New Zealand’s newest and fanciest KFC opened on Fort St in Auckland this week. Vocal KFC fan Madeleine Chapman was there to experience the magic.
I showed up to the new KFC opening on Fort St wearing a KFC sweatshirt, KFC trackpants, and a KFC beanie. The security guard at the door was checking names but waved me straight through because of course I was supposed to be there. I’d run the full length of Queen St to be on time and was therefore in a full body sweat as I entered the future of KFC dining. And yet I didn’t care because attending a KFC franchise opening was a dream come true. Granted it was a small dream but a dream nonetheless.
There’s a special place in my heart which will always belong to KFC. Whenever there was a birthday in the family growing up, Mum would make meatballs, chop suey, or whatever dinner you requested. And no matter what you requested, there’d be a side of KFC. A bucket (or two) of original recipe and four sides – always fries or potato and gravy because only idiots would waste a side on a drink that you could get for $2 at the supermarket. There were 12 birthdays a year in our home so the Colonel was actually a regular visitor. Have any food every birthday celebration and you’ll start to pair that food with feeling happy, content, and surrounded by love.
I grew up thinking everyone was in agreement that KFC was the best until I moved to a private school in year 12 and met girls who’d never had KFC in their life. They were 16 years old and had never tasted a wicked wing. I was shook to my crispy core. Suddenly the frequency with which I enjoyed the eleven secret seasoning ingredients was considered… a bad thing? I became confused and started to question all the things and people I loved. What other loves of mine were derided by the private school sector? For years I hid my love for the Colonel. Indulging only when sad and alone like some sort of shamed addict. Never daring to invite new friends in case they looked at me like I’d just suggested we commit a hate crime together. I’m ashamed to say that I turned my back on KFC in the same way Judas turned his back on our Lord Jesus Christ.
At the Fort St opening I was welcomed back into the fold with open arms, table service, and seasoning on those serviced tables. That’s right, there are season shakers on every table that will definitely be stolen by drunk students within a week. “Love your outfit!” said someone before we walked in. “Love the commitment!” said someone once we were inside. “Big fan of the look!” said a third someone as I ate a chicken nugget. I was a KFC star, the only true fan besides The Spinoff’s José Barbosa, who was equally invested but didn’t have the outfit.
I’d been debating whether it would be too weird to wear a full KFC tracksuit to a KFC event. Well guess what, it definitely was but I did it anyway and blended right in with all the men in suits who were there as businessmen and not as consumers (this was made apparent when one pointed at a crispy chicken strip and asked me what it was).
So we sat there, José and I. Colleagues, friends, secret menu conspiracy theorists, and enjoyed a seemingly endless supply of wicked wings and nuggets in the only trip to KFC I’ve ever experienced that didn’t smell like KFC. The place was so brand new it just smelled like nothing. And never has nothing smelled so weird.
Russell Creedy, CEO of Restaurant Brands, KFC’s parent company, opened the store with a typical CEO speech which I zoned out of because I was too busy admiring the powerpoints and usb jacks at my table. Free wifi and charging ports. I predict students will order the cheapest snack box then never leave.
Fort St boasts these new fancy things that make it not seem like a real KFC, a sentiment confirmed by Creedy when he revealed they’d unsuccessfully fought to have the letters ‘KFC’ removed from all signage. This isn’t a kinda gross KFC where you go and leave as soon as possible, this is Colonel Sanders’ chicken diner.
Creedy spoke of how it was a real struggle to get Fort St opened because it was something so different from old KFC franchises. I struggled to figure out what was so different besides not having a drive-thru. But that’s exactly it. KFC is a drive-thru restaurant. All those past birthdays were catered through the Kent Terrace drive thru in Wellington. I didn’t even know KFC sold burgers or single-serve meals until I was well into my teens. So who do you attract if you can’t attract the big families buying buckets of chicken from their people movers? Drunk people, that’s who.
Any food outlet which chooses to remain open late on the weekends – Fort St will be open till 2am Thurs-Sun – should be commended for their bravery and pitied for their inevitable demise. If you’ve ever been to a McDonald’s after midnight you already know what the foyer of hell will be like. And despite the fancy décor and self service kiosks, drunk idiots are drunk idiots and they’ll destroy that beautiful chicken haven before you can say “could I please swap my coleslaw for fries?”
It should only take a couple days for the smell to settle in and then a few more for the first drunken nights to take the shine off. I hope for the best and expect the worst. All I know is I feel honoured and blessed to have experienced a KFC as it was intended, shiny and new, before spilt season shakers and greasy fingerprints on the touch screen menus turn it into a KFC I’ve always known.
The Spinoff Auckland is sponsored by Heart of the City, the business association dedicated to the growth of downtown Auckland as a vibrant centre for entertainment, retail, hospitality and business.