Laverne Burnett probably fed more Harold’s Chicken to hungry Chicagoans than anybody else.
At one point, he operated 10 of the restaurants, tops in the chain, according to Kristen Pierce-Sherrod, the company’s CEO and daughter of Harold’s founder Harold Pierce.
When he died Sept. 1 at 83, he had four Harold’s — still the most of any single licensee, according to Pierce-Sherrod.
She estimated that Mr. Burnett fried up millions of pounds of chicken — especially wings.
Mr. Burnett was a link to the early days of the chain, whose greasy goodness has been immortalized in song by Chance the Rapper, Lupe Fiasco, Rhymefest, Kendrick Lamar and Fredo Santana.
“He’s been in the business over 50 years,” Pierce-Sherrod said. “He’s the only one that’s living from when my dad started” the company in 1950. “He owned the most and still owns the most. He’s been in business longer and has more stores than anyone else.”
Mr. Burnett, who’d been in failing health, died at his Chicago home, according to his daughter Geraldine.
She said her father “was a successful businessman in the Englewood community, and he provided a lot of jobs.”
“Mr. Burnett was one of those people who was always concerned about somebody having a job,” Pierce-Sherrod said. “The store may not have been a store that made a lot of money, but his concern was people having a job. He was a family man.
“He was dedicated to Harold’s. I mean he always wanted to represent correctly, doing the right thing,” working on-site at his restaurants and paying close attention to day-to-day operations, Pierce-Sherrod said. “He was just a loyal business owner. Those are the same characteristics my dad had.
“They worked hard,” said Pierce-Sherrod, who is carrying on her dad’s legacy at a 68-year-old black-owned business.
Harold Pierce, who developed his restaurant chain’s logo of a hatchet-wielding man chasing a chicken, died in 1988. His daughter said that about 40 Harold’s now operate in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Atlanta.
Mr. Burnett was from Humnoke, Arkansas. He started in the food business by selling sandwiches along an Arkansas roadside, according to his family. When he came to Chicago, he did construction work. He also started three E.T. Lounges.
Even after half a century of feeding people at his restaurants, Mr. Burnett never tired of chicken, according to his daughter, who said he wasn’t much of a person for red meat. “He mostly ate chicken and turkey,” she said.
When he was out and about, she said, people sometimes called him the “Chicken King” or “Chicken Lee.”
At one point, “He had a car with a chicken on it,” his daughter said. It made it into the Bud Billiken Day parade.
Services for Mr. Burnett were held Saturday.