Those who hail from the west coast who like their food will have undoubtedly heard of the hugely popular Mexican fast food chain El Pollo Loco. The name of this chain is Spanish and actually translates as “The Crazy Chicken”. They serve a range of Mexican dishes from tacos to quesadillas and everything in between but are most famed for their grilled chicken. Their chicken is completely unique. It is marinated in a citrus blend with garlic, herbs and spiced and then grilled. As you can imagine, hundreds of people have tried and failed to master the secret marinade blend, but the simple fact is that there is no way to replicate this blend at home. Many have come close, but simply not close enough. If you have yet to visit an El Pollo Loco location, then now is the time as we are about to fill your brain with 10 untold truths about the chain. Let’s take a look!
1. El Pollo Loco Originates In Mexico
These days, El Pollo Loco is largely a US franchise, but this hasn’t always been the case. The chain was founded in Sinaloa, Mexico way back in 1974 by Juan Francisco Ochoa, also known as Don Pancho. Surprisingly, the very first El Pollo Loco location was actually at a roadside in Mexico. Don Pancho started the franchise with only 15 thousand pesos to work with. He had 10 tables and 43 chickens to create this famous fast food chain. His wife, Flerida, is the genius being the citrus marinade that is still used to this day. What probably surprised the husband and wife duo more than anyone else is the fact that by the end of their first day of business they had completely sold out of chicken. Three years later, they decided to open a second El Pollo Loco location, this time in San Luis Potosi. Pancho’s brother Jamie decided that he would quit his full time job so that he was able to help to run the restaurant. By the time 1979 rolled around, there were 85 locations scattered throughout 20 cities in Northern Mexico. Most surprising is the fact that the vast majority of these locations were run by friends and family members. The first American El Pollo Loco was opened in December in Los Angeles. Within its first year of business, it had accumulated a massive $1.5 million dollars. By the end of 1983, there were an impressive 19 El Pollo Loco locations dotted across California.
2. The Franchise Was Once Owned by Denny’s
Given that the chain was relatively new, it is understandable that Don Pancho will have made some mistakes along the way. During the 1980’s, he made several bad financial decisions which inevitably caused him to accumulate a staggering $3 million in debt. As you can imagine, this caused some serious financial worries for the franchise. Pancho was left with no other option than to sell off some of his locations. By 1983, all 19 of the El Pollo Loco locations in California were sold to Denny’s. Everyone will have heard of this diner style chain. They paid Pancho a healthy sum of between $11 million and $13 million, allowing him to free the franchise of so much financial stress. There was an agreement at the time of sale that Pancho would retain ownership of all 92 El Pollo Loco locations based in Mexico. Within the first 18 months of Denny’s being in control of the American El Pollo Loco locations, the chain had grown from 19 locations to an impressive 29 locations across southern California, as well as a further 6 locations across Houston, Texas. Four years later, TW Services took over ownership of Denny’s Inc. thus giving them ownership of the American El Pollo locations, too. By 1990, the 200th location was opened in California.
3. It Has Had Its Fair Share of Legal Battles
As with most large fast food franchises, El Pollo Loco has seen its fair share of legal battles. Back in 2004, the Mexican side of the brand took on and tried to sue the American owned side of the brand after they failed to deliver on their side of the bargain in terms of the joint expansion agreement made years previously. Not surprisingly, the Mexican side of the brand won and were awarded a massive sum of 22 million dollars and were given back the El Pollo Loco trademark and intellectual property of the brand within Mexico. Another legal battle was fought more recently in 2016 when several Mexican restaurants were closed by the Health Ministry for the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon. Officially, the reason for the closures was listed as health code violations. However, rumor has it that it was actually the result of a political rivalry. The reason behind this rumor was the fact that at least one of the locations was owned by Mexican politician, Marco Gonzalez.
4. They Have Experimented Extensively With Their Menu
As the owner of any fast food chain will tell you, you have to be prepared to experiment with your dishes if you want to be able to expand to more locations. The owners of El Pollo Loco knew this for themselves and were well aware that in order to compete with rivals such as KFC, they would have to be willing to experiment with their food. Whilst they kept their traditional Mexican dishes with tortillas and salsa, they decided to expand to add more Mexican treats to the menu, including tacos, enchiladas, burritos and quesadillas. All of these dishes are still available to this day. By 1994, several locations were equipped with a side dish bar, a salsa bar and a BBQ in order to see how popular they would be with customers. Other locations saw ice cream and French fries added to the menu. However, out of all of the experiments that were carried out, only the salsa bar proved popular and was soon rolled out to all El Pollo Loco locations in America. During 1995, the chain started to offer large scale catering, as well as a home delivery service. At one point, the team even decided to try and offer fried chicken; something that completely goes against everything they stood for. Whatever your views are, we can all agree that the food on offer at El Pollo Loco is delicious.
5. It Has Featured in the Guinness Book of World Records
Getting your fast food chain into the Guinness Book of World Records is definitely not an easy task, but the masterminds behind El Pollo Loco managed it. Other than the fact that it is one of the most popular Hispanic franchises in the world, the thing that made El Pollo Loco world record breakers was back in 1995 when they decided to make the world’s largest burrito. It weighed a whopping two tons and was a staggering 949 meters long. They held a special event in Anaheim, California to construct the burrito which earned them their place in the book as world record holders. Sadly, they were beaten by Canirac La Paz, also from California, who constructed a burrito weighing 6.3 tons and reaching 2.4km in length. Who on earth managed to eat all of the burrito goodness?! There are numerous other restaurants to feature in the Guinness Book of World Records; The World’s Oldest Restaurant – Restaurante Botin, Madrid, The World’s Largest Restaurant – Bawabet Dimashq, Damascus, The Restaurant with the Largest Menu – Mofarguru, Budapest and the only restaurant to have a robot as a waiter – The Robot Kitchen, Hong Kong.
6. They Do a Lot of Charity Work
Back in 2005, El Pollo Loco Charities was founded; a nonprofit charity which provides meals for underprivileged families. Every year, the charity donates over 10,000 meals for children, the disadvantaged, underprivileged families and the elderly. However, their charitable work doesn’t stop there. They also support literacy, bilingual education, social responsibility, humanitarian issues and academic excellence. As well as this, they also carry out Fire-Grilled Fundraisers. This initiative allows nonprofit organizations to raise funds for their cause when they dine at El Pollo Loco locations. When members dine here, 20% of the purchase goes to their cause. When you consider how many locations there are across America and Mexico, it is hard to imagine how much money and food they donate every single year. The company is also well-known for really providing for their employees, too. The majority of the employees will work at their location for at least 5 years. With benefits including retirement pensions, paid vacations, paid sick leave, life insurance, free drinks, company store discounts and a casual dress code, it is easy to see why this is the case.
7. They Only Use Fresh Ingredients
One of the things that make El Pollo Loco stand out from their competitors is the fact that they only use fresh ingredients in their dishes. From the chicken to the avocados, the hot peppers and the tomatoes, everything that staff at El Pollo Loco use in their dishes is 100% fresh. The reason for the company only using completely fresh ingredients is that it guarantees that the flavors in the dishes are authentic and that the food is considerably healthier because processed foods tend to strip the foods of their nutrients. A vast majority of the fast food chains across the world will use processed meats and vegetables. Unfortunately, this is unavoidable when you consider how many thousands of customers they have each day. However, El Pollo Loco have stuck to their guns and ensured that they only use completely fresh ingredients in all of their dishes. The little extra time that it takes to prepare the ingredients for the dishes is definitely worth it as you can certainly taste the difference in the flavors.
8. There is a Secret Menu of Sorts
There is no fast food franchise that doesn’t offer a secret menu to its customers and El Pollo Loco is no different. If tortillas aren’t your thing, you want something low carb, or you follow a vegan diet, El Pollo is able to provide. If you are vegan, how about trying the Tostado Salad. To make this dish vegan friendly, you simply need to ask to substitute the chicken for avocado, hold the creamy cilantro dressing, the sour cream and the cheese and ask for salsa instead. If you want to try the Chicken Black Bean Bowl, simply ask for avocado instead of chicken, and hold the cheese. This dish is served with black beans and broccoli, both of which are vegan friendly so you won’t be missing out on the flavors of the dish. Basically anything on the menu can be tailored so that it becomes vegan friendly or low carb. There are so many different combinations available on the menu; you really can pick and choose to create your perfect personal dish.
9. They Hold an Annual Grill Challenge for their Grill Masters
Cooks at El Pollo Loco are not actually called cooks. In fact, they are all called Grill Masters. There are several levels of grill mastery – Certified Grill Master, Grill Master Trainer, Expert Grill Master, Elite Grill Master and to get to the final level of The Champion Grill Master, cooks have to win the coveted top spot at the annual Grill Master Challenge. The challenge was started over 20 years ago and began as an internal operation. These days, however, the company has decided to allow guests to view the event, giving them a chance to go behind the scenes at El Pollo Loco. The methods used in the grilling process are the same ones that were used 30 years ago when El Pollo Loco secured its place on the map. There are several stages during the competition, but it culminates in one final grill off with those who have reached this stage. During the final, Grill Masters will be judged on numerous areas including preparation, cooking, cutting and the presentation of their chicken. There are 4 levels of the competition – Restaurant Level with 1,400 cooks, Area Level with 75 cooks, The Semi-Finals with 12 cooks, The Finals with 6 cooks and then the Top Grill Master is named. As you can imagine, cooks who have been working for the company for a long time are eager to get this title and there is some serious competition to beat for those who wish to participate. There are no other fast food franchises that offer competitions for their staff like this.
10. They Have a Tendency to Be A Little ‘Out There’
Obviously, every fast food chain has to have a mascot. McDonald’s has Ronald McDonald, KFC has The Colonel and El Pollo Loco…well, they have The Crazy Chicken. A fascinating and somewhat amusing fact is that Brad Pitt’s first job was actually as a mascot for El Pollo Loco handing out flyers on the sidewalk. Humble beginnings indeed. At one point in time, there was an El Pollo Loco chain inside Foxwoods Resort Casino. Seems pretty normal. Well, at this location, it was possible to play tic-tac-toe against a live chicken. Seriously. This chicken had spent six months at “Chicken University” learning how to play the game. According to the sign at the location, players simply inserted a quarter, and wait for ‘Bird Brain’ to take his first turn with an O. Players had 9 seconds on each of their turns to press the button to choose their square. We’ve certainly never heard of anything like this from another fast food franchise, that’s for sure.
These are just some of the fascinating facts that you need to learn about El Pollo Loco, there are plenty more gems just waiting to be unearthed. One thing that we can all agree on though, is that the flame-grilled chicken on offer from Mexican giants El Pollo Loco is absolutely incredible. If you have an El Pollo Loco location in your area and you have yet to sample their food, then there is no better time than right now. Once you get a taste of genuine Mexican cuisine that has been made entirely with fresh ingredients, it is unlikely that you will be able to keep away. There are locations all over the country now, so take a look around your local area to see if you have one nearby! Even if you have never tried Mexican cuisine in your life, you will soon be a huge fan once you taste the traditional dishes on offer at this fast food franchise. From classic dishes to dishes with a modern twist, they really do have something for everyone. Try it today! You have nothing to lose and you will definitely not be disappointed.