Fried chicken illustration
  • This is the second installment of The Future Of... a new weekly series which seeks to examine in depth what the next 5-10 years holds in a variety of different areas. Come back next Thursday at 8am for the next installment.

三级成人视频The man behind the counter double checks our order. Do we really have what it takes for the naga wings? Fried chicken doused in the hottest red sauce Wingz Hut has to offer, piled into a polystyrene container next to handfuls of fries. 

Nurull Islam laughs. Nicknamed the ‘Chicken Man’ after he produced a short film about the fried food joints, the 42-year-old knows he can handle a naga chilli. 

He can also provide one of the best tours of the ‘Chicken Mile’, a stretch of East London running from Whitechapel to Mile End known for its neon-fronted stores that ooze cooking smells – enticing or pungent depending on your predilection – into the street. Afternoons bustle with school kids; at night, they feed hospital workers and party-goers. 

Fried chicken shops have become a staple of British casual dining in the last 35 years, a cheap, calorific meal associated with young kids and drunken nights out. Arriving in the UK in 1968, when Kentucky Fried Chicken opened its first branch in Finchley, north London, it spread across the country as a rival to McDonald’s

By the 1980s, chicken shops had taken hold. They have since become a melting pot of flavours and cultures, marking themselves as a high street staple as familiar stores shutter and tastes change. 

Before the coronavirus lockdown, chicken shops were one of a few high street staples that were still expanding, alongside gyms and pet shops. An average of 1,500 shops closed per day on Britain’s high streets in the first half of 2019, according to PwC and the Local Data Company, but takeaways – led by chicken franchises – had the highest net growth.

“Chicken shops are just as important as Tesco,” says Elijah Quashie, also known as the ‘Chicken Connoisseur’, after a hit YouTube series in which he reviews the restaurants. “It’s a cultural hub, like a pub for all ages, where you don’t drink alcohol.” 

If Quashie’s eating habits are anything to go by, coronavirus won’t have a significant impact on the fortunes of chicken shops – but he has noticed signs of change. Shop floors that would usually hum with conversation are empty, socially distanced queues spill onto the street for what is meant to be a quick meal, and prices have increased. It might only be an extra 50p for some wings or £1 more for a meal, but that's enough to drive loyal customers elsewhere. Islam hopes chicken shops will survive the pandemic, for the sake of young kids in urban areas – and his family’s dinner table on takeaway night. 

Britain’s chicken shops have their own culture. The person behind the counter is called ‘bossman’, kids roam free, and chips should always cover the chicken. East London, home to the Chicken Mile, is known for its various Perfect Fried Chicken (PFC) restaurants, while the South is dominated by Morley’s. Across the country, you find takes on Chicken Cottage, Chicken Time and UK Fried Chicken. 

Even on one street, the variety is astounding. It’s not just chicken thighs battered and deep-fried, but also grilled half-chickens, curries, and breaded mozzarella on the side. Heading west from Mile End, where Islam and I meet, you pass Original PFC with its light sauce and Japanese wagyu burgers; Royal PFC serving biryanis alongside chicken wings to key workers at the Royal London Hospital; then halal options at the Makkah Grill by the East London Mosque.

Nurull Islam fears no hot wing, however spicy Credit: HEATHCLIFF O'MALLEY

三级成人视频The night before we spoke, Islam’s family had fried chicken takeaway for dinner – he had to visit multiple shops to satisfy everyone’s cravings.

三级成人视频“With the decline of the restaurant trade, you’ve got chefs moving into chicken shops,” says Islam. “You can buy curries from them, dessert, a full English breakfast. It’s almost like a corner shop that serves everything. You can finish your chicken and chips meal, then be served After Eights. How on earth did that happen?” 

三级成人视频The origin of fried chicken is up for debate – did the recipe arrive in America from West Africa during the slave trade, or was battered chicken first cooked in Scotland? Whichever is true, the meal was perfected by slaves in the American South. It developed a rich and troubled history as a low-cost meal for special occasions among black families. When segregation prevented black people from going to many restaurants in the South, fried chicken became a Sunday dinner favourite. It was easy to transport and still tasty long after it was cooked.

三级成人视频KFC may have introduced the food to Britain, but new brands were soon enticed to the scene. The first branches of Chicken Cottage and Morley’s opened in the 80s, appealing to more diverse consumers by adapting menus to suit their area – recipes were spicier, halal, served alongside pizza, kebabs, curries, or with a side of gravy. 

“You started to get a diversification of chicken shops in the 1990s, which accelerated into the new millennium,” says Dr Alex Rhys-Taylor, a sociologist at Goldsmiths University. “It’s an important crop for young people constructing new urban identities, which comes alongside types of clothing, ways of talking and genres of music.

The chicken shop has been a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy outlook for trade on British high streets Credit: HEATHCLIFF O'MALLEY

“Poorer communities have gravitated to it for the most calories for money, but it also has this sheen of Americana.”  

With that, comes the problematic associations of fried chicken with race and class. Last year, the Home Office was widely criticised for using chicken boxes in an anti-knife crime campaign. There was a fierce backlash in which the campaign was called 'racist', 'embarrassing', and 'stupid'. People complained that the money would have been better spent investing in communities. 

三级成人视频Another controversy sprung from a website hosting a map that compared the number of chicken and coffee shops in an area to rate how ‘up and coming’ it was. 

“Fried chicken and race are very connected in the US,” says Dr Rhys-Taylor. “There’s a problematic history around it and we’ve imported that.”

三级成人视频More than a fast food joint, chicken shops are a social space for young people in urban areas, where £1 for a basic wings and chips meal comes with a side of unlimited seating time. 

Akashi Alam has a complicated nostalgia for chicken shops. The 22-year-old medical student grew up in Tower Hamlets, where there were 42 junk food outlets for every school in 2014, according to. “That statistic shocked me [when it was published widely], but when I think back to how many options we had, it makes a lot of sense,” says Alam, who spent her teens decamped in chicken shops after school. 

“It wasn’t because fried chicken was the most amazing thing in the world, but because the area is so densely populated. If we had large houses or well-facilitated youth centres we would have gone there.”

She paints a picture of family-run establishments rooted in the local community, with the ‘bossman’ throwing in an extra wing as youngsters in school uniform spend their pocket money. It isn’t the food she recalls, but the atmosphere. “They felt safe and welcoming,” she says. “I didn’t actually eat at them very much. Now I have alternatives – the student union, library, university – I never think about going to the chicken shop. It was just a place to go when there wasn’t anywhere else.” 

三级成人视频At medical school, her eyes were opened to the health implications of fried chicken. She studied the obesity crisis – her borough is home to the UK’s sixth highest rate of child obesity – and, in 2018, gave a TEDx talk about ‘why fried chicken shops are essential spaces for young people’.

Social distancing and partial glove-wearing are in effect among New Royal PFC's customers on Whitechapel Road Credit: HEATHCLIFF O'MALLEY

“There’s a part of me – this is coming from the nostalgia coupled with a retrospective appreciation – that wants these small businesses to spring back into action post-lockdown, because of how essential they are for young people,” she says. “But there’s also an opportunity to think about how we can redesign inner-city urban areas to cater to young people in a way fried chicken shops do that isn’t centred around fast food.” 

三级成人视频With the possibility of schools staying closed beyond September, chicken shops could become even more important for young people. “We ought to be thinking of chicken shops as akin to pubs,” says Dr Rhys-Taylor, echoing Elijah Quashie. “They serve a very similar purpose. People bemoan the loss of the pub as tragic, because they’re an important space for building networks and mitigating loneliness.”  

三级成人视频Shan Selvendran, managing director of south London chicken shop Morley’s, thinks of his customers in a similar way that pub landlords think of their ‘locals’. “I can’t count the number of times someone in their mid-30s or 40s has shaken my hand,” he says. “They say, ‘Thank you for being there for us when we were young, starting out, and didn’t have much money’. Young people become adults and it’s nostalgic.” 

三级成人视频Selvendran’s father, Kannalingam, opened the first Morley’s in Sydenham in 1985, after spying an opportunity beyond his struggling Sri Lankan restaurants. Thirty-five years later, the shop is a cultural icon – it is referenced in songs by Stormzy and Krept & Konan, featured at an exhibit in the Tate Modern, appeared in Nike and Adidas adverts, and gives the setting to short film No More Wings. 

三级成人视频The diversity of customers at Morley’s reflects a wider trend at chicken shops – as lunchtime ticks through to after school hours and into evening, the clientele moves from kids to adults and people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. “I’m a believer that you will find people from every background in chicken shops,” says Selvendran. “It’s one of the few places in life where you’ll get anyone purchasing, there’s no class system.” 

三级成人视频The combination of low prices and open culture primes chicken shops to weather the coronavirus storm, says Selvendran. Unlike multinational chains, McDonalds and KFC, which closed their doors as the virus spread, local chicken shops like Morely’s were able to stay open. In fact, Selvendran is so confident in his restaurants that he opened a new branch of Morley’s in the middle of the pandemic – a delivery-only kitchen in Earlsfield.  

Thanks to its scale and operating model, its franchises were able to switch suppliers and raise their prices without losing custom. “There was hysteria and panic on the supply chain [in the early days of the lockdown], with people overbuying,” says Selvendran. “It never really impacted us, because we work locally and we’re quite agile.” 

Morley’s could be an exception, though, and not every chicken shop has managed to thrive during the lockdown. For smaller chicken shops, a spike in the cost of ingredients has created problems. 

三级成人视频“When we opened a year ago, it was £16 for a 10 kilo box of wings,” says Mij Rhaman, manager of Royal PFC. “Now, it’s £20. We can’t raise the price of our meals in this area, because there are so many chicken shops and people would complain.”

An independent shop at the start of the Chicken Mile, Royal PFC sits in the shadow of the Royal London Hospital – but that hasn’t helped with business since March 17. The shop closed and furloughed its staff for two months, re-opening at the end of May in the face of rent pressures. But on a recent Thursday afternoon, just four hospital workers popped in for lunch, as well as a dozen regulars.

三级成人视频“Most of them think we’re still closed,” says Rhaman, surveying the shop. “I’m worried about the business. My landlord is just above here and he wants his rent.” 

三级成人视频The normally bustling restaurant floor is cleared of all but one table and two chairs. A couple sit in the window with Sainsburys shopping bags, waiting for their takeaway. “It’s very boring [when it isn’t busy]. You get pain in your body [from standing up all day], you feel sleepy.”

三级成人视频Like other shops in the area, he hopes to diversify the menu, introducing healthier grilled chicken dishes. But the margins are low and he needs to keep prices down to compete with nearby stores. Walking the Chicken Mile, the effects of coronavirus are clear: A4 signs declare “four customers at a time”, furniture is cleared away, and diners shuffle in and out with barely a word. 

“The atmosphere is different; it’s depressing,” says Hifz Rhaman, sitting next to a stack of chairs roped off with bright yellow ‘caution’ tape in his uncle’s shop, Wings of East. “Usually people come in, ask how you are and chat to you, but everyone is too worried.” 

There is similar despondency at Islam’s favourite shop, Original Fried Chicken, which sits on a block of Mile End road with five other chicken shops. “Another quarter and we’re finished,” says Kabid Ahmad, manager of Original. “We can’t survive.” 

Those looking for fried chicken around Mile End have plenty of options Credit: HEATHCLIFF O'MALLEY

The restaurant is glossy, with posters advertising wagyu beef burgers and a bold window dressing declaring, “Cooked Fresh, Eat Fresh”. But fewer than 100 customers have passed through its doors since the shop reopened a week earlier, and the average age of diners has noticeably increased. 

“Only adults, no kids,” says Ahmad. “People are scared to come in. It will take time to get back to normal.”  

The 2008 financial crash was a boon for chicken shops. Demand for cheap, high calorie foods spiked as austerity led to deep cuts in youth services. But the jury is out on whether coronavirus will have the same effect. 

“The situation is going to be vastly different from the 2008 recession, when chicken shops were pretty much the fuel driving the market place,” says Trish Caddy, senior food service analyst at Mintel. “It was recession proof.” 

A decade ago, fried chicken was one of the few low cost food options available. Now, supermarkets have introduced new ranges to cover every occasion and budget, says Caddy, while home delivery has stepped in to serve those with time constraints. In the run up to the pandemic, the number of Brits with a challenging financial situation who visited chicken shops dropped three per cent to 42 per cent in 2019, according to Mintel. In that time, those in a stable financial position who visited chicken shops rose six per cent to 47 per cent. If traditional shops are to survive, then, do they need to weigh in on the ‘gentri-fried’ chicken market? Caddy says it would be wise to do so. 

三级成人视频Consumers are more discerning in 2020, she says, with an interest in the provenance of their food and ethical production. As a result, chicken shops will need to become more socially conscious if they are to stay relevant after coronavirus. 

Shops are largely open for business in East London Credit: HEATHCLIFF O'MALLEY

三级成人视频“The spontaneous convenience of chicken shops is likely to change, because we don’t have to go out unless you’re going to work,” says Caddy. “If it’s not driven by convenience, it will be a more thoughtful, affordable treat.”

Some chicken shops have started to address changing tastes, introducing grilled options and signing up to animal welfare agreements. Selvendran from Morley’s has verbally agreed to the Better Chicken Commitment and is discussing vegan options with PETA. KFC recently trialled a vegan menu, while London is also home to no-meat franchise Temple of Seitan. 

In the next five years, other social spaces could start to replace the chicken shop for young people in urban areas. An emerging trend is ice cream parlours, which offer teens a similar experience at a low cost. Like chicken shops, dessert parlours attract young people who don’t drink for health and faith reasons – a group that is on the rise, with 25 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds choosing abstinence in 2016, according to the University of Sheffield. 

The novelty of ice cream shops gives them appeal, as does their branding as a ‘treat’ rather than fast meal. “Chicken shops have a dusty image which hasn’t been updated for a while,” says Caddy. “They don’t have the appeal of venues like Creams Cafe. Before coronavirus, the market was swaying towards dessert parlours.” In keeping with this, Creams announced plans to open hundreds of restaurants in the UK before lockdown began. 

Kien Tan, senior retail advisor at PwC, is more optimistic about the future of chicken shops. Before the pandemic, PwC research found they were one of just 15 high street chains that had a net positive of openings in the first six months of 2019. People have rediscovered their local high streets during lockdown, he says, with one in three Londoners spending more money on theirs. After the pandemic, there’s an opportunity for high streets to adapt empty lots into social spaces that allow dwell time, such as free ping pong tables in shopping malls. 

三级成人视频“We don’t want people to think, ‘Welcome to the 21st Century, high streets are going to die’,” says Tan. “Coronavirus means people have rediscovered their local high street. Chicken shops will help keep them coming back.”  

三级成人视频As afternoon turns to evening, a crowd gathers around The Urban Bar, a pub next to Royal PFC, which is selling takeaway pints. People mill around on the pavement sipping from plastic cups at a social distance. A member of staff comes to the door of Royal PFC, his hands in blue latex gloves and his face lit by neon. Will any of the drinkers decamp into his restaurant like they used to? 

It isn’t certain if restaurants like his will weather the coronavirus storm – as with other small businesses, their survival will depend on how long the restrictions continue and how deep the recession goes.

三级成人视频In the next decade, shops like Royal PFC will face stricter competition, from healthier, sweeter, and vegan restaurants. They will need to revamp their image, to sign up to 'healthy chicken' agreements, and experiment further with their menus, if they want to compete. 

The boxes are piled high at Wings of East on Commercial Road in London Credit: HEATHCLIFF O'MALLEY

But, if the adage that old habits die hard is true, the Brits will always have a taste for fried chicken. After all, the death of the pub was short lived. In 2019, the numbers of small pubs and bars increased for the first time in a decade. As long as children have pocket money, they will want somewhere to spend it.  

Back inside Royal PFC, the staff member watches the minutes tick past dinner time. Behind him, trays of fried chicken lie in wait.

  • Return to Telegraph.co.uk next Thursday, 25 June for the next installment of our The Future Of... series. It will be published at 8am BST
  • Last week's installment covered The future of the Queen: locked down, on Zoom but needed more than ever.
  • Will the chicken shop continue to thrive despite the challenges of social distancing? Will cheaper food thrive in a recession? How spicy do you like your wings? Have your say in the comments section below.