Joe and Mary Zerngast started Chicken Mary’s in the early 1940s.
Joe, a German immigrant, found work as a shot firer in the coal mines in the Pittsburg, Kansas area. However, due to poor health, he was no longer able to work in the mines. In order to help support the family, Mary turned to what she knew best, cooking. She prided herself in her fried chicken, German potato salad, and coleslaw and enjoyed preparing hot meals for Joe’s friends.
In the beginning, with Joe’s help, Mary served customers in their home, seating them at the kitchen table. The Zerngasts had no set operating hours, so whenever Mary heard a knock on the door, no matter how early or late, she was ready and willing to prepare her fabulous chicken. Soon word spread about the great food, and it became impossible to seat everyone in the Zerngast home. Consequently, in 1945 Joe and Mary purchased the Foxtown Mining Camp Pool Hall and moved it to a location just west of the current Chicken Mary’s.
The new restaurant, originally named “Joe’s Place,” boasted ten tables, a pot-bellied stove and an outdoor toilet. Mary took pride in her new place. Even though she worked extremely long hours, she was never too tired for her customers when it came to engaging in lively conversation with each and everyone who entered the restaurant. Soon their children Zig and Mickey were recruited to help out on weekends as the business flourished!
In 1961, Joe died, but Mary with the help of her son, Zig, and his wife Tootie, continued to run the very successful chicken restaurant. However, in that same year Mary suffered a stroke and the business closed for six months while she recuperated. With her guidance, Zig and Tootie re-opened on weekends only.
In 1966, the current restaurant was built and opened as a “full-time” business. Tootie and Zig were joined in the business by their son Larry, and his wife Karen. Even though Mary’s health prevented her from returning full-time, she still helped in a limited capacity until her death in 1980.
After a lengthy illness, Zig died in May of 1990. Tootie, Larry and Karen continued the grand tradition of Joe and Mary until fully retiring in 2022. Their loyal and capable manager, Lana Brooks, a member of Chicken Mary’s restaurant family for over 50 years, her husband Harold, and assistant managers Joyce and Lori Lloyd, continue to honor the heritage of the fine family dining at Chicken Mary’s, which has now been serving the area for over 80 years!