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Thu July 29, 2010
Keeping the McKenzie's Name Alive
Resurrected recipes and logos keep the long, local McKenzie's baking tradition going in New Orleans, while members of the chain's original family owners continue to turn out their own fried chicken.
The McKenzie's Pastry Shoppes of New Orleans were born in the Great Depression, not an easy time for a new business to get started. Maybe that has something to do with why the old brand is so darn tough.
- The bakery chain itself has been closed for years. But even after generations of change in New Orleans, even after filing for bankruptcy, being taken over by new entrepreneurs and then shutting down again for good — even after all that, the McKenzie's bakery name will not die.
- Last year, the familiar McKenzie's sign appeared again on Harrison Avenue in Lakeview at the very same address where a McKenzie's bakery once stood. The new shop is actually a franchise of the local Tastee Donuts chain, a long-time McKenzie's competitor. The Tastee sign graces the same address too, but it's the McKenzie's logo outside that has people talking. They line up inside for bakery goods that use original McKenzie's recipes, like buttermilk drops, jellyrolls and turtles.
- The Tastee franchise bought its old rival's recipes and logo rights after McKenzie's finally went under in 2001. During carnival season it's common to see a handful of Tastee locations advertising "real McKenzie's king cakes" for sale, so the old bakery name has been out there. But this Harrison Avenue bakery represents the full nostalgic pull for locals who built years and years of sugary memories at this very shop.
- One other incarnation of McKenzie's has survived all along, though now it carries on its legacy in chicken batter rather than donuts and cakes.
- The Entringer family that originally owned McKenzie's also ran McKenzie's Chicken-In-A-Box for a good half-century before Katrina. Through it all, their fried chicken is still going strong at an old bake shop in Gentilly.
- A visit here may seem a bit surreal, but it's nothing post-Katrina New Orleanians can't handle. You enter through the shop's familiar front door — near the corner of Frenchmen Street and Gentilly Boulevard — and walk through the shell of an old McKenzie's store, where display cases and bakers racks have sat empty for years. All the action now happens far in back, where people stand and wait for take-out orders of economical, delicious fried chicken, liberally peppered and audibly crunchy.
- Owner Gerald Entringer Jr. is the third generation of his family to run McKenzie's, and he says his chicken uses the same recipe his father and uncle concocted when they first opened the place in 1952. They hoped the chicken operation would grow as big as their bakeries, which eventually had 50 locations, but this Gentilly Chicken-in-a-Box was the only one of its kind.
- That singularity saved it however. The chicken shop was never part of the bankruptcy or unsuccessful reorganizations that doomed the McKenzie's bakeries. And today, it's the last stand for one of great food names from New Orleans past.
- McKenzie's Chicken-In-A-Box
3829 Frenchmen St., 943-8908
- Tastee Donuts
901 Harrison Ave., 483-9080