Roach Knot at Knott’s

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Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant

The Long Hand of the Law Reaching the Oldest Restaurant

There was an item of news on October 2, 2014 Mrs Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant was reopened after a brief closure because of the infamous cockroach infestation problem.

You might be wondering how this could be news when there are hundreds of eateries being closed temporarily or even shut permanently on different sanitation issues. Yes, the cockroach, the insect that has retained its original physical structure for centuries, has been a menace to the human civilisation. There have been incidents where large buildings had to be knocked or burnt down because of termite, rat and roach infestation.

Laws of Sanitary agencies are very strict regarding pest control, especially on the premises of eateries as these tiny creatures can cause diseases. So, it’s no wonder a restaurant is closed down for roach treatment. But the restaurant in question here is not any ordinary restaurant; it’s Mrs Knott’s!

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The History of the Oldest Restaurant

Established in 1934, Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner restaurant, situated in the 8000 block of Beach Boulevard in Buena Park on Knott’s Berry Farm, near Buena Park, Orange county in California, is one of the oldest and largest single family owned eateries in the States. It boasts of 20 million diners visit, which is not a mere number but a reputation that has been garnered over the decades with relentless care and love for their customers.

To add some cents to her husband’s roadside berry-selling stand in the depression years, Mrs Cordelia, a shy but generous soul, started making jams, jellies and pies from the boysenberries, and later began cooking fried chicken dinners, with her three daughters and their friends serving the menu of chicken, biscuits and boysenberry pie in the small tea room in their house. Even the dinner plates were Cordelia’s own china. The food must have been very homely and people flocked to have a tasty bite at Cordelia’s chicken, buttery biscuits and the boysenberry pie.

In 2005, the restaurant had a seating for more than 900 diners at a time and served one and a half million eaters a year! (And it certainly is news when a restaurant of this stature was closed on poor hygiene charges.)

Change of Luck Forver

Eventually, Southern California grew and the Highway 39 (Beach Boulevard), which runs close to our Knott’s humble eatery, became a connection between north and south, between Los Aangeles County and the Orange County, carrying most of the traffic between these two counties. Drivers who had to make two hour trip in those days found Mrs Knott’s place a comfortable joint with a delicious meal which was very modest. As the traffic grew heavy, the lines of guests at our Mrs Knott’s grew longer.  Over the years, there have been people visiting the restaurant from other places just to have a dinner of chicken, buttermilk biscuits, mashed potatoes, thick chicken gravy and the vegetables fresh from the farm. That is the power of brand recall and how effective branding can create success.

Though they boast the same 80-year-old menu served as the main course to this day, there have been some additions  to meet the demands of the cross-cultured folks, the Knotts have added other dishes such as sandwiches, soups, salads, and a complete farm breakfast with French toast, pancakes, etc.

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The Knotts’ entrepreneurship

A fan of the Knott’s in one of his 2005 articles mentioned that Mrs Knott’s was selling 4,000 chicken dinners on any given Sunday in 1940s and diners waited for more than four hours.

As the guests were growing more, it became a problem to keep them engaged until they found their seats. Therefore, Mr Walter Knot added a few shops and a few more attractions around the restaurant so that kids were kept busy playing and adults were ‘encouraged’ to do some shopping! One additional attraction brought in another wave of diners. Mr Knott, in an interview, confessed that he got back the $600 in the first month of his investing on the ‘volcano’, an attraction with rumbling sounds and rolling movements, he set up on the premises. He made the place a ‘theme park’ with a lot of other attractions, such as Gold Mine, Ghost Towns, Old West Trails, etc., which earned him good money, too. The more the highway became busy, the more the place got crowded and the more the place got crowded, the more business Mrs Knott’s did!

The Decline of the Knott’s Empire

The Knott’s was so much established that though there had been a change of ownership in 1997, the business went on as usual. The new owners ‘Cedar Fair’ from Ohio made several changes to the Berry Farm but did not touch the restaurant; they wanted the restaurant to continue as it had been! Brand consistency is the key and hence the restaurant logo has also not been changed for quite a while.

However, in his 2011 article about Knott’s Theme Park, Robert Niles wrote that Knott’s had wilder thrill rides than neighboring Disneyland, but continued to decline over the years. He admitted that he would take his kids to a nearby Park for more fun, but not to the Berry Farm. He declared that even the chicken, ‘once the best in Southern California’, he tried at Ghost Hall Grill, one of the Knott’s restaurants on Berry Farm, was ‘inedible’. And finally, concluded that the price which is relatively cheaper than that of the nearby Theme Parks is the only thin line that was keeping the guests still attracted to the Knott’s!

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