It seems as though the Big Chicken has been around forever. Standing like a beacon on the corner of Cobb Parkway and Roswell Road, the Big Chicken has helped many a weary traveler navigate through Cobb County. When you’re lost in Atlanta, locals may direct you to Peachtree Street (there are over 70 streets in Atlanta with “Peachtree” in their name). When you’re lost in Cobb, making a turn at the Big Chicken will always get you where you need to go. But how did the Big Chicken come to be? Who was responsible for creating this googley-eyed monument to chicken?
The story begins with an Atlanta restaurateur named Stanley Reginald Davis. Known by his friends and family as “Tubby,” he began his career in 1939 when he opened Davis Brothers Cafeteria in a vacant typewriter shop on Luckie Street. Tubby prided himself on providing quality food at competitive prices. His business quickly grew, and Tubby eventually launched several other successful restaurants, including one inside Atlanta’s Piedmont Hotel.
In 1956, Tubby came to Marietta and opened a restaurant called Johnny Reb’s Chick, Chuck and Shake. Wanting to capitalize on the north/south traffic on Highway 41, Tubby decided he needed to erect something to attract travelers. He hired Hubert Puckett, a Georgia Tech architecture student, to design a novelty chicken structure over his restaurant. Fabricated by Atlantic Steel, the 56-foot-high chicken was completed in 1963. “I wanted to build it as high as I could to attract customers,” said Tubby. “I had no idea it would become a landmark.”
Tubby continued to operate Johnny Reb’s until he sold the business to one of his brothers. The restaurant was taken over by Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in 1974. At the time, KFC executives (including Colonel Sanders himself) planned to remove the Big Chicken to make the restaurant match their own branding. Persuaded by the Davis family, KFC executives finally decided to keep it. The Big Chicken was safe, and everyone thought it would be preserved forever. But mother nature had other plans.
In January 1993, a winter storm blew into Cobb County. The gusts battered the old chicken, and entire sheets of metal were ripped from the structure. When the storm subsided, the chicken stood with gaping holes in her side. Within days engineers were on site to assess the damage. What they found was less than encouraging. The Big Chicken was badly damaged and needed to be completed rebuilt or torn down. KFC had a decision to make: tear down the Big Chicken or spend the $100,000 estimated to rebuild the structure. The answer came down to money, and demolition of the Big Chicken was announced on January 15th. The decision did not go over very well with the people of Marietta.
After receiving almost 10,000 phone calls and letters from concerned Mariettans, KFC determined that tearing down the structure was not really an option. On January 27, 1993, KFC Vice President Chuck Rawley announced that the company would “invest up to $200,000 in a new landmark so that the Big Chicken can fly again.” Work quickly began on a new structure, and the restaurant reopened in 1994.
Renovated in the spring of 2017, the Big Chicken is one of Marietta’s most popular attractions. The new restaurant features a gift shop and mini museum displaying the history of the Big Chicken and a collection of souvenirs and artwork inspired by the landmark.
Cobb Landmarks & Historical Society