Ezell’s Famous Chicken Celebrates 40th Anniversary by Giving Back

(Left to Right) Karen Rodriguez, Lewis Rudd, Nia Brown, Adrienne Rudd, Darnell Rudd and Kyle Aiona. Michael Antonelli/Tigard Life
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ave enjoyed their famous chicken (which boasts more than a few celebrity fans) since they first opened in Seattle. Oregon residents are in luck, because in 2020, Ezell’s opened their first Oregon location right here in Tigard. 

Curious about what you should try? You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, which offers fresh food and fast, friendly service. Upon walking into Ezell’s, you’ll be utterly astounded by the otherworldly scent of fresh-baked rolls and New Orleans-style, creole-seasoned chicken. Being from Louisiana myself, I knew I was in the right place. 

Fans of southern food will be pleasantly surprised by the addition of sweet and crunchy fried okra, a delectable snack you won’t want to pass up. Another surprise? Fried chicken gizzards, which are a chewy, tasty specialty. 

Now for the main event: the fried chicken. Guests have the option of ordering the Original chicken or the Spicy chicken. Don’t fret, as you can also order Half & Half if you don’t want to choose. Both options are unique in that they offer a rare combination of being juicy and flavorful without being too greasy. 

Of Ezell’s one-of-a-kind recipe, restaurant co-founder Lewis Rudd explains, “The chicken is prepared and marinated in the New Orleans style creole seasoning. When it’s battered, we use a little cayenne for the spicy chicken. That creole seasoning underneath gives it flavor down to the bone.”

Combo orders come with the option of two homemade side dishes. You might try the savory and fresh potato salad, comforting mashed potatoes and gravy, or the classic mac & cheese, which all pair perfectly with the chicken. As much as I liked all the side options, I have to say that my favorite was the sweet, fluffy homemade rolls (don’t worry, the roll comes with your combo in addition to your two sides). If you still have room for dessert, you can choose peach cobbler or sweet potato pie. I chose the pie, and its crust tastes about as homemade as you can get!

Ezell’s is rightfully famous for their incredible food, but the restaurant is equally known for its community-minded mission and family-owned origins. When asked about the dream that started Ezell’s, co-founder Lewis Rudd says, “It was a dream of my childhood friend Ezell Stephens, the namesake.” 

The two met, working at a chicken restaurant in East Texas. After Ezell Stephens married Lewis’s sister Faye and moved to Seattle, Washington, Lewis and his brother Darnell Rudd soon followed. On February 3rd, 1984, they opened the first Ezell’s Famous Chicken location in Seattle’s Central District. Right from the start, the restaurant was an integral part of the local community.

“When we opened up in February, it was also Black History Month,” Lewis shares, describing the restaurant’s inaugural location in front of Garfield High School. “The population there was 84 plus percent African American. From day one, the community just embraced us.”

Lewis describes that local high schools, churches, and Seattleites supported the restaurant nearly immediately. “There was just something magical and spiritual about the relationship and the connection to the community,” Lewis describes. “Without that community support, Ezell’s would not be here. We have an obligation and honor to give back and invest in the community.”

Since their inception, Ezell’s has lived out this ethos through funding grants, working with local nonprofits, and building meaningful relationships with other businesses. Diving deeper into Ezell’s mission, Lewis shares, “Understanding some of the challenges that Black-owned businesses face, we unapologetically have focused on providing resources to help increase and close that gap between the African American community and communities at large.” 

Thus, the Rudd’s R.U.B.B. Initiative was born. Standing for Raising Up Black Businesses, the initiative raised over $110,000 in its inception and has since awarded over $75,000 in grants to Black business owners. The initiative will also host the third annual Black Business Leadership Conference at the University of Washington this year. 

This February, you can participate in Ezell’s community-minded mission in Tigard by participating in their 40 for .40 Fundraiser. By adding $0.40 to your order, you can support Ezell’s Hazel Danielle Clayton Foundation, which provides grants for youth educational programs in both the Tigard and Seattle areas. 

The foundation is named for Hazel Danielle Clayton, who worked as Ezell’s Community Outreach Specialist and displayed a passion for connecting children with local resources and educational programs. “Hazel Danielle Clayton joined our team 6-7 years ago,” Lewis explains. “She had a huge heart, and she helped us create structure.” When Hazel unexpectedly passed away last August, the Ezell’s team was committed to keeping her spirit alive and created the foundation in her honor. Lewis shares, “It allows the community at large to all participate and celebrate a great person and a great cause.” 

From the moment you step into Ezell’s, it’s impossible to ignore the community-minded spirit of the restaurant. The food is made with care, and everyone behind the scenes is committed to ensuring a great time and a delicious meal. It’s this commitment to their guests that makes it no surprise they’ve been around for 40 years, and it’s exciting to see the restaurant continue to expand to new places. 

“I’m just overjoyed with where we are now four decades later,” Lewis says near the end of our conversation. “There’s still the same level, if not more, of the energy, love, and care between Ezell’s and the communities that we serve. We have so many people to thank for that.” 

Ezell’s Chicken is located at 10218 SW Washington Square Rd. in Tigard. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, they can be reached at 503-747-0164 or online at ezellschicken.com.