Those who hail from the west coast and who like their food will have undoubtedly heard
of the hugely popular Mexican fast-food chain El Pollo Loco.
The name of this chain is Spanish and translates as “The Crazy Chicken”.
They serve a range of Mexican dishes but are mostly famed for their grilled chicken.
Many people have tried and failed to master their chicken’s secret marinade blend.
If you have yet to visit an El Pollo Loco location, then now is the time as we are about
to fill your brain with 10 untold truths about the chain.
Let’s take a look!
El Pollo Loco Originates From Mexico
These days, El Pollo Loco is largely a US franchise, but this hasn’t always been the
The chain was founded in Sinaloa, Mexico way back in 1974 by Juan Francisco Ochoa, also
known as Don Pancho.
Surprisingly, the very first El Pollo Loco location was actually at a roadside in Mexico.
Juan Francisco Ochoa started the franchise with only 15 thousand pesos to work with.
He had 10 tables and 43 chickens to create this famous fast food chain.
His wife, Flerida, is the genius behind the citrus marinade that is still used to this
What probably surprised the husband and wife duo more than anyone else is the fact that
by the end of their first day of business they had completely sold out of chicken.
Three years later, they decided to open a second El Pollo Loco location, this time in
San Luis Potosi.
Ochoa’s brother decided that he would quit his full-time job so that he was able to help
to run the restaurant.
By the time 1979 rolled around, there were 85 locations scattered throughout 20 cities
in Northern Mexico.
Most surprising is the fact that the vast majority of these locations were run by friends
and family members.
The first American El Pollo Loco was opened in Los Angeles.
Within its first year of business, it had accumulated a massive $1.5 million dollars.
By the end of 1983, there were an impressive 19 El Pollo Loco locations dotted across California.
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The El Pollo Loco Franchise Was Once Owned by Denny’s
Given that the chain was relatively new, it is understandable that Juan Francisco Ochoa
will have made some mistakes along the way.
During the 1980s, he made several bad financial decisions which inevitably caused him to accumulate
a staggering $3 million in debt.
As you can imagine, this caused some serious financial worries for the franchise.
Ochoa was left with no other option than to sell off some of his locations.
By 1983, all 19 of the El Pollo Loco locations in California were sold to Denny’s.
Everyone’s heard of this diner-style chain.
They paid Ochoa a healthy sum of between $11 million and $13 million, allowing him to free
the franchise of so much financial stress.
There was an agreement at the time of sale that Ochoa would retain ownership of all 92
El Pollo Loco locations based in Mexico.
Within the first 18 months of Denny’s being in control of the American El Pollo Loco locations,
the chain had grown from 19 locations to an impressive 29 locations across southern California,
as well as a further 6 locations across Houston, Texas.
Four years later, TW Services took over ownership of Denny’s Inc. thus giving them ownership
of the American El Pollo locations, too.
By 1990, the 200th location was opened in California.
El Pollo Loco Has Had Its Fair Share of Legal Battles
As with most large fast-food franchises, El Pollo Loco has seen its fair share of legal
Back in 2004, the Mexican side of the brand tried to sue the American side after they
failed to deliver on their part of the bargain in terms of the joint expansion agreement
made years previously.
Not surprisingly, the Mexican side of the brand won and were awarded a massive sum of
22 million dollars and were given back the El Pollo Loco trademark and intellectual property
of the brand within Mexico.
Another legal battle was fought more recently in 2016 when several Mexican restaurants were
closed by the Health Ministry for the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon.
Officially, the reason for the closures was listed as health code violations.
However, rumor has it that it was actually the result of a political rivalry.
The reason behind this rumor was the fact that at least one of the locations was owned
by Mexican politician, Marco Gonzalez.
El Pollo Loco Has Experimented Extensively With Their Menu
As the owner of any fast food chain will tell you, you have to be prepared to experiment
with your dishes if you want to be able to expand to more locations.
The owners of El Pollo Loco knew this for themselves and were well aware that in order
to compete with rivals such as KFC, they would have to be willing to experiment with their
While they kept their traditional Mexican dishes with tortillas and salsa, they decided
to expand to add more Mexican treats to the menu, including tacos, enchiladas, burritos,
All of these dishes are still available to this day.
By 1994, several locations were equipped with a side dish bar, a salsa bar, and a BBQ in
order to see how popular they would be with customers.
Other locations saw ice cream and french fries added to the menu.
However, out of all of the experiments that were carried out, only the salsa bar proved
popular and was soon rolled out to all El Pollo Loco locations in America.
During 1995, the chain started to offer large-scale catering, as well as a home delivery service.
At one point, the team even decided to offer fried chicken; something that completely goes
against everything they stood for.
Whatever your views are, we can all agree that the food on offer at El Pollo Loco is
El Pollo Loco was Featured in the Guinness Book of World Records
Getting your fast food chain into the Guinness Book of World Records is definitely not an
easy task, but the masterminds behind El Pollo Loco managed it.
Other than the fact that it is one of the most popular Hispanic franchises in the world,
the thing that made El Pollo Loco world record breakers was back in 1995 when they decided
to make the world’s largest burrito.
It weighed a whopping two tons and was a staggering 949 meters long.
They held a special event in Anaheim, California to construct the burrito which earned them
their place in the book as world record holders.
Sadly, they were later beaten by Canirac La Paz, also from California, who constructed
a burrito weighing 6.3 tons and reaching 2.4km in length.
Who on earth managed to eat all of the burrito goodness?!
There are numerous other restaurants to feature in the Guinness Book of World Records; The
World’s Oldest Restaurant – Restaurante Botin, Madrid, The World’s Largest Restaurant
– Bawabet Dimashq, Damascus, The Restaurant with the Largest Menu – Mofarguru, Budapest
and the only restaurant to have a robot as a waiter – The Robot Kitchen in Hong Kong.
El Pollo Loco Does a Lot of Charity Work
Back in 2005, El Pollo Loco Charities was founded; a non-profit charity which provides
meals for underprivileged families.
Every year, the charity donates over 10,000 meals for children, the disadvantaged, underprivileged
families and the elderly.
However, their charitable work doesn’t stop there.
They also support literacy, bilingual education, social responsibility, humanitarian issues,
and academic excellence.
As well as all this, they also carry out Fire-Grilled Fundraisers.
This initiative allows nonprofit organizations to raise funds for their cause when they dine
at El Pollo Loco locations.
When members dine here, 20% of the purchase goes to their cause.
When you consider how many locations there are across America and Mexico, it’s hard
to imagine how much money and food they donate every single year.
The company is also well-known for really providing for their employees, too.
The majority of the employees will work at their location for at least 5 years.
With benefits including retirement pensions, paid vacations, paid sick leave, life insurance,
free drinks, company store discounts and a casual dress code, it is easy to see why this
is the case.
El Pollo Loco Only Uses Fresh Ingredients
One of the things that makes El Pollo Loco stand out from their competitors is the fact
that they only use fresh ingredients in their dishes.
From the chicken to the avocados, the hot peppers, and the tomatoes, everything that
staff at El Pollo Loco use in their dishes is 100% fresh.
The reason for the company only using completely fresh ingredients is that it guarantees that
the flavors in the dishes are authentic and that the food is considerably healthier because
processed foods tend to strip the foods of their nutrients.
A vast majority of the fast food chains across the world use processed meats and vegetables.
Unfortunately, this is unavoidable when you consider how many thousands of customers they
have each day.
However, El Pollo Loco have stuck to their guns and ensured that they only use completely
fresh ingredients in all of their dishes.
The little extra time that it takes to prepare the ingredients for the dishes is definitely
worth it as you can certainly taste the difference in the flavors.
There is a Secret Menu of Sorts at El Pollo Loco
There is no fast food franchise that doesn’t offer a secret menu to its customers and El
Pollo Loco is no different.
If tortillas aren’t your thing, you want something low carb, or you follow a vegan
diet, El Pollo Loco is able to provide.
If you are vegan, how about trying the Tostado Salad.
To make this dish vegan-friendly, you simply need to ask to substitute the chicken for
avocado, hold the creamy cilantro dressing, the sour cream and the cheese and ask for
If you want to try the Chicken Black Bean Bowl, simply ask for avocado instead of chicken,
and hold the cheese.
This dish is served with black beans and broccoli, both of which are vegan-friendly so you won’t
be missing out on the flavors of the dish.
Basically, anything on the menu can be tailored so that it becomes vegan-friendly or low carb.
There are so many different combinations available on the menu; you really can pick and choose
to create your perfect personal dish.
El Pollo Loco Holds an Annual Grill Challenge for their Grill Masters
Cooks at El Pollo Loco are not actually called cooks.
In fact, they are all called Grill Masters.
There are several levels of grill mastery – Certified Grill Master, Grill Master Trainer,
Expert Grill Master, Elite Grill Master and to get to the final level of The Champion
Grill Master, cooks have to win the coveted top spot at the annual Grill Master Challenge.
The challenge was started over 20 years ago and began as an internal operation.
These days, however, the company has decided to allow guests to view the event, giving
them a chance to go behind the scenes at El Pollo Loco.
The methods used in the grilling process are the same ones that were used 30 years ago
when El Pollo Loco secured its place on the map.
There are several stages during the competition, but it culminates in one final grill off with
those who have reached this stage.
During the final, Grill Masters will be judged on numerous areas including preparation, cooking,
cutting and the presentation of their chicken.
There are 4 levels of the competition – Restaurant Level with 1,400 cooks, Area Level with 75
cooks, The Semi-Finals with 12 cooks, The Finals with 6 cooks and then the Top Grill
Master is named.
As you can imagine, cooks who have been working for the company for a long time are eager
to get this title and there is some serious competition to beat for those who wish to
El Pollo Loco Has a Tendency to Be A Little ‘Out There’
Obviously, every fast food chain has to have a mascot.
McDonald’s has Ronald McDonald, KFC has The Colonel and El Pollo Loco well, they have
The Crazy Chicken.
A fascinating and somewhat amusing fact is that Brad Pitt’s first job was actually
as a mascot for El Pollo Loco handing out flyers on the sidewalk.
Humble beginnings indeed.
At one point in time, there was an El Pollo Loco chain inside Foxwoods Resort Casino.
Seems pretty normal.
Well, at this location, it was possible to play tic-tac-toe against a live chicken.
This chicken had spent six months at “Chicken University” learning how to play the game.
According to the sign at the location, players simply inserted a quarter, and wait for ‘Bird
Brain’ to take his first turn with an O. Players had 9 seconds on each of their turns
to press the button to choose their square.
We’ve certainly never heard of anything like this from another fast food franchise,
that’s for sure.
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