By Chris Stone
Charlie Boghosian hopes to unveil Kool-Aid waffle ice cream sandwiches this month. Next month’s innovation will be deep-fried peanut butter meatballs.
But San Diegans won’t have to wait for summer to see what’s new out of the fryer.
On Friday, Boghosian opened the first restaurant of his 31-year culinary career. The Clairemont business continues his efforts to avoid selling “boring” food.
Called Chicken Charlie’s FryBQ (a term he coined), the small restaurant at Balboa and Genesee avenues is drawing big crowds with a promise of new creations monthly. It opens at 10:30 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. weekdays and 11 p.m. weekends.
The most ordered item so far?
“Fried chicken is by far the most popular,” said Boghosian, working since 5 a.m. Saturday. “I sold more fried chicken Friday … than I did on one of my best days at any fair in 19 years.”
While customers may know him for his deep-fried Oreos and Krispy Kreme triple cheeseburgers, they may be surprised that his latest menu is only “sprinkled” with fair-style food, Boghosian said.
Dessert items Saturday were deep-fried Oreos and ice cream nachos, cinnamon chips with chocolate, and vanilla and strawberry ice cream.
“I’m not trying to duplicate the fair,” he says. “I have children too.”
He is sensitive to the difference between calorie-filled fun food and fare that people might go out to eat more often.
He’ll take the baked
Boghosian wants to be known for his baby back ribs and chicken, baked as well as fried. (He says he prefers the baked versions himself.)
Also being devoured: hot chicken wings, frog legs, fried shrimp, bacon-wrapped shrimp and “lobster slipper tails.” Two types of salads are on the menu, plus beverages including beer and wine.
For kids meals, the restaurant offers chicken tenders with fries or apples.
Grilled cheese sandwiches with Milky Way chocolate and fried Klondike bars were being served Friday, but he didn’t savor the glitches.
On Friday, he wasn’t pleased that the Klondike bars began to melt as people ate their entrees, so Boghosian is working on that.
Fresh, good quality food and good presentation will equal success, he said.
Energetic people person
Boghosian, “45 going on 18,” is the personification of the word gregarious.
“How’s your food?” he asks a customer. “I’m Charlie. Is everything OK?” He glad-hands friends who come by to support his new endeavor.
While Boghosian is known for his self-described “crazy” innovations, his restaurant has everything to do with his family — both his mother and his 3-year-old daughter.
“My favorite part is that what I learned from my mother and my love of frying can be mixed together,” he said. “I love to cook, create and invent.”
“I want people to have fun,” he said.
Then he talks about the birth of his daughter and how it’s tied to the emergence of his new business.
Four years ago, when his wife announced that she was pregnant with their first child, Boghosian that night hatched a plan for the rest of his life.
“I’m a planner,” he said, “And I had a dream to build and give her something, something tangible like a restaurant.”
Although his wife has supported his taking their 21 trailers from county fair to county fair, “I don’t want to drag my children across the country.”
Born in Syria, Boghosian has lived in San Diego since he was 11. After looking at 50 possible sites, he chose the Clairemont location.
“Four years later, the opening of the business Friday was the accomplishment of that day’s dream” to build something for his daughter, he said.
As a child, he watched his mother cook, and she taught him how to fry food. Together they fried vegetables including eggplant, mushrooms, cauliflower and zucchini.
At 14, he got his first taste of a county fair. He got a job selling charbroiled corn at what was then known as the Del Mar Fair and continued working summers while going to high school and college.
While selling corn at the fair, he concocted his own style of food at home by “flirting” with all styles of batters: pancake, muffin and others in search for a sweet one for frying.
A fried legend is born
After college, he planned to pursue another dream: becoming an FBI agent. But that went up in smoke when a woman offered to sell him her broasted chicken trailer.
He changed the name of the trailer to Chicken Charlie’s, and his business was born.
Finding the chicken menu “too boring,” he added dessert. He loved the apple pies at McDonald’s and thought of duplicating them.
He experimented with a host of Hostess snacks, including pies, cupcakes and Ding Dongs. Then he spotted a box of cookies at home.
In 1998, in the spirit of “spicing it up,” he invented the deep-fried Oreo.
“I took a bite,” Boghosian said, “and I thought it was better than anything I had ever eaten.” He added chocolate syrup, powdered sugar and sprinkles and hit the fair scene.
That success got his creative juices going.
The next year, it was fried strawberries and bananas dipped in batter with ice cream, whipped cream and nuts.
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The following year it was fried avocados with a fish and chips-style coating served with a pesto sauce.
“It was a huge favorite,” he said. “I sold 500 the first day.”
Then came fried Klondike bars, fried Kool-Aid, fried ‘smores, fried cheesecake, Krispy Kreme Chicken sandwiches and the Zucchini Weenies, which landed him an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.”
Helped by The Chicken Mafia
He admits to failures “in the fryer” during the trial-and-error phase (before being publicly served), but foods on the menus have all been winners for him, he says.
Before any items join the menu, they are taste-tested by family, neighbors, friends and employees, whom he affectionately calls “The Chicken Mafia.”
He loved Krispy Crème doughnuts and wondered if they could substitute for buns with a chicken breast inside. That proved not sweet enough for him, so he added honey. And they sold “like hotcakes.”
Boghosian says his creations are being duplicated across the country. He doesn’t mind people copying them, but prefers having something of substance beneath the oil, not just foods injected with flavors, which he thinks aren’t imitations.
He acknowledges that turkey legs, corn dogs, cinnamon rolls and corn-on-the-cob are perennial favorites, but he says fairgoers for the past five years have been looking for new and different items, hence his yearly creation.
What’s the most popular item at Chicken Charlie’s each year?
The newest item, he says. Whatever debuts becomes the biggest seller.
Boghosian will continue to run his trailer at the San Diego County Fair, where he has about 10,000 transactions a day.
Living the American Dream
Born into a family that was a religious minority in Syria, his father’s dream was that his family live in a Christian country.
“There really is an American Dream,” he said. “When there is opportunity, there is a dream. When doors are open, you can work hard and do anything you want.”
He dreams the restaurant will be the future of his daughter, Abby. He wants to build something long-term for her.
If she chooses not to join the business, then “I will enjoy doing it until I die,” he said.
“I love to see people’s faces and reactions, and I’ve gotten a million compliments.” He also plans to write a book about fried food.
Is there a second Chicken Charlie’s in the plan?
“I hope there is one more place,” he said. “I hope there is a thousand.”