Bethany Clough

One of Fulton's most anticipated restaurants is opening. Can chicken drive change downtown?

Look who’s opening a restaurant in downtown Fresno

The Chicken Shack owner Damon Miller has transformed the old Payless ShoeSource at the historic corner of Fulton and Mariposa streets in downtown Fresno into the latest version of his restaurant that he started in Hanford.
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The Chicken Shack owner Damon Miller has transformed the old Payless ShoeSource at the historic corner of Fulton and Mariposa streets in downtown Fresno into the latest version of his restaurant that he started in Hanford.

The Chicken Shack restaurant opens on Fulton Street Friday.

It's among the first Fulton Street storefronts – it used to be Payless ShoeSource – to convert to an eatery since the pedestrian mall opened to cars in October. At 1108 Fulton, the restaurant is at the corner of Fulton Street and Mariposa Plaza.

The Chicken Shack is a second location for owner Damon Miller, who opened the original in Hanford three and a half years ago. He also has a food truck of the same name that stops around Fresno.

The restaurant's menu is all about chicken: Chicken wings, chicken fingers, chicken sandwiches, chicken salads and chicken wraps. These come in various forms and combinations, like six wings with fries and a drink for $10.49. Big orders like the 50-piece chicken finger deal for $59.99 are geared toward groups or meetings. There are beef burgers, too.

The restaurant has at least 30 different sauces that Miller and his workers have created, including varying degrees of hot sauce, but also chili-lime and "Oh Jeez Szechuan!"

What else do you need to know? The chicken mascot's name is Fred. You can tell who the owner is: Miller has a tattoo of Fred on his leg. And if you follow The Chicken Shack on Facebook, you might see a video of a chicken twerking. The restaurant also serves beer and has two patios.

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Passion for his Chicken Shack restaurant in seen in a tattoo of "Fred" on Damon Miller's leg. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

The Chicken Shack will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. – at least to start, Miller said. Restaurants that are closed evenings and weekends are often a point of contention with downtown residents who want to go out to eat then. But many restaurateurs say they don't get enough customers to justify staying open.

Miller said he will adjust the hours as needed.

The building has been repainted and dubbed Renoir Corner, a nod to the washer woman sculpture out front inspired by artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir. (Suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, Renoir directed an assistant to create the statue. Fresno’s version is one of six worldwide and the only one the public is allowed to touch.)

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The Chicken Shack owner Damon Miller has transformed the old Payless ShoeSource at the historic corner of Fulton and Mariposa streets into the latest version of his restaurant that he started in Hanford. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

The building got a new paint job, but it's not finished. About 40 images of art will be hung on the exterior, including portrayals of works by Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas and Paul Gauguin.

In the same building, Toshiko Japanese Cuisine next door is preparing to open.

Miller is bullish on downtown and Fulton Street.

"We just wanted a fun place downtown," he said. "The street is just an awesome place to be."

Opening the restaurant wasn't easy.

Even though the city made changes intended to make it easier for businesses to open on Fulton Street with features like outdoor patios, there were some hurdles. Getting two patios approved was one them, as the restaurant has one adjoining the restaurant, then leaves 6 feet clear for pedestrians on the sidewalk, with another separate patio closer to the street.

Miller said the city treated him well, but the process still took a long time.

"It was supposed to be easy, but they didn't know how to make it easy," he said.

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Fulton Street has been a hot topic of conversation since its October debut. People have debated whether the transformation has lost momentum, with Mayor Lee Brand reminding people that real estate development doesn't happen overnight.

The Chicken Shack was aided by a landlord who lives in Los Angeles, but jumped right into developing his building on Fulton Street. Robert Gurfield paid for turning the shoe store into two restaurants. He declined to say how much he paid, but installing new kitchens is expensive.

He said the rents the two restaurants pay are enough to cover the loan he took out to develop the property. He wasn't afraid to take the leap, he said.

"I’ve seen other towns, in California in particular, transform their downtowns and so I thought with Fresno making its big investment in the streets, that we were ripe for a good reawakening," Gurfield said. "My hope is that as people see that these new restaurants are drawing a great deal of attention and they're actually doing some good business, that will encourage other people, property owners and businesses to develop their properties and get with the spirit of downtown."

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough
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