Famous for fried chicken, the take-out restaurant started by Lee Cummings and Harold Omer 50 years ago has always been known to serve a high-quality product, but we’ve also kept our family values and focus on making our customers’ experiences truly memorable. Our customers’ experience at Lee’s is so unique that several loyal customers frequent our stores daily and others that have moved away from Lee’s core geography have indicated that we’re always their first stop when on vacation or making a road trip. That says a lot about a 50-year-old brand that’s kept the same recipe!
Lee’s loyal fan base has really helped build our success. We are currently in our 25th consecutive quarter of same store sales growth and even though some enhancements have been made to our architecture, operations manual and services, our core menu and Famous Recipe has and always will remain the same.
Lee Cummings and Harold Omer first opened “Harold’s Take Home” restaurant in Lima, Ohio, in 1966. This is where Lee first introduced his Famous Recipe® chicken after spending several years working with his uncle, Colonel Sanders, at Kentucky Fried Chicken. The restaurant’s most popular item at opening was the original three-piece box for $1.25 in most locations, which featured mashed potatoes with gravy, coleslaw and a biscuit.
By 1972, we had 100 locations. The rights to the company were purchased in 1981 by Shoney’s, Inc., and all were rebranded to Lee’s Famous Recipe® Chicken, using our co-founder Lee Cummings as the national spokesperson because of his booming personality and long-running experience in the chicken business.
Lee’s has seen great success over the past 50 years and today we have 135 locations in 12 states, and a number of international locations. In addition to our Famous Recipe® Classic Chicken staple, our stores also offer Breast Strips, Spicy Jumbo Dippers and a variety of Famous side items, in addition to a few other Classic Favorites and Desserts.
Famous Recipe® Chicken
Although our operations and procedures have been modernized over the years, we have always kept in line with our core menu, in which our Famous Recipe® chicken is honey dipped, hand breaded in Lee’s special blend of herbs and spices and pressure cooked to seal in the flavor – a recipe that’s earned us both national and international recognition.
“We never take any shortcuts with regard to our products or recipes,” said Chuck Cooper, President and CEO of Lee’s Famous Recipe® Chicken. “I’ve had the honor of meeting Lee Cummings’ family, and they’ve told us that he would be extremely proud of what we’re doing with the brand.” Cooper bought into the system in 2003.
Franchisees with stores in the Lee’s system since the early days can still remember their first experience with the famous flavor that put Lee’s on the map in the first place.
“I still love this chicken. I would have a hard time selling it if I didn’t believe in the product and if I didn’t think it was an awesome piece of chicken every single time,” said Steve Diveley, President of Diveley Development Corporation and owner of the Lee’s location in Danville, Illinois since 1992. “One of the main reasons I stick with it is because I believe in the product.”
Steve says he can remember being in the kitchen at age 14 learning to make the Famous Recipe chicken and ultimately took over operations from his father, Lowell “Jocko” Diveley, who originally opened the first Danville location in 1967.
Steve isn’t the only one that believes in the product. Our brand has a system full of passionate franchisees that are extremely dedicated. “There is a sense of nostalgia associated with Lee’s because we’ve kept it as close as possible to how it originally tasted,” said Cooper.
A Tradition of Family Values
One way we have ensured success is to stay true to the family values we have instilled since day one. As brothers-in-law, Cummings and Omer knew how special it was to for their families to be involved in the restaurant. When signing on new franchisees and locations, we still find value in encouraging families to get involved. It must be sticking, because several of our stores have been owned and operated by the same families for multiple generations.
Lee’s franchisees also view themselves as a close-knit family, acknowledging that there are several that have been with the business for all 50 years. This sets us apart from other franchise systems in that this wealth of experience can truly be a crucial resource. “We work together for the good of the system, to make sure we’re headed in the right direction,” said Cooper. “It’s very much a relationship brand.” Newer franchisees have the opportunity to learn from others that have had immense success and are able to capitalize on their expertise to build best practices.
Unparalleled Customer Service
Understandably, our family values naturally extend to our customers. Loyal customers frequently know our local operators by name because of the efforts each of them have made to take pride in their restaurants.
“You can’t do that from home or from behind a desk,” said David Yohe, President of Famous Recipe® of Lima, Inc., and owner of the original Lee’s in Lima, Ohio, in addition to one other in the city. “You have to really get a feel for what customers like and want and what makes them come back.” David remembers Lee teaching him how to fry chicken when he was only a junior in high school.
David is right about customer interaction. Though credit for our recognition can largely be attributed to the Famous Recipe®, it’s also about the customer’s experience the moment they come through the door. “I love how many of our customers describe our chicken and the experience and really the crave-able, memorable product and moment,” said Cooper. “We’ve had several even ask us how they can have it shipped to them.”
Of course our restauranteurs also have a long-standing history of being extremely involved in their communities, offering food and their time to local charitable events and fundraisers. Most franchisees cite civic involvement as a fundamental tenant of their business strategy.
Our incredible success is fueling growth; several more Lee’s locations are expected to open in the next few years. We also saw a 7.7 percent growth in 2015 system sales over 2014, putting Lee’s Famous Recipe® Chicken in the top 200 restaurant chains in the United States, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. The top 25 percent of our stores had an average sales volume of approximately $2 million in 2015.
To ensure growth and success, Lee’s will always stay true to our Famous Recipe® chicken and provide the best possible customer service while continuing to instill our core family values. On behalf of everyone at Lee’s, we truly appreciate everyone that has made our company a success and look forward to being around for another 50 years and beyond!