Talmadge Price didn’t plan to build a South End landmark, nor did he mean to create Charlotte’s longest-running, lunch-hour traffic jam.
He just wanted to sell chicken.
And sell it he did, to the point that, today, Price’s Chicken Coop sells some of the most famous fried chicken in the South. In this town, the exclamation “I got Price’s!” remains an urgent summons to drop everything and get to the table.
Price, 92, died Friday and was memorialized Monday at a service that attracted hundreds to Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church, which he joined in 1952.
His friend and pastor, the Rev. Matt King, said Price was not only a pillar of the church, but his spiritual influence moved people in mysterious ways.
“We’d announce that we were having a church workday, and by the way, there would be Price’s at lunch, and 75 people would miraculously show up.”
Price and his brother, Pat, opened the Coop at 1614 Camden Road in 1962, using a secret family recipe. Those were the days when some restaurants in Charlotte were integrated and some weren’t. Price’s was.
It posted its policy on the wall: “We serve two kinds of people – Ladies and Gentlemen.”
Takeout gained fame
In a 1980 Observer interview, Price recalled spending $90 on advertising the first month. He never bought another ad. He never needed to.
Crowds came then and crowds come now. Customers stand in line, spilling out the door and onto to the sidewalk at lunch. Cars are double-parked or hovering behind about-to-be-vacated spots.
Chicken marinates overnight at Price’s in a secret blend. It goes crackling into peanut oil fryers and emerges as a study in opposites: extra crispy on the outside, super tender on the inside.
In 2007, a “Bon Appetit” special on the Food Channel named Price’s Chicken Coop one of the nation’s top three places for fried chicken. It didn’t rank gizzards or livers, fish or shrimp, but you can still get those at Price’s, too.
Price’s has always had its rules. Everything is carry-out. Sweet tea only. No checks, no credit cards. And it has a new policy for the digital generation: If you’re gabbing on your phone when you place an order, you can’t bring it back and complain that you didn’t get what you meant to get. There’s a sign on the wall that says so.
Family from Union County
Price, his six brothers and two sisters grew up near Monroe. Their father, Carl Price, bought chickens and eggs from farmers in Union County and sold them in Charlotte. During the Depression, he started Dilworth Poultry Co. and put his sons on bikes to deliver.
Eventually, the operation turned into the carry-out lunch and dinner business.
Price joined the 178th Field Artillery Division during World War II and served in North Africa and Italy. After the war, he joined his brother Pat, who died in 1992, in the family poultry business.
He married Geraldine Thomas on New Year’s Day 1950, said to be the only day he could get off work. She survives him, as does their son Steven Price, the third-generation owner of the Coop, and daughters Karen Maready and Reba Price.
Price loved gospel music and square dancing, and was a dead-eye skeet shooter. When Pritchard Memorial sent a mission group to Gulfport, Miss., in 2005 to help residents recover from Hurricane Katrina, Price – then 85 – insisted on going along and helping.
On Monday, the Rev. Bobby Morrow remembered his first visit to Pritchard Memorial in 2005. He was in town to do a tryout sermon, and members of the congregation were asking about his background.
Morrow said he mentioned that his absolute favorite food was fried chicken, and someone in the group pointed out Price and said that the best fried chicken in the nation was made right here in Charlotte.
“It was like the sky opened up,” Morrow said, “and the Lord said, ‘Pritchard is your home.’ ”