So Stumpjumper writes about his love of Boston Market. Coming from Boston, as I do, I have quite a bit to say about Boston Market. It’s a tragic story of a marvelous food concept gone horribly awry. I hardly ever go anymore. Nothing would make me happier than if they were to fix the concept, and revive the chain.

I remember having my first Boston Chicken. I was a teenager, and my mother was away somewhere, and my father brought home a fully cooked whole chicken from the Boston Chicken across the street from where he worked, in the Prudential building in Boston. He opened up this tin foil lined bag and the most wonderous aroma came out, followed by a deep reddish-brown whole roasted bird that even today, thinking about makes my mouth water. We devoured the chicken that night, and I set about to investigate this new phenomenon.

After one visit with friends I was hooked. Going to Boston Chicken became an exciting event, and we eagerly anticipated the opening of each new restaurant. Moreover, Boston Chicken became a regular topic of conversation. I remember specifically having electric conversations with a friend of mine’s father in high-school, each of us speculating on just how they got their chicken so juicy. In a sense, much like for ZombyBoy and Stumpjumper, Boston Chicken became a religion.

My worship had to go on haitus when I went to college, as there were no Boston Chicken’s in Chicago at that time, but upon my return to Boston, the reverence recommenced. In particular, my friend McGyva and I would go out on quests for Boston Chicken, gorging ourselves on obnoxious amounts of chicken and heaping helpings of sides. McGyva in particular was enamoured of the way they’d just pile the side dishes on, leaving you no chance to go hungry. I remember one point in particular, eating at the Boston Chicken at Porter Sq., laughing our heads off about how we should go to Bosnia and open our own rip-off called “Bosnian Chicken,” because you know, after spending all day killing and waging war, sometimes you just need to take a break and eat some chicken…

In any event the original company was eventually bought out and outside management came in. I believe they were the guys that had made Blockbuster Video big. They IPO’d the company and it essentially became the first dot com, shooting way up on speculation, largely caused by people around the country hearing about how great Boston Chicken’s food was, certain that this was a company that would be good to own. It became a fiasco and most people lost their shirts. Nevertheless, Boston Chicken announced it was going to expand, and now, it would change it’s name. It would become, “Boston Market.”

Now, not only would they serve chicken, but they’d expand their offerings to include turkey breast, ham and meatloaf. And they’d have new lunch offerings to try and catch the business crowd, what were called Boston Carver sandwiches. I was skeptical at first, but came to acutally like the meatloaf and the sandwiches were ok I suppose. But soon, other things started changing. The heaping sides the used to give you started being carefully measured in the way they’d scoop it out and flatten off the top on your plate. This had McGyva especially upset.

But what was truly worse was that the chicken started coming out undercooked. When half of the rotisseries were being devoted to other crap, and everyone wanted chicken, the manager would just start taking the chicken off before it was ready, resulting in undercooked, slimy chicken. Even this didn’t wouldn’t stop them from running out of chicken, and on more than one occasion I walked into a Boston Market to find that they were completely out of their signature dish.

Well, it didn’t take long for competition to arrive, from the supermarkets and elsewhere. And while their chicken couldn’t hold a candle to Boston Chicken, Boston Chicken was in essence, gone. Maybe you could get quality chicken there on a slow day, but probably not. The game was over. And the company was expanding too fast, into markets like Hong Kong. It was only a matter of time before they toppled over. Desperate for come cash to sustain them, they even branded frozen foods and TV dinners using the Boston Market name and logo. Could anything be more antithetical to the whole idea of home-cooked Boston Market food than to put a cheap version of it, frozen, next to the Stouffers in the supermarket? Well, the inevitable happened, and they went bankrupt. Today, they’re owned by McDonald’s.

From what I’ve read, McDonald’s bought the franchise, intending to just use the real estate to open more McDonald’s and pizza joints (I guess they own a chain). But when they took a closer look at what they had, they grew intrigued, and they’re thinking of reviving the brand. Well, in the off-chance that someone over there isn’t asleep at the wheel and reads the samaBlog (or someone who links to me at least), here are my suggestions for what to do to fix the flagging brand.

1) Change the name back to Boston Chicken. There’s not better way to tell your old fans that you’re going to fix things to the way they used to be than by reviving the name that the chain started with.

2) Ditch the turkey, ham and meatloaf. Ditch the sandwiches. Seinfeld didn’t make an episode about your ham being so tasty, it was about the chicken. Couple this with an advertising campaign whose slogan is, “It’s all about the chicken.”

3) Set quality standards. Do NOT remove the chicken if the time isn’t yet right. Make people wait instead. Commitment to quality like that will create an allure about you and demonstrate that you’re not just another fast food chain.

4) If you must have more than one main course offering, then perhaps offer a variety of beer can chicken, facilities permitting. And don’t skimp on the sides!

5) End all supermarket branding. It dilutes the value of your stores. Take a loss on the deal if you have to, just get that awful frozen foods with your name on it out of the stores and into the trash.

6) Make new stores bigger, not smaller. Have ample bench seating where an entire family can sit down and devour that chicken in a big, open air environment. Don’t assume that your crowd is all take-out. Create a decent environment and you’ll attract an eat-in clinetele.

That’s it. Bet you’d never have figured I’d have that much to say on that topic…


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