Kenny Rogers – History at a Glance

krr-historyKenneth Ray Rogers, universally known as Kenny Rogers, was born in Texas in 1938. He won a talent show at the age of 11, and the rest – as they say – is history. Although known primarily as a country singer, Rogers’ highly successful, 6-decade career included music of many genres including folk and jazz and pop and rock. He sold upwards of 100 million records; an achievement matched by very few recording artists.

He is best known for The Gambler, a song that had been unsuccessfully recorded by a number of people including the composer, and Johnny Cash. Kenny’s 1978 rendition caught on and won him a Grammy. It was a huge success and spawned a number of made-for-TV movies starting with Kenny Rogers and the Gambler. Future titles were a variation on the theme. In 2018, the song was chosen to be included in the Registry of National Recording (part of Congress’s Library using their criteria of being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant”.

In his early years he worked with jazz musician Bobby Doyle and The New Christy Minstrels. He formed the group The New Edition, which led to his second most famous song, the Vietnam era Ruby don’t take your love to town. He was a reasonably successful actor beyond the Gambler franchise, as in Six Pack, a 1982 movie about a race-car driver.

He was a passionate photographer and produced two books of his work: Kenny Rogers’ America in 1986 and Your Friends and Mine a year later. He also released an autobiography Luck or Something Like it: A Memoir about his life in the music business. And a cookbook: Cooking with Kenny Rogers. He had served as a spokesman for Dole Foods, so it is perhaps not surprising that every recipe uses a Dole product. One of the recipes is for Pineapple Chicken Cheese Melt.

Could this have been the inspiration behind Kenny Rogers Roasters? Kenny Rogers Roasters was a collaboration between Rogers and John Y. Brown, Jr beginning in 1991. The idea of rotisserie chicken offered a healthier alternative to fried. The use of Kenny Rogers’ celebrity name helped launch a chain which was very successful until competitors began popping up and eventually it was completely sold to Berjaya Corporation Behad, a vast conglomerate headquartered in Kuala Lumpur. There are no longer Kenny Rogers Roasters in the US, but the brand is flourishing in Asia and Mena region with over 200 outlets operating across the United Arab Emirates, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei, Thailand, India, and soon it will be reopened again in the United States of America.

Birth of Kenny Rogers Roasters

Aside from his immensely successful musical career, Kenny Rogers was a bit of an entrepreneur and enthusiastic cook.  In 1991, he got together with John Y. Brown, Jr to launch Kenny Rogers Roasters, a second career for both men.

John Brown was a fascinating man. He was Governor of Kentucky from 1979 to 1983, and he built the KFC empire. He bought Kentucky Fried Chicken from Harland Sanders (the Colonel) in 1964 and transformed it into the huge enterprise that it is today. He sold his interests in 1971 (for the equivalent in today’s money of about 2 billion dollars) and invested in numerous other ventures including some restaurants and three basketball teams. His highest-profile investment was with country music legend Kenny Rogers.

Kenny Rogers Roasters introduced the idea of healthy restaurant eating. Turning his back completely on the deep-fried fast food KFC, Young promoted rotisserie chicken with a slew of wholesome sides. Their slogan – less fat – less salt – less calories – was catchy, if grammatically questionable.  The menu was roast chicken marinated with herbs, citrus and spices, plus a selection of homemade muffins, baked (jacket) potatoes and salads. It expanded to include ribs, and of course, soups, deserts and beverages. New additions to the menu (which varies by location) are mashed potatoes and plant-based burgers.  Vegetable servings are still present, but seem to have shrunk. And rice! How could one not have rice in Asia? Some locations are now branded as Smokehouse BBQ roast and ribs.  The menus have expanded, but the appeal remains the same – casual dining and a (mostly) healthy menu. Kenny Rogers Roasters declared bankruptcy in the US in 2011. It was bought by Nathan’s, of hotdog fame, and continued for a couple of years and then eventually bought by Berjaya Corporation Behad.