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Morning Sun
  • Local eateries to be featured on television

  • Chicken Annie’s. Chicken Mary’s.

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  • Chicken Annie’s. Chicken Mary’s.
    Four words that are as synonymous with Crawford County as mining and high school football. For more than 60 years, the two restaurants “in the middle of nowhere” have provided some of the best fried chicken this side of the Mississippi.
    But which restaurant is better? It’s a question that is easy to ask, but almost impossible to answer. Next month, however, a national television program is going to try.
    For three days in mid-January, the Travel Channel will drop anchor in rural Crawford County to film footage for an upcoming program on the two icons of the southeast Kansas fried chicken world.
    “We got a call from them and they said they’d like to do a show on us,” said Donna Lipoglav, Chicken Annie’s co-owner. “I was pretty surprised and really excited. We’ve had a lot of things done about us, but nothing like this.”
    Few details are available about the show, including what it may be called and when it will air. Karen Zerngast, co-owner of Chicken Mary’s, said she’s heard that it may be a part of the channel’s Food Wars program, but that has not been confirmed.
    Production crews are expected to film at Chicken Annie’s on Friday, Jan. 15 and at Chicken Mary’s on Jan. 16. There is also talk that a “taste-off” competition will take place on that Sunday.
    Whatever ends up taking place that weekend, local officials said the exposure both establishments and southeast Kansas will receive through the program is “huge.”
    “It’s quite the honor,” said Craig Hull, Crawford County Convention and Visitor's Bureau director. “To have a cable network reach out to identify one of our unique attractions is huge. I say ‘attractions’ because yes, they are restaurants, but they both attract a lot of visitors in. This cable network will give them the opportunity to expose that to a wide audience of folks.
    “This is nothing but positive for the chicken capital of Kansas,” he said.
    Zerngast said that the restaurants’ histories and proximity to one another have created a natural competition between the two, but she said “rivalry” is too strong a word to describe the relationship.
    “I think initially, after we both opened up, there was a little more of that than there is today,” she said. “Competition is competition. We’re all trying to make a living. But as far as a rivalry goes, heavens no, there is none of that.”
    Both Lipoglav and Zerngast acknowledge that their restaurants are immensely popular in this part of the country, but remain humble about their success. When asked why a national television program would elect to feature their two establishments, neither could come up with a concrete answer.
    Page 2 of 2 - “I really don’t know, to be honest,” Lipoglav said. “I guess part of it is that we’ve been here for 75 years and we’ve tried our best to keep it the same. We are just fortunate that what my grandmother (Annie Pichler) started is still popular.”
    Zerngast said Chicken Mary’s has remained popular since its opening in 1942 because of its “consistent quality and service.”
    “We feel like we serve a really good product and do it at a reasonable price,” she said. “We are a family-oriented restaurant, and I think a lot of people appreciate that.”
    Earlier this year, the county’s six fried chicken restaurants — Chicken Annie's, Pichler's Chicken Annie's, Girard Chicken Annie's, Chicken Mary's, Barto's Idle Hour Chicken, and Gebhardt's Chicken and Dinners — were all voted in as a single entry for the Eight Wonders of Kansas Cuisine.  Zerngast said that designation may have helped spur attention from the Travel Channel.
    Both owners acknowledge the many similarities between the two restaurants, while also adding that there is enough of a difference to split the area between Team Annie’s and Team Mary’s.
    “I think a lot of that is generational,” Zerngast said. “We have a lot of people who’ll come in and say that their families have been coming here for years.”
    Lipoglav said that what may surprise some people is that the two restaurants often share customers.
    “I think there are a lot of people who enjoy both,” she said. “There are a lot of families who have folks who like Annie’s and those who like Mary’s and so they’ll take turns eating both.”
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