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It’s the kind of roadside spot that travelers are tempted to stop at simply to see how a place so thoroughly un-Instagramable could have stayed in business for so long. It was a process of trial and error to get the Juan Pollo recipe just right, after Okura’s brother-in-law Armando Parra took him to Mexico to taste chicken the way it is done south of the border.
Okura wasn’t a chef or a businessman before opening the first restaurant in 1984.
“When things start falling apart, I focus on chicken,” Okura says of his business strategy.
Who cares about sides or bigger soda portions if the meat is dry, tough, greasy, or somehow all three? For me, it’s all about chicken.” Okura had been running the first Juan Pollo in Ontario for a few years when the opportunity came up to open a restaurant in San Bernardino.
Juan Pollo has all the hallmarks of a kitschy local chain.
Less than three miles from the museum, one of Okura’s Juan Pollo chicken restaurants is set on a dusty four-lane road with few trees, kitty-corner from one of San Bernardino’s many pawn shops.* * * hirty years later, Okura, who had no entrepreneurial experience, opened the first Juan Pollo with help from his brother-in-law and an uncle by marriage, who owned a property in Ontario, California, one county over from Los Angeles. After working until nearly midnight at the restaurant, Okura had to get out of the trailer to unload the truck and hoist box after box filled with whole chickens into the walk-in cooler.Since Okura could no longer live with his parents and commute to the new restaurant, he purchased a small one-room trailer, which he set up in the parking lot behind Juan Pollo, and moved in. It was not glamorous work, but day after day Okura kept loading, marinating and cooking chickens.Roughly 35 percent of residents live below the poverty line and crime rates are high.
But Okura has tied his destiny – and, in many ways, Juan Pollo’s – to the city that birthed the most famous fast food chain in history.
He dreamed about starting a music store with his friends and opened one – though it didn’t do well.