Restaurants / Openings

World Famous Fried Chicken Restaurant Moves Into Houston With its Secret Recipe

Welcome to Washington Avenue, the New Food Mecca?

BY // 02.12.18

Houston will soon have a new claim to chicken fame. You’ve heard rumbles, but now an opening date is in sight. Memphis classic Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is making its way to Washington Avenue.

You could say this fried chicken mecca’s enjoyed a little more than 15 minutes in the spotlight, with its signature secret recipe dating back more than 60 years.

The celebrated, down-home, Southern comfort food hub is set to open at 1815 Washington in late May. It was originally projected to open last spring, but permitting and construction issues stalled progress.

Gus’s may be arriving a little late, but the devoted following its wings, sweet potato pie and sweet tea garner indicate it’s worth the wait. Just don’t mistake its crispy wings for Nashville Hot Chicken.

Gus’s version tones down the spice, using a hit of cayenne and other spices.

“It’s just enough kick to have you eat piece after piece,” Austin and Houston Gus’s owner Brad Blodgett tells PaperCity. “Sort of like a good queso.”

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The recipe is proprietary to the extreme. “It’s a secret recipe,” Blodgett says. “I don’t even know what’s in it.”

There’s debate over whether it’s the exact same recipe created by Maggie Vanderbilt in 1953. Either way, it seems to have stayed a winner.

Its skin is a standout, too. Instead of “traditional flour, heavy batter,” Gus’s chicken has a crispy, crunchy skin not too far off from the Korean style.

Gus’s Tennessee Roots

Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken may be Tennessee born-and-bred, but it’s become a fixture in Texas over the last few years. Blodgett brought the fried chicken to Austin in 2014. He had befriended someone with a franchise in Memphis and told her: “It blew me away. This would work in Austin.”

Austinites definitely agree. It was love at first bite, and now it’s migrated southeast.

Brad Blodgett and his wife always knew they wanted to expand to Houston. They spent 15 years living in the area. Their Gus’s fits in well in with its location.

“There’s a little Austin corridor right there on Washington,” Blodgett says, noting that Austin transplants Tacodeli and Handle Bar will be his neighbors.

“It was always my experience that Houston tended to mirror the United States,” he says. “It’s such a big city, such a diverse crowd.” It’s also comfortable and “almost reminds me of the same kind of vibe that we grew up with in Memphis,” Blodgett adds.

The retired bond trader first enjoyed the Gus’s recipe in the small town of Mason, Tennessee, where it all began. When he took his first taste of what would become Gus’s goods, he hadn’t eaten fried chicken in seven or eight years.

It knocked his socks off. At first, he couldn’t believe it was as good as he imagined. “I thought ‘Oh, we drank a lot of beer, it can’t be that good.’ But every time we went back, it blew me away,” Blodgett says.

The fried chicken will remain “the star of the menu.” The Houston location’s menu will mirror Austin’s exactly. The vibe will be similar, with a few slight differences. When creating his Austin restaurant, “I tried to recreate the one on Front street” in Memphis, Blodgett says. “I think we pulled it off. It has the same kind of feel to me.”

For every location, “We bring in early rock and roll history. It’s kind of a guiding light,” Blodgett says. In Memphis, that meant using old blues music as inspiration. In Austin, that meant incorporating original photographs and album covers of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Houston’s muse? Expect him with bells on. The one and only Archie Bell, the soul music legend.

“One of our big fans happens to live in Houston — Archie Bell,” Blodgett says. It’s a perfect fit. “In Tighten Up, that funky groove song, he even starts with ‘Hi everybody, I’m Archie Bell of the Drells, from Houston, Texas!'”

Bell and his wife take frequent trips to Austin to chow down at Gus’s. “He gave me a business card and said ‘You’ve got to tell me when you open’ ” in Houston,” Blodgett relates.

Our guess is Bell won’t be the only steadfast fan. Blodgett is betting on it. “Who doesn’t like fried chicken?” he asks.

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