For fans of Pudgie's, there is good news: The chicken joints are flocking back to Long Island, according to Manhattan-based Trufoods Llc, a fast-food franchiser that purchased the chain two years ago.
Pudgie's restaurants, known for the smiling chicken wearing a chef's hat, had declined in presence in recent years as consumers moved to healthier food choices. There are about seven remaining on Long Island, down from about 38 in the 1990s.
Gary Occhiogrosso, Trufoods' chief development officer, said the company plans to open 25 to 30 Pudgie's restaurants on the Island within five years.
Pudgie's is famous for its skinless fried chicken, and it's held a special place in the hearts - or stomachs - of Long Islanders who liked a quick meal at a roadside place that was not a McDonald's or a Burger King. The new stores will retain the red, white and yellow colors of old, but there will be changes, Occhiogrosso said.
The stores will have a more modern look, with wood-tone panels on the counters and white tiled floors. The menu will be healthier, adding spinach, sweet potatoes, salads and grilled chicken, Occhiogrosso said.
As before, the Pudgie's will be franchised out, Occhiogrosso said. But Trufoods, he added, will carefully screen applicants.
"We have hundreds and hundreds of people who want to be franchisers," he said. "But they don't all have the qualifications," either financially or professionally.
But Pudgie's roots are its roots, Occhiogrosso said. "We still want to be known as a chicken place," he said. "I don't think we're going to be selling hamburgers."