Baton Rouge.
In 1958, Joe Delpit took over ownership of the restaurant that his father Thomas Delpit opened in the front portion of the family’s shotgun home on East Blvd.
The Delpit dynasty began in 1950 when Thomas realized that his once small, sit-in restaurant had outgrown the home.
“This was during World War II, and it was hard to get building materials, so my father gave a contractor almost $50,000 and he took the money and ran away,” said Joe Delpit.
Undeterred by this setback Thomas was still able to open a new location. As the popularity of the Chicken Shack grew, so did the number of celebrities who came to eat including B.B. King and Count Basie. The Chicken Shack also served as a meeting place for Black social clubs who were not allowed
in white establishments. Even after the death of his father, Joe wanted to uphold his dream of expanding the Chicken Shack throughout Baton Rouge. Delpit decided that the Rebel Shopping Center located in a predominantly white area—which is now where Baton Rouge Community College—would be the best location. He went back to bank to try to secure another business loan, but was denied.
“I was not denied because the bank did not have faith in me. I was denied because there was high chance that some of the racists in the community would burn it down and the bank would lose their investment.” he said
Undiscouraged, Joe Delpit put the plans to open another Chicken Shack on hold and continue to focus on the current restaurant – then politics.
He became the first Black city councilman in Metro Baton Rouge and later became state representative for District 63. There he helped to establish the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus.
All along, he never lost sight of the goal to open more Chicken Shack locations. So when the restaurant chain Jim Dandy was closing, Delpit saw his opportunity.
As a politician, Delpit was able to make many connections – one of them was with the owner of a bank who was able to secure a $175,000 Small Business Administration loan to purchase three Jim Dandy locations on Terrace Street, Highland Road, and North Acadian Throughway.
His childhood friend and former Chicken Shack employee Henry Batiste moved back to Baton Rouge and suggested the two open another Chicken Shack, as business partners.
They purchased another location on Mohican and Pawtucket for only $12,000. They also opened a small store in Southern University’s Smith-Brown Memorial Student Union, which closed after new mangers contracted with the university. All, but the North Acadian location have since closed.
Now adding a new location, Delpit said he believes it is likely to have more success than its closed predecessors.
By Cameron James
City News Manager