Uncle Remus CEO Charmaine Rickette scoops up fried chicken for orders at the company's flagship restaurant at 5611 W. Madison St. in Austin on April 13. | Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Uncle Remus Saucy Fried Chicken, the legendary West Side chicken shop, is back with a fresh new look after a pandemic hiatus.

Uncle Remus, 5611 W. Madison St., has been a fixture on the West Side since the late ’60s. It reopened this week after being closed for 13 months due to supply chain issues, labor shortages and skyrocketing food costs during the pandemic, CEO Charmaine Rickette said.

Rickette was able to upgrade the equipment at Uncle Remus’ flagship shop and remodel the interior thanks to a $162,000 grant from the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund program, which aims to boost investment on the South and West sides.

“To see a business that has been a staple in your community for well over 50 years to still be here and still be standing, but to also take the initiative to reinvest within the community is exciting. I think it is what the community deserves to see that businesses care about them and their experiences,” Rickette said.

Reopening hasn’t been without difficulties. Rickette had to hike prices at the shop because the cost of chicken and wings from her suppliers increased more than 40 percent in recent months.

Uncle Remus is famous for its crispy fried chicken slathered in mild sauce, a uniquely Chicago-style condiment with a sweet and tangy flavor with a bit of a kick. The restaurant is considered one of the original creators of mild sauce, and it has since been replicated at chicken shops citywide.

Rickette’s father, restaurant founder Gus Rickette, started serving mild sauce at Uncle Remus in the late ’60s after noticing that customers would combine ketchup and hot sauce to have with their chicken. It is now a signature part of the Uncle Remus brand that drives the fierce customer loyalty.

The Madison Street restaurant isn’t the original Uncle Remus location, Rickette said. Her father opened the first spot in 1969 in a rented storefront nearby at 210 S. Cicero Ave., which has since closed.

But the Madison store, Uncle Remus’ flagship today, “is extremely sentimental for me and my family,” since it was the first property the family bought and owned for the business, Rickette said. Today, the company operates four restaurants and a food truck.

“It was a home away from home for us, with my parents working here,” she said. “My dad was brought to tears by the transformation of the space.”

At the renovated shop, customers will find automated ordering kiosks, a warmer and more welcoming environment for customers, and a streamlined back-of-house that will cut down on wait times and make the business run more efficiently, Rickette said.

Drevon Brown, Charmaine Rickette, Jackie Walker and Diamond Thomas handle orders after Uncle Remus Fried Chicken’s flagship restaurant reopened at 5611 W. Madison St. in Austin, on April 13, 2022. (Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago)

“We have third and fourth-generation customers of the brand. To be able to reinvest is something I’m excited about,” Rickette said.

The restaurant is also sentimental for customers who have been supporting Uncle Remus for years, said Cheryl Collins, a longtime West Sider. Uncle Remus has been her favorite chicken spot for “as long as I can remember,” she said.

“When I saw they reopened, I took the bus down,” Collins said. “Everything’s new and fresh. That’s why I made a beeline down here. It’s up-to-date. There’s more space. It really looks nice.”

Taysha Patterson started going to Uncle Remus as a young girl when there was a location on Chicago Avenue. While the flagship store was closed, she would even go to the Uncle Remus franchise in Broadview to get her fried chicken fix. She said she’s glad the restaurant is back in the neighborhood.

“I’m a chicken person, and I love the sauce. I used to lick the sauce off my fingers as a little girl,” Patterson said.

CONTACT: pascal@blockclubchi.org