Iconic Clawson restaurant reopens

By: Robert Guttersohn | Royal Oak Review | Published January 27, 2014

 Patricia Straus works the counter and serves up the meals at Faymus Chicken Jan. 23.

Patricia Straus works the counter and serves up the meals at Faymus Chicken Jan. 23.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

CLAWSON — Alvin Pedroche had known for quite some time that he wanted to open a restaurant of his own.

Last spring, he spotted a for-sale sign in the window of a restaurant with a large white chicken on its roof across the street from where he attends church in Clawson.

When he bought it, the 43-year-old had no idea he was purchasing a business with such a strong tie to the community.

“One man in his 70s said, ‘Son, do you realize you bought an icon?’” recalled Pedroche, who has run a home care agency and health care consulting company for the last 15 years. “I didn’t have any idea. I thought it was just a chicken place. I’m from Oakland Township.”

Since reopening Faymus Chicken in December, Pedroche has learned quite a bit about the place he bought and the memories associated with it.

“Now, my goal is not only to serve my food but also to bring back the memories,” Pedroche said.

In the 1940s and through most of the 1950s, the place now called Faymus Chicken at 331 N. Main St. was called Shaw’s Market, according to the Clawson Historical Society.

Owner Ray Shaw sold groceries, ice cream and candy out of the store. Eventually, he put together a fried chicken recipe that became so popular, he converted his shop and focused his attention to just selling chicken.

Pedroche said he had heard the “Fay” in “Faymus” is named after Ray’s wife, Fay, but the historical society could not confirm that. At some point, Shaw plopped the white chicken on his roof, but exactly when the poultry-esque statue made its first appearance is not clear.

“We aren’t sure if he (the chicken) was there before, but he has been there at least since ’59,” said Melodie Nichols, the curator of the Clawson Historical Society.

After Shaw’s death, the business changed hands nearly half a dozen times before Pedroche bought it last March.

Pedroche admits now that he didn’t foresee the amount of work that would be required prior to opening. The fire and electrical systems had to be brought up to code. The neon sign atop the roof had to be removed, and the facade needed to be changed.

Even the fate of the chicken was uncertain until lobbying efforts from Pedroche and Joan Horton, the director of the Downtown Development Authority, kicked in.

“That chicken’s iconic,” Horton said in a recent phone interview.

Although the business is not located within the DDA’s boundary, Horton said that from a historical-preservation perspective, the chicken had to remain.

“There’s just not that many like that anymore,” she said. “That kind of signage is unique.”

In September, the city’s Planning Commission approved the restaurant’s site plan. The chicken was allowed to stay.

Pedroche’s next objective was to change the perception of Faymus’ food.

“It’s not the food that drew people here,” Pedroche said. “It was the company.”

He aims to make his chicken like he imagines Shaw used to 70 years ago.

Pedroche said all of his vegetables and fish are delivered from Eastern Market, and his chickens are slaughtered within 24 hours of delivery to his restaurant.

To assure the food’s freshness, he declined to buy a freezer.

“I refuse to have a freezer,” Pedroche said. “It will tempt us to freeze our chicken.”

The stance, though, has sometimes left him short on food during the busier nights, forcing him to close down early. Still, he has no plans to change.

“It’s the principle,” he said. “Is it wrong? Is it bad business? I don’t know. That’s just how I stand.”

And it’s a philosophy Pedroche will maintain while patrons continue to fill him in on the history of his restaurant with the large chicken on the roof.