A 65-year-old Chicago fried chicken restaurant chain will open its first Iowa stores next month in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.
Harold’s Chicken, founded in 1951 by Harold Pierce, plans to open a store at 316 E. Burlington St. in Iowa City in mid-September.
Gerald Seals, CEO of Harold’s Chicken Iowa, a sister company of Harold’s Chicken, said a store at 200 First Ave. NE in Cedar Rapids, the former location of Milio’s in the Roosevelt hotel, will open in late September.
Seals, 37, who moved to Iowa from Chicago 21 years ago, now lives in North Liberty. He said he was born on 39th Street in Chicago, where Harold’s Chicken was founded by Pierce and his wife, Hilda, as a small operation.
Seals said Pierce saw the need for a restaurant chain on Chicago’s South Side at a time when other fast-food chains avoided predominantly Black neighborhoods. When Seals was looking for a new business to invest in, he was impressed by the history of Harold’s Chicken.
“It’s a business started by a black entrepreneur, targeted to a black audience,” Seals said. “I wanted to throw my support behind that idea.”
Seals said renovations are progressing on the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City locations. The Iowa City restaurant will open ahead of the Cedar Rapids location. Kristen Pierce — Seals’s business partner, Harold’s Chicken CEO and daughter of the founder — will prepare chicken for customers and train employees.
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“She will bring Harold Pierce’s recipe with her,” Seals noted. “The company has 45 stores, all in Illinois and most of them in the Chicago area. It has never allowed franchising of Harold’s Chicken.”
Seals said more than 500 people have applied to work at the Iowa City store. He said former Chicagoans have been known to drive back to the city to buy Harold’s Chicken.