by Jessie McKenna
With nearly 2,000 followers, 146 recommendations, and 4.8 out of five stars on Facebook, Big Chickie has made quite an impression in its five years serving Southeast Seattle, with comments from fans like “We love big chickie! Yummy food and fun atmosphere” and “Mashed potatoes and gravy. The best ever.” Unfortunately for fans, restaurant owners announced on Friday, December 6 that they would close permanently in just one week, hosting their last dinner service on Friday, December 13. However, owner Matthew Stubbs says there’s been such a frenzy of patronage over the last few days that they will likely run out of food before then. He says customers should call ahead if they want to know what’s available to save themselves the trip if their favorite dishes are no more.
Wednesday’s dinner rush saw a steady line of customers and a parking lot maxed out with a dozen cars at any given time. The staff behind the counter did a well-practiced dance fulfilling orders with aplomb. They were professional and polite. You’d never know this would be one of the last times the crew assembled in this particular kitchen.
Locals, including Rainier Ave storefront shop owners like Karl Hackett of Jacob Willard Home, less than a block south, have long considered Big Chickie a neighborhood favorite. People who never tried it are now scrambling to get in before it’s too late—though it may already be for some dishes—one of our own South Seattle Emerald board members in conversation about the writing of this article lamented over text message, “I got some of their last chickens last night. :’(”.
Big Chickie’s specialty was charcoal roasted rotisserie chicken (also known as pollo a la brasa, a Peruvian staple), served alongside your choice of mashed potatoes and gravy (the best ever), freshly baked corn muffins, salads, yucca fries, and coleslaw. They also served sandwiches like the “Mojo Pork, Pork & Pickles, and BBQ Chicken” and featured specials like “curried chicken with veggies over rice, served with ginger slaw cornbread and a sauce and iced tea or lemonade,” with “orange hot sauce” recommend—the whole meal costing patrons just ten bucks.
Their homemade sauces were tangy and original and came in six colors: yellow, green, pink, orange, red (BBQ), and white (AKA “Rose Gold,” “Chickie Sauce,” and “The New Sauce”). Their vegetarian and vegan options were aplenty with over a dozen totally vegan menu items to choose from, like black beans and “yellow” rice (seasoned with cumin and turmeric), perfectly charcoaled lime glazed sweet potatoes, and fried sweet plantains for dessert or any ol’ time. They even had many gluten-free choices—truly something for everyone.
Big Chickie “modern roadside chicken shack” has been looking out over Rainier Ave for just over five years, opening in September of 2014. As you walk, ride, or drive by, to this day you can’t miss the two lighted signs, one of them the vivid Big Chickie logo, an artsy take on a rooster—its perfectly round body a white dinner plate with a fork and knife that meet at just the right angle to give the affect of a wing—with a fire-engine red comb atop the rooster’s head and a matching wattle below its bright yellow beak. The chicken sign adorns the large covered outdoor space that makes up all of Big Chickie’s seating across from the service counter. With a small parking lot adjacent, it’s super convenient as a take-out or dine-in spot.
Long before Big Chickie moved in, Rudy Hansen’s decades-old, Rudy’s Service Station, stood where the drive up restaurant is today, and the site is still in the Hansen family. Matt and Sara Stubbs, co-owners of Big Chickie, in their Facebook post announcing Big Chickie’s closure gave Rudy’s a nod and thanked the family. They said that a new independently-owned small business would take over the space but they couldn’t announce who. They did say that, “based upon their fan reviews, we are sure they will be a hit in the neighborhood.” They went on to say that they hoped the new business would be welcomed with the same kindness that’s been shown to them.
Besides a healthy following on Facebook and many fans IRL (in real life), the Stubbs family has a lot to be proud of, and Big Chickie leaves Hillman City with a list of accomplishments—aside from opening a family restaurant alongside raising two young children, a remarkable feat for any couple. They list the following awards on Facebook: Eater Seattle Great Spots for Outdoor Eating and Drinking (2017), Seattle Met Best Cheap Wintertime Eats (2017), Red Tricycle Fabulous Family Eats (2016), Eater Seattle Best Patios (2016).
Sara Stubbs works in higher education and has been doing so full time since the restaurant opened. Matt could be found on site at Big Chickie on any given day. He’s also been active in the small business community, joining and helping to rekindle the Hillman City Business Association (HCBA) and—more recently—in his role as secretary of the HCBA working alongside its president, the aforementioned Karl Hackett, joined with the Columbia City Business Association to create, in their words, “a collaborative effort to give representation to businesses between Mt. Baker and Brighton.” The partnership is called Rainier Ave Business Coalition and they recently kicked off their work with hyper-local events.
So, what’s next for Matt? He says he doesn’t know. Right now, he says, he and Sara are focused on closing Big Chickie in what he called “a positive way.” When we spoke with Matt over the phone he said that he and his wife’s concerns are with the practical aspects, of course, like getting through until Friday—while rapidly running out of food—but are especially focused on the well-being of their staff and the community.
Matt and Sara Stubbs, again via Facebook, signed off in their post about the closure with this heartfelt message: “It would be wonderful to see you at Big Chickie one more time in the coming days. We sincerely appreciate your business and your kindness. Thank you for making Big Chickie a part of your life.”
Jessie McKenna works with an array of South End nonprofit organizations including the Rainier Ave Business Association. She currently does outreach and communications as well as events planning for the group.