Mary Brown’s Chicken, hatched on the Rock and operating for 54 years

Posted on June 02, 2023 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments


A vintage photo of an early Mary Brown’s location (photo credit: Mary Brown’s Chicken)


Whether frequenting Big Mary Mondays or opting for a classic chicken meal with taters, Atlantic Canadians surely know the taste of Mary Brown’s. Over its 54 years in business, the brand founded on the Rock has grown from a single location to a national fast-food franchise.


Hatching the brand

Origins of Mary Brown’s Chicken date back to 1969 when Pat Tarrant and Cyril Fleming acquired a coveted fried chicken recipe and rights to open a Golden Skillet restaurant from Clifton Guthrie. While the world was watching a man walk on the moon, Tarrant and Fleming brought the Virginia-based chicken franchise to St. John’s, N.L.

Shortly after opening, there were legal disputes about their ability to use the Golden Skillet name at their location in the Avalon Mall. So, Pat and Cyril rebranded to honour Guthrie’s wife and the creator of the famous chicken recipe—Mary Brown. (Yes, Mary Brown was a real person!) Re-launched as Mary Brown’s Virginia Fried Chicken, a brand was born.


Inside a Mary Brown’s restaurant in the 1980s (photo credit: Mary Brown’s Chicken)


Spreading wings

Soon after, the duo began to expand Mary Brown’s locations across the province and in 1972 spread their wings beyond N.L. to open two stores in Ontario. Over time, the brand continued its journey across Canada to Alberta and throughout the Maritimes.

Additions were also made to the menu, including Mary Brown’s famous taters that originated at a location in Ontario in 1980. The new menu item was a major hit, consistently out-selling fries and was included in the company’s rebrand as Mary Brown’s Famous Chicken and Taters in 2000.

Despite expansions, Mary Brown’s maintained its commitment to serving fresh products made with ingredients sourced from Canadian farmers and suppliers. Whole Grade A chickens and sacks of potatoes arrive at locations every day to be hand-prepared into chicken dinners, taters, Big Marys and other menu items.


Mary Brown’s ‘nothing else comes close’ commercials from 1987 (video credit: Retrontario on YouTube)


New ownership

Growth for Mary Brown’s reached new heights in 2007 when N.L. entrepreneur Gregory Roberts acquired the brand. Starting with 67 franchises across the country, under Roberts’ leadership this number nearly tripled within a decade.

The brand also invested in other areas. In 2021, Mary Brown’s acquired naming rights to an indoor arena and entertainment venue in N.L. formerly known as Mile One Centre. Mary Brown’s also acquired Fat Bastard Burritos and its 75 locations in 2022. The tex mex-inspired fast food chain was founded in Ontario and shares Mary Brown’s passion for keeping things Canadian. Bringing things home, Mary Brown’s plans to launch the first Fat Bastard location outside of Ontario in downtown St. John’s during the summer of 2023.


The exterior of a Mary Brown’s location in 2022 (photo credit: Mary Brown’s Chicken)


Still clucking

Today, Mary Brown’s has over 230 locations across Canada. With franchises as far east as N.L. and all the way west in B.C., the chicken franchise has flown coast to coast. Given that Mary Brown’s is currently seeking international franchisees in the U.K., Latin America, the Middle East and the U.S.A., it appears that big plans are ahead for the brand from the Rock.

54 years later and still clucking.


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