The untold truth of Kenny Rogers Roasters

Country music lovers were saddened by the news that legendary singer Kenny Rogers had passed away on March 20. The musician's legacy includes an impressive catalog of songs, including 21 No. 1 country hits, and a fast-food chain that bore his name, Kenny Rogers Roasters (via The New Yorker). This may be news to younger generations, since the brand no longer operates in the U.S., but Kenny Rogers Roasters actually used to be very popular back in the day.

In 1991, Rogers teamed up with former KFC CEO John Y. Brown Jr. to open the chicken restaurant, with its first store debuting in Coral Springs, Fla., as reported by Wide Open Eats. The chain served a "specialty of woodfire-roasted chicken plus homemade muffins, jacket potatoes, vegetable salads, pastas, soups, desserts, and beverages" (via Esquire Philippines). It quickly became successful, eventually expanding to 350 locations worldwide within a few years. The brand was even featured in an episode of the then-hit show Seinfeld.

But its success also came with struggles. According to Vice, Miami's Cluckers Wood Roasted Chicken filed a $10 million lawsuit against Kenny Rogers Roasters for stealing its "wood-roasted chicken" concept in 1992. That lawsuit ended in 1994, when the latter bought a majority stake in Cluckers. Meanwhile, Kenny Rogers Roasters was also facing fierce competition from Boston Chicken (now Boston Market), which was aggressively pushing into the rotisserie chicken market with new locations.

Where can you find Kenny Rogers Roasters today?

With all of that pressure, Kenny Rogers Roasters had to fold, at least in the U.S. The chain declared bankruptcy in 1998 and was sold to Nathan's Famous for $1.25 million. It was then that Rogers himself decided to separate himself from the brand. Nathan's Famous later sold Kenny Rogers Roasters to an Asian franchisee, a company owned by Berjaya Group of Malaysia in 2008.

In the U.S., Kenny Rogers Roasters closed its last store in 2011 and has since faded from public memory. In Asia, however, the restaurant brand is still going strong, with around 400 locations in Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Thailand, and many other countries. And though Rogers no longer had any active involvement in the business, he reportedly had worked out an arrangement where the brand could still use his name and likeness in return for annual payments to the singer.

Will Kenny Rogers Roasters ever return to America? Vice mentioned that as of 2011, the company was "hoping to leverage its international success into a return to the American market," but things are still up in the air. For the time being, it looks like a visit to Kenny Rogers Roasters will require a trip to Asia.