Frankos’ Fried Chicken Fills Stomach and Soul

WARREN, Ohio – When the Buena Vista Café opened in 1956 on the corner of Buena Vista Avenue and Dana Street in Warren, its location couldn’t have been better.

“Back in that day, you had 15,000 people working here on Dana Street and over on Griswold,” recalls owner Nick Frankos. “Then you had another 15,000 at Packard Electric. This place was booming.”

For years, the café that Frankos’ father opened benefited from the steady stream of workers who stopped in on their way to and from work.

But just as the Buena Vista was earning its reputation as a landmark restaurant, the businesses that supported the café and surrounding neighborhoods began to disappear. Packard Electric, American Welding, Taylor Winfield and General Electric all closed their doors.

“There was enough action then for everybody,” says Frankos. “The Ohio Inn, Sunrise Inn. There was enough action because we had people working, which is not quite the case now.”

Empty factories dominate the view today as one looks east from the restaurant. The Buena Vista, once surrounded by activity, suddenly found itself in the middle of nowhere.

Fortunately for the Frankoses, by then it had become a destination.

“We have people come from out of state and order chicken,” says Michael Butler, a bartender at the restaurant. “We’ve even had people who wanted to put it on ice and ship it out to other states.”

Frankos’ father, also named Nick, perfected the restaurant’s famous fried chicken recipe. “He had great vision,” his son says.

For its first 20 years or so, the Buena Vista was primarily a bar.

Then, in the 1970s, Nick took a trip to Denver to visit his daughter. While there, he attended a food expo where he saw two Henny Penny-brand pressure fryers.

Pressure frying greatly reduces the time needed to fry chicken, which is why the technique was adopted by Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Harland Sanders.

Impressed, Frankos bought the fryers for $3,000.

“My mom almost killed him,” says the son before breaking out in laughter. “He started playing around with this marinade and I think he gave away chicken for around three months.”

Every day a self-proclaimed chicken connoisseur would come in and sample the elder Frankos’ chicken, only to tell him it needed more work.

On and on it went until one day the man told his father, “ ‘That’s it. Stop. Whatever you did, that’s what you want,’ ” says the son.

Today the fried chicken is by far the best-selling item on Buena Vista’s menu, with 170 tons sold every year.

In addition to the undisclosed recipe for the marinade and breading, Frankos says what sets his product apart is, “We personally take every piece of chicken that we sell and trim more fat off.”

Once the chicken comes out of the fryer, workers pat every piece by hand “to make sure it isn’t greasy,” says Chris Redd, a cook at Buena Vista. “Can’t have greasy chicken. Nobody wants that.”

While the dinner and takeout business remain strong, Frankos says the lunch crowd has become more inconsistent since the factories closed.

Pictured: Other fried dishes are also available, such as fried lasagna, says cook Matt Scoczen.

To help offset the loss, he began expanding Buena Vista’s catering services and offering franchises.

The franchises, of which there are three, are called “Uncle Nick’s Greek Fried Chicken” because Frankos thought the Buena Vista name wouldn’t have much appeal outside the area.

The franchises are in Howland, Austintown and Columbus.

Still, for many customers, there’s no substitute for the original.

Jean Palette and her husband have been coming once a week for 30 years.

“We’ve been here so often Nick should invite us to the family parties,” she says.

For the Haynies of Hubbard, coming to the Buena Vista Cafe is a tradition.

“I always get the mini-white,” says Hannah Haynie, referring to the chicken she prefers. “I even had it at my graduation party.”

Hannah’s aunt, Denise Delaquila, says another reason she comes is Frankos’ generosity to the Warren City School system where she works.

“He donates a lot,” she says. “He’s very involved with the schools and the kids.”

Helping the community is something Frankos takes seriously. Each year he holds a football camp for 300 kids from the neighborhood. He also gives $10,000 in scholarships to students at Warren G. Harding and Kennedy schools every fall.

And while Frankos has kept busy holding up his small piece of the neighborhood, some positive developments have begun.

Last month Warren native Christopher Alan announced that his company, AutoParkit LLC, bought two of the former General Electric properties, just down the road from the Buena Vista Cafe, with intentions to turn into the Auto Parkit headquarters.

“Anything positive for the city, I’m all in,” Frankos says.

Asked if he ever considered moving the Buena Vista Cafe, Frankos immediately answers, “No way. This is the joint. My father opened it up. This is it.

“Besides,” he adds, “We have wonderful, loyal customers.”

Pictured at top: Owner Nick Frankos.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.