How It All Began
Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket got its humble beginnings sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s in an old gas station lunch counter. One day, two local farm women came in and overheard the owner (Irv Kolarik) talking about selling more food. Having a wonderful recipe for fried chicken, they approached him and offered to teach him how to cook fried chicken if he would buy his chickens from them.
Because the fried chicken was so good and the highway so busy, the Chicken Basket outgrew its lunch counter and the two car repair bays were turned into a dining room. Not long after that, with the restaurant still growing, the adjacent land was purchased and a brand new restaurant was built.
The Chicken Basket, as it is today, opened in the summer of 1946 on Illinois Route 66 and 79th Street in Hinsdale right next door to its original location. Because of the amount of traffic and distance from Chicago, the Chicken Basket was the perfect stopping place going to or coming from Chicago. These perfect locations also lead to the Chicken Basket becoming a Blue Bird bus stop. People came to the Chicken Basket to purchase bus tickets to travel as far away as Los Angeles or to send packages to loved ones anywhere in between Chicago and LA.
The restaurant’s many large windows allowed patrons to view the small private planes taking off and landing at the old Hinsdale airport across the street. There was always something going on at the Chicken Basket, whether the roof top ice skaters in the winter months or the live entertainment on the weekends.
The restaurant’s need for chicken soon outgrew the capability of the two local women, and another local farmer who was just moving into the area took over. That farmer was none other than Stanley Helma, father and grandfather of today’s owners.
In the early 1960s, Illinois Route 66 bypassed the Chicken Basket and the beloved Route 66 icon fell on hard times. People who remembered the restaurant couldn’t figure out how to get to it and it almost went out of business for lack of customers. In 1963, Dell Rhea and his wife, Grace, bought the restaurant at a bargain price. Dell, being very well known in the area, used his reputation to help bring people back to the Chicken Basket. The Lombardi family took up the reigns in 2019 with the promise to continue the tradition by keeping intact the original recipe, wonderful service, and homestyle environment that makes the Chicken Basket world famous.
With a lot of hard work, good food, fair prices, friendly faces and the growing popularity of Historic Route 66 around the world, the Chicken Basket has become more popular than ever. The Chicken Basket was inducted in the Route 66 Hall of Fame in June of 1992 and was chosen as “The Best Fried Chicken in the Chicagoland Area” by Pat Bruno of the Chicago Sun Times in 1993. In 1994, the restaurant was featured in a documentary of Route 66 done by Bill Curtiss. The Chicken Basket was on the cover of Route 66 Magazine, featured in a Japanese Travel Guide, on Discovery Channel Europe in “Dine About with Max and Greg” as well as other Route 66 programs. Most recently, the Chicken Basket was inducted into “The National Register of Historic Places” in May of 2006.
Our goal has long been to serve our customers the freshest, most outstanding food. We also promise to provide you with the best service in the world. We would like to thank you for 60 plus years of loyalty, and we would like to ask for another 60 years of that same loyalty.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me (ChicksOn66@aol.com). I will gladly answer any question or address any concern you may have.
We wouldn’t have World Famous Fried Chicken without World Famous Customers—thank you for more than 60 years of support.