Lane Dougherty knows about the naysayers.
He heard from them when Stroud’s moved from its original location near 85th and Troost to Fairway in 2008. Then again when it opened an Overland Park location in 2014.
He expects to hear from them again at Stroud’s new Independence location at 19700 E. Valley View Parkway, scheduled to open Monday.
The comments? That the food just isn’t as good as at the original location.
Dougherty just points out that some of the same folks are in the new kitchens that have been working at another Stroud’s for many years.
Dougherty joined the business in 1983, so long ago that most employees call him “Boss” or “Jefe” or “Gringo Jefe.”
His cooking career was sparked as a 4-year-old when he would heat up a can of Campbell’s Soup and even make chocolate syrup. As a 17-year-old high schooler, the Northland resident applied to the Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor location. His Irish name helped him make the cut with the late Dennis Donegan, a co-owner.
Donegan became a father figure as Dougherty moved up through the ranks — from carrying trays of food to the servers to catering events to broiling pork chops to the top kitchen position at the frying pans.
“We start the breast with the skin side down; it’s the part we want the crispiest. Then we turn it to give it some color,” said Dougherty as the pan frying got started on a test run this week in Independence. “I think that’s why more people don’t fry their own chicken, because of the mess, the burns on their arms. It’s not the safest. We do it for them.”
Dougherty, as kitchen manager, oversees a staff of about 35 people and tries to create a “fun, family” atmosphere in the steamy environment. It was around 1990 when he came up with Stroud’s chicken fingers recipe, and he now eats that nearly every day with ranch dip. He tries other chicken places when traveling, even some in town.
Guy and Helen Stroud opened Stroud’s as a barbecue restaurant in 1933. The roadhouse remained a barbecue until beef was rationed in World War II and Helen began serving pan-fried chicken dinners for 35 cents.
In 1977, two Kelly’s Westport Inn bartenders, Mike Donegan and Jim Hogan, bought Stroud’s, keeping a couple of its cooks and expanding the menu.
Along with its famous pan-fried chicken — which has earned it accolades in many national publications — Stroud’s offers a variety of items, including mashed potatoes and gravy, cinnamon rolls and pan-fried breaded pork chops. It also offers lunch specials, including Tuesday’s pork tenderloin sandwich and Thursday’s meat loaf.
Donegan’s brother, Dennis, became a partner in the second Stroud’s, the Oak Ridge Manor site in the Northland in 1983. In 2000, the Donegan brothers bought out their partner. Dennis Donegan passed away in 2004 and Mike Donegan carried on, fielding pitches from various investors over the years who wanted to open more locations. But he waited until 2013 to partner with locally owned KC Hopps Ltd. when the company promised it wouldn’t mess with the pan-fried formula.
He still owns the Northland location and is a partner in any new Stroud’s locations with KC Hopps, including the Independence restaurant and the one in Overland Park. Stroud’s also is looking at sites in Topeka and St. Louis.
El Maguey Mexican Restaurant formerly occupied the Independence building, and Stroud’s has spent the last few months remodeling the 6,270-square-foot space at 19700 E. Valley View Parkway.
It has a Diners’ Wall of Fame with framed autographed menus from famous athletes and celebrities who have eaten at Stroud’s, as well as several vintage Stroud’s photos and memorabilia such as a piece of the original wood floor. The dining room light fixtures are made from rusty, old South Carolina oil cans and chicken feeders.
It also has two event spaces — the Donegan Room (named after Mike Donegan), seating about 50 people, and the Oak Ridge Room (after Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor in the Northland), featuring log-cabin-like walls and seating 50 to 60 people.
On a pre-opening test run this week, several locals were thrilled to have a Stroud’s just minutes from their homes. Some patrons were excited to introduce the youngest members of their family to the restaurant, and one couldn’t wait to place her standard order for the “best chicken fried chicken.”
Dougherty’s mother also stopped in this week, pointing out that she was born in 1933, the same year as Stroud’s. Dougherty is also married to a server at the Northland location. And when he is out and about on errands, he often drops off cinnamon rolls — and sometimes even chicken — to workers at his bank and at the grocery store. He lights up when people he doesn’t know ask him where he works.
“They say, ‘Oh, I love Stroud’s.’ It makes you stand tall,” he said.