In Your Neighborhood: Community Rallies Around Hot Chicken Business

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By Hollie Deese

It’s been a long time coming, but hot chicken is finally making its way to Portland.

Emmett Carter, a former soldier with the 101st Airborne Division stationed at Ft. Campbell, has lived in Portland for years now, working a few jobs here and there after leaving the military while raising her son Dorian. Now her son is in college and she decided it was time to do something for herself and the community.

With a craving of her own for hot chicken, Emmett found herself taking off from Portland to Nashville whenever she could to satisfy it – sometimes even coming back late on her lunch break since it was so far away.

“There is food (in Portland), you just run out of options very quickly. We need more food here,” she says. “Someone brought it to my attention that this franchise would be a good idea. So, I decided to do it. I love to cook and I used to be a waitress and a cook before, years ago, and I liked it.”

Emmett would wager to guess eighty-five percent of her community has never even had hot chicken and is excited to show them just how good it can be. Helen’s Hot Chicken is a Nashville-based franchise that began in a trailer off Rosa Parks Boulevard and now have multiple locations in the mid-state and even Texas.

“They have Chester’s and the gas station, but this is fresh, cooked to order,” she says. “There is a little wait for it but it is really good and fresh. It already exists and there is lots of positive feedback on the chicken already. They are excited to have something from Nashville come to Portland.”

The factories behind the restaurant are even cutting walking paths to Helen’s for quick and easy lunch access, and with the addition of a back patio Emmett hopes they find a moment of relaxation during their busy work day.

Construction in the church-turned-restaurant is well under way with a projected opening date this month. But she admits it has been a long process that began last October and has dragged out from a series of setbacks that included delayed architecture plans and a widely-reported theft of her eight foot chicken mascot, “Toot,” from the front of the building.

Toot is her son’s childhood nickname, so the theft was especially painful. But the town’s reaction to it has left her feeling rejuvenated and more determined than ever to open her doors.

“The police department called me and said ‘Emmett, don’t buy anymore chickens,’ because someone has anonymously donated one and had it cloned to match Toot, a five-foot one, and delivered to the police department,” she says.

And it didn’t stop there. A second one – this one nine feet tall – was gifted from Lisa Davis, owner of Davis and Co. Mercantile in Portland, after taking up a donation from her customers. A third chicken was donated by friends from Franklin.

She has since passed inspection and attributes the help of everyone from the electricians and building suppliers to the codes department with getting her to the point where she can open.

“The city has been so supportive – codes, the fire department, police, everyone has been so supportive and helpful,” she says. “It just left me speechless because it was amazing all the support helping me get through this, and they don’t even know me.”

To learn more, visit helenshotchicken.com.

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