Roasting Pirtle’s Chicken 

Why did the chicken cross the road? To attend Saturday night's comedy roast of Jack Pirtle's Chicken owners Cordell and Tawanda Pirtle, of course.

"A lot of people have asked why we didn't call it a 'fry' instead of a roast," says Memphis Roast Club founder Katrina Coleman, acknowledging that Pirtle's Chicken, a Memphis institution since 1957, has never been anything close to roasted. "The answer is, basically, I didn't want to call it a fry. This is a black-tie affair. Presenters who want to eat are going to have to wear bibs, and I don't want anybody going into a Pirtle's Chicken coma onstage.

Cordell Pirtle's family has been operating restaurants in Memphis for close to 70 years, since his father Jack opened a diner at the corner of Thomas and Firestone in 1946.

While developing his business model, Jack Pirtle got to know a fellow by the name of Col. Harland Sanders, who was looking to sell his recipe for Kentucky fried chicken, and a partnership was formed. Eventually, Pirtle wanted his own unique identity, so he and his wife created their own chicken and gravy recipes, and the chicken in a cowboy hat was born.

"The Pirtles are huge supporters of Memphis comedy," Coleman says. "So there's always a lot of chicken and gravy around [for events]. And eventually, we run out of things to dip in the gravy, so we dip our fingers. We don't look each other in the eye after that."

All proceeds from the roast are donated to Youth Villages.

The Memphis Roast Club's Roast of Tawanda and Cordell Pirtle at the Callicott Auditorium at Memphis College of Art, Saturday, September 28th. Doors open and food is served at 7 p.m., roast at 8 p.m. Formal attire. $20 at the door. memphisroastclub.com

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