Chicken Charlie’s: Not fancy, just good food
Chicken Charlie's owner Alan Kray, holds a pulled pork sandwich with hand cut fries and cole slaw in Northbrook. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
WHAT: Chicken Charlie’s
WHERE: 1143 Church Street, Northbrook
HOURS: 11-7 daily, closed Sundays except for catering
CONTACT: (847) 559-9090
Updated: September 7, 2012 11:06AM
When Alan Kray was in college, he and his roommate flipped a coin to decide who was going to cook and who was going to clean their apartment
Kray won the coin toss, and that’s how the now owner of Chicken Charlie’s began his love for cooking.
Chicken Charlie’s, located in the heart of downtown Northbrook has been there for 19 years. The reason the restaurant has been successful for so long? Kray says it’s simple: good food.
“Nothing is frozen, all our food is fresh,” says Kray, who has lived in Northbrook since 1981, “The attitude here is, if you wouldn’t serve it in your house, let’s not serve it here.”
“The flavor is great, and it’s fresh,” says Ernie Quiroz, who has been the manager of the restaurant since the start, “We really try to do our best here.”
So, what’s on the menu? Chicken Charlie’s offers BBQ brisket, BBQ chicken, chicken sandwiches, a chicken fajita bar, hot wings and other appetizers, salads, and gyros to name a few items. The price of a meal ranges from about $7-$10.
“The Chinese chicken salad is one of my favorites,” said Kray, “I think we’re famous for it.”
Quiroz recommends the Chinese smoked pulled pork and the Ultimate Aussie, a grilled chicken sandwich with honey BBQ sauce, mozzarella cheese, and sautéed mushrooms and onions.
“You can’t go wrong with anything here,” says Kray, who owned four Al’s Italian Beef franchises in the city prior to opening Chicken Charlie’s, “We keep things pretty simple and we focus on quality.”
Chicken Charlie’s also has a fairly large catering business, which Kray says began about 15 years ago when a woman called the store and asked if she could have dinner delivered to Glenbrook Hospital for 20 people.
“That was the start of our catering business and it just grew from there. I’m still friends with that woman,” he says.
Chicken Charlie’s caters to lots of pharmaceutical companies, businesses, get-togethers and parties.
“The catering aspect of the business is very lucrative, but it’s challenging,” he says, “You have to figure out ways to make people happy. It’s fun for me to give suggestions to people and then have them tell me they really enjoyed the food.”
Kray says the business environment today in general is challenging, and that in order to survive, business owners have to be sharp, and buy at the right price without sacrificing quality.
He characterizes Chicken Charlie’s as a casual place for business people in the area to go for lunch. It then becomes a family place for dinner.
“We’re not a gourmet restaurant, but we make sure the food is good,” he says.
The name Chicken Charlie’s stemmed from the family dog, named Charlie, who was afraid of thunder storms.
“We used to say, ‘Charlie is so chicken!’” Kray laughs.
Kray says he enjoys having his restaurant in Northbrook, because the people are down to earth, it’s got a great school system, and he loves being part of the community both in business and personally.
“Our three kids all grew up here, and a lot of their friends worked here in high-school. Northbrook is such a great place to live. It’s home to me.”
Chicken Charlie’s relies mostly on word of mouth for business.
“We’ve lasted this long and it ain’t cause I’m a nice guy,” says Kray, “It’s because of the food.”
Kray still cooks everyday at home. He says that no matter how the day has gone, he doesn’t mind cooking because it relaxes him. But, he doesn’t do dishes!