Church’s Chicken and restoring the Hill Country

Howdy folks, today we’re taking a look at how a tiny abandoned Church’s Chicken in Houston connects to the restoration of the Hill Country. Specifically, we’re looking at the Church’s on Highway 6 in Mission Bend. It’s been an eye-catcher for years for anyone in retail fanning. The itty-bitty store comes in at around 500 Square Feet; this postage stamp of a restaurant was designed for efficiency, and it has an interesting story. To tell it though, we need to start with some history, Church’s was founded in San Antonio in 1952 by Bill Church. The original location was a walk-up stand only selling Fried Chicken and Rolls. The concept proved popular, and Church’s would begin to grow tremendously during the 50s and 60s with the help of a man named David Bamberger. Around this time, the chain would enter Houston through a licensing agreement with Jim Dandy Fried Chicken, who would convert their existing locations. Around this time, the company also went public. At this time, Bamberger would depart the chain, opting to purchase land in the Hill Country. The chain continued to grow, targeting neighborhoods in large cities that other chains like KFC would avoid. While this helped establish Church’s a well-known brand. It would also give them a bit of a negative reputation as somewhat “scraping the bottom of the barrel.” This negative reputation began to breed rumors about the quality of the chicken, and business overall began to take a sharp decline.

With this drop in business, takeover and buyout rumors swirled, with the fate of Church’s Corporate Structure potentially in limbo. However, seemingly just in time, Bamberger (who still owned a large chunk of the company) returned to lead the company. Some of the efforts he undertook included shutting down the popular but less profitable G.W. Jr’s Hamburger Chain, which Church’s had developed. The next step was to begin closing hundreds of money-losing restaurants. Finally, Bamberger would help develop the prototype we’re looking at today. The concept was sold as a cheap, “moveable” restaurant. The buildings would be prefabricated and shipped to be installed in parking lots fully assembled, essentially only needing to be stocked before opening. It was a novel concept and allowed the company to begin building new locations cheaply. With this working in the short term, Bamberger left once again, appointing a hand-picked successor and returning to his ranch. Within just a few years of his second departure, takeover rumors once again swirled. However, this time the bids were much higher. Eventually, in 1989 Al Copeland founder and owner of Popeye’s would purchase the chain for $480 Million. Back in the Hill Country, Bamberger had found that the land he had purchased had been rendered useless by a lack of water, despite sitting on a natural aquifer, different factors had all contributed to near drought conditions on the property. Energized with new money from the sale of Church’s Bamberger began work on restoring his property to native conditions. After years of work, springs began to flow again, and Mr. Bambergers work has been applied to other properties in the Hill Country. His preserve, Selah aka Bamberger Ranch, is open to the public to visit a few times per month.


  1. Perhaps you can follow up this lead. Back in the 70’s to early 80’s the chicken competition was between KFC and Ron’s Fried Chicken (Delicious) now it seems to me I remember a Church’s here and there in Houston in the same era.. For whatever reason Ron’s sold out and Church’s took over those locations. Three of the Ron’s locations I remember were S. Post Oak near W. Fuqua, Chimney Rock across from the Harris Co tax office and on S. Main aka Hwy 90 in the heart of Stafford and possibly Beechnut and Fondren. As for the Churc’s in 10000 blk of Bissonet that wasn’t a tiny 500 sf portable bld like the Hwy 6 Mission Bend location which had no inside seating. The Bissonet location had inside seating. The Church’s at Beechnut and 59 in the old Kmart parking log was small drive thru with
    a couple of outside tables. Church’s by far had better offerings on their sides than Popeyes does. Those jalapeño cheese bombs are amazing as it the dirty rice and honey biscuits. I can’t believe I didn’t g make d the connection to both having Tues 2 pieces fir 99 cents.

  2. Church’s Chicken has a huge reputation problem, their restaurants tend to be old and in declining neighborhoods. The pre-fab buildings is interesting, though, I know there’s another pre-fab Church’s at the Walmart parking lot in Navasota.

    One of the things I read about Church’s time in the late 1980s was that some of the buildings (a hundred, even) had no air conditioning or ice makers, so conditions inside the restaurant would hit 100 degree temperatures.

  3. It is a bit of a shame that Church’s Chicken has recently rebranded themselves as Church’s Texas Chicken. It gives the perception that Texans like cheap, low-grade businesses especially since our neighbors in Louisiana are connected to a more successful fried chicken brand. Yes, there is also HEB to link Texans to cheap and low-grade retail, but most people outside of Texas actually have a high opinion of HEB since they get a lot of positive media coverage and they’ve never shopped in one. Church’s Chicken, OTOH, is a well-known bottom of the barrel operation.

  4. I love Church’s food but the service is usually horrible! I remember waiting for over 30 minutes for food while I was the only person in line at at Church’s in Charleston, SC where I went to college. There is a similarly abandoned location at 10803 Bissonnet St that has some signs up indicating a future U-Haul Self-Storage location. The issue with these locations now is that they are almost always a full teardown. The quality of the buildings is, I’m sure, subpar and the maintence was usually nonexistent. Not to mention they are too small for much else. Sad though, because they are iconic and easily recognizable