EVERETT -- Ezell Stephens dredges chicken pieces in milk, spices and flour, and declares: "This is what I do for fun, making the best tasting chicke in the world right here!"
Stephens began cooking chicken more than 40 years ago as a teen in Texas. In 1984, after a stint in the Coast Guard, he settled in Seattle to make "the best chicken in the world, made by the best chicken maker in the world, Ezell!"
In 1994, Oprah came to Seattle and asked where she could get some good friend chicken. Someone at KING TV suggested Ezell's. She had some chicken and sweet potato pie sent to her hotel not one night, but two nights in a row. And then, says Ezell, came the big announcement on her show: "If you're ever in Seattle, there's this place called Ezell's. You gotta try it. It's the best chicken I've ever had in my life."
Sales immediately jumped five fold. Two months later, Oprah called Ezell to serve chicken at her 40th birthday party. And she convinced music producer Quincy Jones to try some of Ezell's chicken at a jazz concert in Switzerland!
"We shipped a couple hundred pieces of chicken all the way to Switzerland!" marvels Stephens. Seventeen years later, they're still clamoring for Ezell's.
"It's been amazing. Ever since, people still come into this store and say, "Is this Oprah's chicken?" They're coming to get some of Oprah's chicken and I agree with them, "Yup, it's Oprah's chicken!"
Stephens currently operates two restaurants, in Everett and on Lake City Way in Seattle. He is in a dispute over ownership and trademarks with his former business partners. They are headed to mediation. Stephens says he's not worried and trusts in God. "Who would've thought a high school drop out from Texas would get to know Oprah and Quincy Jones and open these restaurants? I've been blessed," he grins.