Co-founder of hip hop group Public Enemy and reality TV star Flavor Flav opened his new restaurant, Flav's Fried Chicken, in the unlikely location of Clinton, Iowa, at 4:00 PM on Monday. I made the trek from Iowa City to Clinton—where locals waited outside for hours in frosty weather—to see the restaurant, have some dinner, and find out how on earth this happened.
Flav's Fried Chicken appears not to have a website, so there's no way to verify the address. I drive down 2nd Street in Clinton, hoping the restaurant will be easy to spot. It is.
A huge sign shows Flav in head-to-toe orange regalia, brandishing bling rings and flashing his trademark gold-capped grimace. The restaurant is 30 feet from a KFC, and the massive, glowing FFC monolith dwarfs the backlit roadside Colonel next door.
Parked cars snake around the block. A long line of hungry customers stretch from the doors, doubling down a long wheelchair-access ramp and onto the pavement. As cars and trucks race past on 2nd Street, drivers honk and shout "Flav!".
I talk to some giddy teenagers who have Flav-signed table napkins. A mother pilots her two daughters out the door—and all three are wearing clock necklaces and the Viking helmets Flav sometimes sports.
In line, I speak with a young Clinton couple, and they seem pretty shell-shocked. "Everybody's been saying— Flav is coming," whispers Heath Dionne, a local telemarketer. "Nobody believed it," says Kayla Archer, his girlfriend.
When's the last time a Clinton restaurant had a line out the door? "Never," Archer says.
I walk over to KFC. Inside, a lone couple lounges at a booth. I introduce myself as a reporter to a fry cook, and the interview is immediately over: "We don't have any comment!" he bellows, and scurries back into the kitchen. When the manager materializes, I ask if he can answer a few questions about the new neighbors. "Sorry, I'm just too busy right now," he says, and storms into the kitchen to make more food for no one.
Inside FFC, I've learned that the building was once a Long John Silver's, which explains its familiar fast-food layout. Aside from that, it couldn't be more different.
Flav is in the corner, hugging and gesticulating and grinning for flashbulbs. It's clear he's taken it upon himself to meet his guests one at a time. It's difficult to move, and there are enormous men in yellow "Security" T-shirts.
From a corner, an MC hypes the food, disses the Colonel, and blasts expletive-laced jams at head-pounding volume. The walls are painted marigold and feature half a dozen meter-high portraits of Flav, sprayed on in vivid airbrush colors. They bring Flav's outsize personality to life with movement and flair, canonizing him in various guises like a doll: basketball jersey Flav, Viking helmet Flav, on-the-mic Flav, crowned king Flav.
The artist, Edwin Bailey, might be the night's biggest success story. He's lived in Clinton much of his life, and sells custom airbrush tees and shoes. "It's a dream come true, man," he tells me. "Everybody's going bananas." He introduces me to his mother, Pamelia, who's over the moon. She recalls how she used take little Edwin to see the Mission District murals in San Francisco when he was younger, how much it inspired him.
Dinnertime. In addition to chicken, FFC serves ribs ("You won't get ribs next door at the Colonel," the MC keeps reminding the crowd). There's also a long list of side dishes: "greens," mashed potatoes, fried corn, cole slaw, 99-cent wings. The chicken breast I ate was thickly battered and well-seasoned, with a good ratio of crunchy to tender. The sides are clearly an afterthought. French fries are frozen (but hand-seasoned); the mashed potatoes, instant. I'd hoped, with all the Colonel-bashing going on, for some hand-made love. The greens or mac and cheese might have been better, but they'd already sold out.
From time to time, Flav escapes to go "season the chicken." Though he can be seen in the kitchen from time to time, he also seems to disappear out the back of the restaurant.
NEXT: How FFC came to Clinton, and the author talks with Flav himself