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Chicken Mary's


In 1941, two German immigrants, Joe and Mary Zerngast, lived a few doors down from the Pichlers. Joe worked the mines as a “shot-firer”, meaning he was the guy who would go deep inside, light the dynamite and run out – hopefully before it exploded. It was one of the most dangerous jobs in the mines, and after 20 years, “black lung” (coal workers’ pneumoconiosis) cut his career short, leaving Mary to provide for the family. The Zerngasts also had chickens clucking around in their front yard, a big cast-iron skillet and a coal-fired stove. And like Annie, Mary was a pretty good cook, too. So, just as the Pichlers had done, the Zerngasts cleared out the furniture in their little living room, set up tables and began selling fried chicken dinners with potato salad and coleslaw. “I needed to survive,” Larry Zerngast, Mary’s grandson, recalled Mary telling the family. At first, the Zerngasts called their little place, “Joe and Mary’s”. They had a jukebox in the living room and, just like at Annie’s, people often danced until the early morning. If locals under the influence arrived in the middle of the night craving fried chicken, they would often pound on the door, shouting, “Chicken, Mary! Chicken, Mary!”. Mary would open the door, fire up the coal stove and fry chicken until dawn – thus, Chicken Mary’s was born. Joe and Mary's first name Chicken Mary Chicken Mary fire up the coal stove and fry chicken till dawn.