By Konstantine Fekos
Local chicken-lovers braved storms and snow, flocking to the unannounced opening of Park Avenue Plaza’s Kentucky Fried Chicken on Friday to end the seven-month hiatus on 11 herbs and spices.
“I’m glad to see the community’s out here supporting us,” said Gary Cocolin, local KFC franchise manager.
From 10:30 a.m. to the late afternoon, more than 400 customers cooped up in the recently remodeled restaurant and created a consistent line in the drive-through, said Cocolin.
“The crowds hit right from the start,” he said after dealing with the lunchtime rush and downed credit card machines. “We’re just back into production with some new items and changes to the building.”
Additions to the building include enlarged bathrooms for improved handicapped-accessibility, almost all-new kitchen equipment and a new interior.
When the restaurant closed in late March, initially from an accidental kitchen fire, owner Art Cocolin, who opened the local franchise more than 50 years ago, only expected to be closed for a few days.
“We lost one of the fryers and we had some smoke damage we could clean up ourselves,” he said. “The regulations kept it closed for so long.”
Subsequent inspections from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, among other government agencies, resulted in mandatory changes required to reopen the establishment in accordance with the latest regulations.
“What took the most time was paperwork: state approvals and architecture and engineer drawings,” said Gary Cocolin. “These things took four out of the seven months we were closed. At the beginning, we certainly didn’t anticipate that time factor being so long.”
As a result of the interior and exterior remodeling, the restaurant is early for its 10-year renovation, mandated by the KFC franchise.
“We’re definitely up to codes,” said Gary Cocolin. “We don’t expect to make any more changes for another 12 years.”
More new additions included about half of the 18 current employees, all of whom were stationed for the reopening. Some of the KFC’s former employees found other jobs since the then-indefinite closure.
“We didn’t advertise reopening at all,” said Jean Cocolin, art’s wife. “We were afraid to; we figured we’d take it easier with the new help and the eight or nine old employees learning the new registers.”
With 300 recorded transactions within three and a half hours, Art Cocolin said the reopening might surpass Mother’s Day as the busiest day of the year.
“We kind of expected something like this, but we didn’t think it would go this long into the afternoon,” said Jean Cocolin as business still boomed well past 2 p.m.
In the midst of the chaos, customers approached Art and Jean Cocolin after the lunchtime rush to welcome them back to business and tell them how much they were missed.
“It went on so long, I just went with the flow,” said Art Cocolin. “Thank goodness it’s over.”
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.