Bethany Clough

Is this the end? Chicken Man restaurant has closed after 51 years — for now

The Chicken Man restaurant has closed

Rudy Jr.'s Chicken Man struggled when the Clinton overpass closed. She had hoped to make it when interviewed in 2018, but the restaurant closed in June 2017. She hopes to reopen.
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Rudy Jr.'s Chicken Man struggled when the Clinton overpass closed. She had hoped to make it when interviewed in 2018, but the restaurant closed in June 2017. She hopes to reopen.

Rudy Jr.'s Chicken Man has closed after 51 years in business — though the woman who runs it hopes it won't be forever.

The Chicken Man, one of those hole-in-the-wall Fresno favorites, closed June 16. Janet Wash, the waitress who has been running the restaurant at Weber and Hughes avenues since its namesake, Rudy Wagner Jr., died in 2015, said she was at least seven months behind on the rent and was asked to leave.

Despite its rundown building and taking only cash, the restaurant got rave reviews from customers on Yelp.com for its chicken, burgers and sandwiches.

Wash hopes to reopen Chicken Man elsewhere, or possibly open a food truck, but it's not clear if she has the money to do so.

"I’m kinda up in the air right now," she said. "I don’t want to close it. It’s going to be closed just for a little bit. The plan is to reopen."

Wash blames the seven-month closure of the Clinton overpass across Highway 99, part of the high speed rail construction project, for many of the restaurant's troubles. The overpass has reopened, but not before putting a big dent in business.

In 2017 when the overpass was demolished and rebuilt, the restaurant made $26,000 less than it did the previous year, she said. That was also the year the restaurant celebrated its 50th anniversary with a big bash.

Still, the number of customers walking through the door when the overpass was closed dropped by half, she said. The people who tried to get to the restaurant and other businesses nearby faced a gauntlet of orange cones and flashing signs.

Even making the $800 a month rent was difficult, she said.

A note written on a napkin posted in the window announces the closure and asks anyone interested in being an investor to call Wash at 559-287-1472.

She is already looking at other locations and has floated the idea raising money on the fundraising site GoFundMe.

"After 51 years of being in service, I hate to just close it," she said. "The name is still mine, and I still have the recipes."

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough
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