If you’re from the city, or have been here for a little while, you’ve probably been asked the question, Harold’s or Remus? Well, being the South Sider that I am, it has always been Harold’s!
However, there is a follow-up question when you pick Harold’s: Which one?
That answer is the Harold’s on 87th. It’s not just the best on the South Side, it’s the best in the city. Opened in 1992 by Percy Billings, it can easily be called the mecca of fried chicken.
As a kid, if getting chips and candy from the gas station was equivalent to getting gold, getting some Harold’s from 87th was like finding diamonds. One of the most exciting parts of the Harold’s experience was walking through the back door. I felt like Sincere in the beginning of Belly. From the lens of a child the world is so massive, yet everything you experience feels like it is yours and yours alone. So going to Harold’s made me feel exclusive, like I was one of the VIPs that had their own private entrance.
In growing up, and gaining the ability to take myself places whenever I felt like it, I would often find myself at Harold’s late at night, during the week and especially on weekends, waiting patiently for my six-wing with mild sauce and sometimes my large gizzard. If you didn’t know, they make the best gizzards I have ever had, and I will not order them anywhere else. Weekend nights at Harold’s was definitely something to experience; you never knew who you would run into or how long of a wait there would be… So when I found out they opened an express location on the other side of the Dan Ryan I felt like I unlocked a cheat code.
From that point on whenever I wanted some Harold’s and the location on 100 W. 87th St. was crowded I would go right to 8653 S. State St. and place my order.
The Harold’s on 87th will forever be a staple in my coming of age, just like a few other businesses I was able to witness growing up in Chatham. They showed me that Black people are not just capable of accomplishing but also thriving, supporting themselves and the community around them.
So in July of 2020, in the midst of experiencing a magnitude of loss on so many levels, I was saddened to hear that the beloved location that held so many memories was closing. When I first found out a part of me panicked, because so many businesses I grew up with in Chatham had gone out of existence over the years. I did not want to lose another pillar of the community.
Naturally, I was overjoyed to find out that they were not closing completely, but rather adapting to the changes thrust upon them. The Express location has become their primary location and they now have two food trucks that operate throughout the city and are also available for private events. You can often find one of their food trucks operating in the parking lot near their original location.
Change can be devastating to a business. The resilience of Harold’s to persevere and remain open when so many businesses of its generation have shut their doors entirely is inspiring. Despite the challenges—of people being unaware of the Express location and its relation to the former location, and limited parking—Harold’s No. 55 is doing well, according to Bryce Billings, daily operations manager and grandson of Percy Billings.
When asked about the impact the community has had on Harold’s, Bryce Billings had this to say: “Oh, it’s a big part. Chatham has been with [Percy Billings] for years, since he started over there, about thirty years ago. He got a ton of love from them, they have always supported him and that’s what he thrives off of. That’s what he looks forward to every day.”
It’s safe to say that Harold’s will always be a part of Chatham’s past, present, and future.
Harold’s Chicken Shack No. 55 Express, 8653 S. State St. Open daily, 11am–midnight. (773) 874-8653. haroldschicken55.com