There was a time when Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken wasn’t “world famous,” but that was a long time ago. Actually, it was only about 20 years ago and as southerners sometimes say, “The cats out of the bag now.”
In 2001 I was invited to make the 40-mile drive from my home in Germantown, TN one Friday night to eat fried chicken at some little shack in Mason, TN (pop. 1,600). Why in the world would anyone drive 40 miles to eat fried chicken? I had lived in West Tennessee most of my life and had no idea where Mason, TN was located. Then I tasted Gus’s Fried Chicken. I now know how to find Mason, TN.
If there ever was a one-horse town I’m sure it was is Mason. Situated between the county seats of Covington (Tipton Co.) and Somerville (Fayette Co.), just north of I-40 sits Mason, the home of the original Gus’s Fried Chicken.
The building I remember was a shotgun shack (a building one room wide and long for you non-southerners), a little off-white in color, maybe pale yellow, but who cares. It looked like any other restaurant or diner in one of a thousand small southern towns.
The original structure owned by Gus Bonner burned down in 2002 and was replaced by the current building, minus several thousand layers of grease. After the fire and void of insurance, locals loved it so much they donated building supplies and services in order to eat fried chicken again.
The menu was simple; two or three pieces of chicken, beans, slaw and white bread. Substitutions? I recall Gus didn’t like customers asking for anything other than what he served.
When confronted with one request for a plate with no beans while I was there on a subsequent visit, I recall him uttering some eloquent phrase of southern-laced profanity, not under his breath, but over it. They got beans anyway. And great fried chicken. I think it’s safe to say today you can substitute the beans and slaw without being cussed out by Gus, a waitress or franchise owner.
It wasn’t a month or so after my first visit GQ Magazine named Gus’s one of the five best places in the country to fly into for a meal. While I don’t recall Mason or neighboring communities hosting any Gulfstream Lear jets flying in to eat chicken, the popularity of the place shot up and it certainly attracted a larger regional following.
Just this year, one of my favorite publications, Garden & Gun, listed it as one of the best fried chicken joints in Tennessee. My only issue with this article is Gus’s should have been named the best fried chicken, period.
Said Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill in the G&G article, “My number-one fried chicken joint, hands down, is Gus’s in downtown Memphis.”
What makes Gus’s Fried Chicken so tasty? To me, it’s the dark, deep fried crust with the array of spices that lie beneath. Not to worry, it’s not too spicy, but just right. As I understand it, few people on earth know the secret to this wonderful batter and flour mixture. As Gus Bonner once said, “This is a dead man’s recipe [and] I ain’t telling.”
Wendy McCrory, who worked for Gus at the original location, was the first franchisee and probably knows more about the original recipe than anyone living. Wendy’s flagship Memphis location is in downtown Memphis.
These days I don’t have far to go for to eat Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. My office on the historic town square in Collierville, TN is just a short walk to the Collierville location and some excellent fried chicken. Thanks to the wonderful service I received from my server Holly one evening last week, I enjoyed yet another plate of my favorite order; one leg, one breast with mac and cheese and greens on the side. A beer and/or sweet tea complete the perfect fried chicken meal for me.
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken now has 19 locations in 10 states with more on the way. Thank you Gus, thank you Wendy and thank you Holly for bring Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken to the rest of the world.
215 S. Center St.
Collierville, TN 38017
Monday – Sunday, 11:00 a.m. ’til 8:00 p.m., a little later Tuesday thru Saturday.