Farewell, Maryland Fried Chicken

Lehigh Valley's last MFC closes after 45 years of business in Palmer Township.

The hunt for quality fried chicken has gotten a little harder, thanks to the closure of Maryland Fried Chicken in Palmer Township earlier this year.

The fast-casual restaurant at 2469 Nazareth Road, in the 25th Street Shopping Center, was an area staple for 45 years and the last remnant of chain in the Lehigh Valley. The first eatery opened on Stefko Boulevard in Bethlehem in 1968 and there also was a location in Allentown.

For decades, diners (myself included) flocked to the eateries not only for the restaurant's savory poultry, but also for its pork barbecue, seafood combinations and various sides such as mashed potatoes, baked beans and coleslaw.

The main draw, however, was the chicken — hand-cut and trimmed every day. It was cooked fresh (never frozen) and dusted with a light-seasoned flour before frying.

While I frequented the restaurants, I never realized how much of an institution they had become until I received e-mails and phone calls from readers who were acting as though they had just lost a family member.

Geraldine Hottle of Bethlehem dined at the Palmer restaurant every couple weeks and was "very saddened" to hear the news from a friend. She used to patronize the Bethlehem location, which is now a Cigar & Cigarette Outlet, for years before a fire closed it in 2011.

While she lives within walking distance of the KFC on Easton Avenue in Bethlehem, Hottle will only go there if she's hungry for Long John Silver's, which shares the space.

"Maryland topped that place [KFC] all together," she said. "There's something about that chicken that I just don't like. It's not the same."

According to a 2008 article by my former colleague Marion Callahan, the restaurant's name never was an indication of where the chicken came from. Instead, the first store in Orlando was named Maryland Fried Chicken as a publicity stunt to lure the influx of Marylanders relocating to Florida with Lockheed Martin.

That initial store turned into a 200-restaurant chain in the 1960s; the late Thomas Workman of Wilson opened all three Lehigh Valley locations. The franchise lasted only a few years, however, and less than 30 independently operated stores exist today — mostly in the South.

In 2008, Workman sold the Bethlehem and Palmer eateries to Nazareth's Paul Matula, who was a short-order cook at the Palmer location in the 1970s. Matula refused to comment on the closure. The Palmer store closed on Jan. 12.

Some good news for the shopping center though is that the space formerly occupied by Maryland Fried Chicken could be merged with its neighboring vacant storefront, formerly occupied by CVS Pharmacy, to become one larger space.

According to Realtor James Balliet of the South Whitehall Township-based KW Commercial-The James Balliet Commercial Group, there has been "quite a bit of interest" in the space and the owner of the shopping center is looking at the possibility of knocking out the wall between the two spaces to form a 15,500-square-foot space for an undisclosed larger user.

Another positive development in Palmer is the March 1 opening of Milton Wade Salon, a hair salon offering coloring, cuts and extensions, in the Greenway Plaza at 3506 Greenway St. (next to Giuseppe's Italian Restaurant).

The business, owned by Milton Fedd of Palmer, also will offer waxing, manicures and pedicures in the future. Info: miltonwadesalon.com.

In nearby Easton, Time Photo Studios at 15 Centre Square (next to Pearly Baker's Alehouse) will hold a grand opening at 1 p.m. May 4.

The business, which says it is a "destination for unique child and family portraits," evolved out of Baby Time Photos, a company that began taking photos of newborns at Easton Hospital more than a year ago.

"The clientele kept wanting us to come back and take more photos, so we decided to open a separate studio where we could do everything," said Wendy Jamison, who co-owns the studio with her partner, Tara Hawthorne.

Guests of the grand opening can pose for a free media photo and tour sets for Mother's Day, graduations and all occasions. Info: timephotostudios.com.

Retail Watchers looking to build the vehicle of their dreams or simply give their current car a face lift should note that Nothing Leaves Stock outgrew its location of more than 10 years at Landis Street and Route 309 in Coopersburg (next to R/T Street Rods) and moved to a larger space at 5780 Main St. in Upper Saucon Township (near Southern Lehigh High School) on March 1.

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