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Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant celebrates 75 years of great service

Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant celebrates 75 years of great service

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Long before Walt Disney dreamed of turning an Anaheim orange grove into the Happiest Place on Earth, there was this berry stand in Buena Park.

During the depths of the Great Depression, Walter & Cordelia Knott kept their 20-acre farm afloat by selling boysenberries out there along Highway 39. In an effort to increase sales, the Knotts began offering Cordelia’s homemade jams & jellies along with fresh-picked berries.

But even then Walter & Cordelia weren’t bringing in enough money to support their growing family. Which is why the Knotts decided to add a tea room to their farmhouse. Where they hoped to serve tea & jam to passersby.

Knott's Berry Place
Courtesy of the Orange County Historical Society

But then when the Knotts had trouble filling all five of those tables that they’d crammed into that tea room … Well, that’s when Walter suggested that they add Cordelia’s famous chicken to the menu. Which had always been a favorite with friends & family.

So on June 13, 1934, the first chicken dinner was served at what was then known as Knott’s Berry Place. And someone must have liked what was on the menu that day. For the business quickly out-grew that teeny tiny tea room. To the point where Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant eventually grew to become seven sprawling dining rooms that could feed 4,000 people on a typical Sunday night.

Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant
Courtesy of the Orange County Historical Society

“And who exactly served all of that chicken?,” you ask. Why the army of waitresses that Walter & Cordelia hired over the years. Many of whom return to Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant this past Saturday for a special 75th anniversary reunion / luncheon.

There were employees on hand from every decade that the restaurant had been in operation. As music played …

Knotts Annicersary
Photo by Alice Hill

… Guests dined on – what else – Mrs. Knott’s fried chicken, rhubarb and boysenberry pie. And state & city resolutions were read, honoring the restaurant’s 75th anniversary, Snoopy went from table to table. Working the room like a well-seasoned politician.

Knott's Berry Farm Anniversary
Photo by Alice Hill

But the real guest of honor at Saturday’s event was Marion Knott, was Walter & Cordelia’s last surviving daughter.

Knotts Berry Farm Anniversary
Photo by Alice Hill

During her remarks, Marion said that “… I was afraid that – when we sold the Park to (Cedar Fair L.P. back in 1997) – that Knott’s Berry Farm would be a cold plastic corporate place. But I think that they’ve done a tremendous job of keeping up the warm family atmosphere.”

And given all of the hugs and the tears that I saw in that banquet hall this past Saturday afternoon, that family feeling really does live on at Knott’s.

After lunch, Marion and all of the Chicken Restaurant vets trouped outside for a brief rededication ceremony (which recognized Knott’s status as an Orange County historic landmark) as well as a group photograph.

Knotts Berry Farm Anniversary
Photo by Alice Hill

But for all the Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant employees who were looking on, this was just another Saturday. And as soon as this 75th anniversary party cleared out of the Courtyard, it was back to business as usual. Which – these days – means cooking up & then serving, on average, 1,000 chicken a day.

And speaking of serving … On June 22nd, as a special fundraiser for the Cordelia Knott Wellness Center, Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant will be holding a local celebrity server night. So if you’d like to get in all the 75th anniversary fun as well as help out a really great cause, drive on out to Buena Park next Monday night.

Knotts Chicken Dinner Sign

You’ll be berry glad that you did.

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  • Loved Knott's Berry Farm before it went carney in the 90s. A totally different, and more laid back experience to Disneyland, yet just as much fun.

  • Has Marion Knott not been to Knotts recently? Cedar Fair DID ruin Knott's Berry Farm. I USED to like it there, but not anymore.

    All Knott's is now is the Orange County Magic Mountain. All unthemed steel coasters with no heart. I fact since Magic Mountain has cleaned up their act, I think Knott's is the new Magic Mountain.

  • You summed up pretty much what I felt when I read Marion Knott's comment, jedited. So many of the nice little touches that made Knott's special when it was run by the Knott family have either been taken out or allowed to deteriorate under Cedar Fair. Cedar Fair knows coasters, and they've done a decent job at that, but it's not the same Knott's.

  • I also think knotts needs some help , where's the people in control , the lines are long the rides not well supervised, it's chaos

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