The fried chicken and scrumptious Latin offerings of Pollo Campero and its Dallas-based American division, Campero USA, are about to become available in Wal-Marts across the country. Given the chain’s rapid growth worldwide -- from Ecuador to New York to China and Indonesia -- and the abject worship of its patrons, especially those from the company’s home country of Guatemala, the restaurants already operating in Wal-Mart stores have reason for worry. In other words, watch out, Subway and McDonald’s.
I first witnessed the Campero phenomenon when I lived in Guatemala, where a dashing businessman named Dionisio Gutierrez opened the first Pollo Campero in 1971 before expanding it into a popular chain. The first thing I noticed was the logo -- a cheerful chicken wearing a cowboy hat and neck kerchief, its wings spread wide as if to announce its glee at being served on a platter. Then, I noticed that Campero was everywhere.
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Similar to Starbucks in the States, there seemed to be a yellow and orange Campero franchise on every block in Guatemala City, and even in outlying towns. Workers would line up outside in the early morning, waiting for a delicious Campero breakfast of eggs with beans and sweet plantains or a breakfast croissant. At lunch, they’d flock in for a plate of fried chicken, rice, beans, mashed potatoes and tostones -- fried green plantain chips. I began to rely on the restaurants because the food was reliably safe and decent.
But the epitome of the Campero phenomenon is noticeable on planes, of all places. When you board a plane in Guatemala, you will notice that a large number of passengers are carrying enormous plastic bags full of Campero boxes. The plane invariably fills with the savory aroma of fried chicken.
Maybe it’s because in addition to serving good fast food, the restaurant chain makes Guatemalans proud. After all, how many Guatemalan products aside from clothes sewed by women in maquilas have achieved international dominance?
When I lived in New York, I rode the subway an hour to Queens to eat at Pollo Campero. It made me nostalgic, a quality I recognized in all of the Guatemalan immigrants waiting at the counter. Even now, talking about that fried chicken is making me hungry. Maybe I’ll make a trip over to the one on Northwest Highway... --Megan Feldman