The third Guthrie's Chicken restaurant in Tuscaloosa is now open in a brand-new building on Skyland Boulevard in the same spot where one used to stand years ago.

On Thursday, Guthrie's CEO Joe Kelly Guthrie joined the Tuscaloosa Thread for an interview about bringing the brand back to Skyland Boulevard and his family's success in here over the years.

He said Tuscaloosa is special to them - that his dad, Hal Guthrie, opened the family's first restaurant in Haleyville, Alabama, in 1965, and they frequently made the 90-minute drive south to the Druid City.

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His mother, Melissa Guthrie, was also a Walker County native who got a bachelor's and master's degree at the University of Alabama and almost earned a doctorate there, too.

A brief timeline of the brand: after they opened in Haleyville in '65, the family added their famous chicken fingers and signature sauce to the menu much later, in 1978.

The recipe took off, and in 1982, they branched out and opened their first location outside Haleyville with a new franchise in Auburn, where one of Hal and Melissa's sons was a student.

Although they started with a broader menu, soon enough the Auburn store was selling nothing but chicken fingers with fries, coleslaw and Texas toast in a basket, and when Guthrie's finally made it to Tuscaloosa, it was built with nothing else in mind.

(Guthrie's Chicken)
(Guthrie's Chicken)

"I've said it a few times before, but our original store there on 15th Street that was built in 1992 is the original chicken finger restaurant that was built from the ground up in the world!" Joe Kelly Guthrie said. "Now, all over the world people have taken our box and made restaurants out of it, but we're very, very proud of the fact that my father designed that Tuscaloosa store to be solely a chicken finger restaurant and we built it from the ground up that way,"

From 15th Street, the brand expanded to another location on Skyland Boulevard, which has always been owned by Tuscaloosa businessman Stan Pate.

As the Thread previously reported, Pate worked with a Swedish family to secure some development incentives from the city of Tuscaloosa and broke ground on the new restaurant in the old location last year.

(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)

That day, Pate said the old Skyland Guthries was a high-performer but closed during broader economic headwinds and was demolished almost a decade ago - he said he thinks with new management and a fresh-built store, the brand can thrive again.

"That site has been owned the whole time by Stan Pate and we leased from him for a time and we could not be happier to be back on that site," Joe Kelly Guthrie said. "We're so glad to be there because we love Tuscaloosa, it's in our blood."

The three locations in Tuscaloosa and another new store in Northport also make West Alabama one of the brand's most successful markets outside of their headquarters in Auburn.

"I just credit our fans - how many fans there are in town and how many more who may not be a fan yet but we would like them to become one," Guthrie said.

He said they are adding stores all over Alabama and are also planning major renovations at the 15th Street location.

"We're very blessed and it's just such a good time," Guthrie said. "We want to serve everyone that we can and do so in the best places in Tuscaloosa and Northport and opening this new store, we just wanted to cover our bases."

Guthrie said the new 2,000-square-foot restaurant is open now at 819 Skyland Boulevard East and it employs around 35 workers, although that number will shift up and down seasonally.

For more coverage of restaurant and retail development in and around Tuscaloosa, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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