This Beloved Amusement Park Was Built On Fried Chicken  

For 75 years, Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park has been one of Southern California’s main attractions. But few know that its first and most enduring draw was food—and we’re not just talking about the berries.

In 1934, Cordelia Knott opened the Chicken Dinner Restaurant in a tearoom on her family farm, serving 65 cent meals on her wedding china to make ends meet during the Great Depression. The fried chicken, biscuits and boysenberry pie became insanely popular, with hundreds of people waiting in line and literally trampling over the family’s famous berry fields.

The huge demand for that homemade chicken (for years, each plate was looked over by Cordelia Knott herself) led the Knott family to install attractions on site to distract people waiting for those delicious chicken dinners. Today, the Chicken Dinner Restaurant continues to draw countless visitors, earning its place on USA Today’s Top 10 list of best amusement park restaurants.

The Knott’s Berry Farm kitchens are now helmed by Executive Chef Bobby Obezo, who has been with the park for 30 years—he even met his wife while working there. Obezo been helping the Farm stay current by implementing a series of new culinary options, including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free choices like marinated tofu stir-fry, vegan chicken nuggets, and gluten-free dairy-free macaroni and cheese.

Park officials estimate that around 30 percent of season pass holders come simply for access to the food.

Though we wonder what Cordelia Knott would think of these dietary developments, Obezo walks around the park like a proud father, interacting with visitors and employees in his white chef’s outfit and hat, stopping to craft a few handmade churros that he fills with the park’s signature berry filling.

Though most people come to Knott’s for its substantial roster of roller coasters or to take a walk through its historic pioneer Ghost Town, the park’s foodie DNA is still alive and well. In fact, park officials estimate that around 30 percent of season pass holders come simply for access to the food. And keeping parkgoers well-fed is no small task: Knott’s Berry Farm’s kitchen bakes more than 1,000 pies per day, cooks one million pounds of chicken per year, and fills its deep-fry units with up 2,000 pounds of food at a time. 

In addition to the classic chicken dinner, eaters can grab a steak sandwich with jalapeno bread at the Fireman’s BBQ, where the ribs are smoked for 18 hours. And for more traditional fare, the park also updated its own pizza, a huge draw for those who may not be up for more modern choices like the carne asada fries, lettuce wraps, and boysenberry lattes.

Of course, most people coming to Knott’s are still going to want their fix of classic fair foods, like salty soft pretzels or a giant turkey leg. Sure, salads are great, but try saying no to a giant “cookiewich,” a plate-sized dessert with two giant chocolate chip cookies serving as the “bread” between an enormous serving of vanilla ice cream rolled in chocolate chips.

Try saying no to a giant “cookiewich,” a plate-sized dessert with two giant chocolate chip cookies serving as the bread.

“It’s an experience,” Obezo says of eating at the park. “It’s also about fun.” 

Photos via Hungry in L.A. unless otherwise specified

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