Manufacturer: Shenango China
User: Coon Chicken Inn
Date: 1927 – 1948
Notes: The following paragraphs about Coon Chicken Inn were written based on information found at the former CoonChickenInn.com – now defunct – and at the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University. The latter includes a history of the chain written by the founder's grandson.
The Coon Chicken Inn was founded by Maxon Lester Graham (born June 17, 1897) and his wife, Adelaide, in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1925. Graham built on its quick success with large additions at the Utah location (followed by a fire and a complete reconstruction at the original site). He expanded in 1929 to open another restaurant in Seattle, Wash., followed in 1930 by a branch in Portland, Ore.
The inn is best known now (2010) for its hideous caricature of a grinning African-American man. According to the sites, this image was devised as an attraction for children (who would want to come and bring their parents) and it became the portal through which customers entered the restaurants. The branding extended to all of the restaurants' china, silver and ephemera.
The Grahams leased out the three restaurants at the end of the Fifties. What is now the Chuck-a-Rama in Salt Lake City has locations in Idaho and Utah. Ying's Drive-In in Seattle is now a Chinese- and American-food diner. The Portland location became the Prime Rib, now in business as Clyde's Prime Rib.
Were it not for its logo, Coon Chicken Inn might have disappeared as a racist-named restaurant from what was a racist era in America. But the logo has endured and flourished as Black Americana. Because of that, its memorabilia is in high demand, and it has spawned a wide variety of fake and fantasy merchandise. No authorized reproductions have ever been made of Coon Chicken Inn products.
It can be difficult to tell real Coon Chicken Inn china from fakes based on photos posted on Internet sites such as eBay. It is more apparent when found in antique stores and at flea markets. There are many more fake pieces of Coon Chicken Inn china than real ones.
Tan bodied Inca Ware plate with navy blue patterned border. Center shows the Coon Chicken Inn logo with winking, grinning African American man wearing porter's cap. The design is depicted in dark red and blue. Coon Chicken Inn is spelled out on his teeth.
Photos contributed by kathleen