AZTEC — The city's Big Bird-yellow chowdown spot with the comical name — Chubby Chicken — has closed its doors.
The restaurant at 910 NE Aztec Blvd. (Highway 550), served its last fried chicken meal on May 16, owner Dean Bourgoin confirmed on Friday.
Bourgoin, 45, took over the drive-through eatery on January 4 last year after he bought it from longtime owners, Jerry and Norma George. He said he had been mulling the idea of running his own restaurant for a long time.
"A year and four months I tried. I did what I could," Bourgoin said. "That's what's the most disappointing thing, that we sold great food, but the money was not coming in. The public, for whatever reason, did not answer the call of the Chubby."
Bourgoin never ran a restaurant before, but he said his love of Southwestern fare was too great to not try it himself. Originally from New Brunswick, Canada, he moved from Albuquerque eight years ago and owns and operates another business, Artistic Walls, which builds custom fireplaces. Balancing two demanding businesses may be another reason the chicken joint didn't survive, he said.
"A restaurant requires 60 percent of the owner's presence, and I could only give five percent," he said. "I love cooking, but I'm not a chef by any means. Also, I should have changed the name from day one, but didn't think about it until I was too far along. I built a lot of restaurants but never ran one."
But the restaurant's failing was not from a lack of good food or effort. Bourgoin completely remodeled the interior, installed a picnic table out back and revamped the menu. There were no tables for dining in, but customers could walk in to pick up an order to-go or use the drive-through.
"The menu I had was 100 percent different from original menu, only the chicken stayed," he said. "We sold a great French Canadian dish called poutine, which is french fries smothered in mozzarella cheese and beef gravy. It's awesome."
He also offered another personal favorite, chicharrón, a Spanish entree of deep fried pork fat in a deep-fried tortilla. He also sold a version of it dipped in chocolate.
"You know, bacon and chocolate. Más mejor del mundo — best in the world. I wanted to print a warning label that said, 'Don't eat in parking lot — no croaking allowed on premises,' but I never did," he said, laughing. "It wasn't so good for the body, but it was awesome on the palette."
Bourgoin opened early at 6 a.m. and closed up at 7 p.m., Tuesday through Friday (closing at 5 p.m. on Saturday) to entice residents and drivers or passengers in the constant stream of traffic along Highway 550 for a chowdown at the roadside eatery. His one-pound, everything-in-it breakfast burrito was the most popular item on the menu. He sold as much as 60 pounds of gizzards each week and routinely ran out of spicy catfish when he made it available.
The small restaurant employed four workers who did everything in-house, including firing up a barbecue grill to cook a couple whole turkeys every Thursday for the eatery's Albuquerque turkey sandwich.
"I'm not the first restaurant to close its doors, but I wont be the last," he said. "This area has not heard the last from me on food. I do have another location in mind. Maybe this year if opportunity knocks, I will do something big. I'm going to keep it New Mexican because I absolutely love the food. I'm not done yet."
Opening in a few weeks at the same location will be Habenero Grill, owner Lisa Higgins confirmed on Monday. She and husband Nick Higgins have operated the Habenero Grill in Farmington for two years. The Aztec location will add to their ability to offer spicy Southwestern fare for breakfast and lunch. The Higginses' daughter, Savannah, is married to Aztec City Manager Josh Ray.
"People will know we're there after we repaint the exterior," Lisa Higgins said. "Our salsa is a family recipe. We make this stuff and it tastes really good. We are going to expand our menu, offering breakfast burritos, quesadillas and sandwiches. And our habanero sauce, of course, that we created. It's hot."
James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.