Nutty Monkey Frozen Custard’s Last Stand the KFC co-brand you probably never heard of

This oddly shaped Shipley’s sent me down a rabbit hole that starts with KFC. Source: Google Maps

Howdy folks, and welcome back to Houston Historic Retail. Today, we’re looking at Nutty Munkey, a tiny frozen custard chain with a brief stop in Houston. I ran across Nutty Munkey completely by accident, while researching a local Kroger via Google Earth I spotted an “oddly shaped” Shipley’s from the sky and flew in to take a look. When I saw this structure, I thought it had to be some local restaurant. I thought the building gave off a homage to early McDonald’s locations; however, I couldn’t figure out what it originally was. I worked my way around the building, finding it to be oddly sized for any sort of fast food, encountering the man out back playing a keyboard, and moved around to the front to think, hmm, those support poles sure look like trees. A quick search of the address brought back the name “Nutty Munkey Frozen Custard,” and I quickly realized, yes, those were trees. I was even able to find an archived website, which was quite advanced for a three-location chain in 2004. At this point, I knew something was up. This wasn’t a simple building; the owner of the Houston location supposedly had plans to open multiple locations, and the nice website all pointed to something bigger, so I dug deeper, and here’s what I found. Nutty Munkey had a big backing related to Yum or Tricon Global, as they were still known then. Nutty Munkey was developed by Restaurant Systems Group, a large Tricon/Yum franchisee. They were based in Missouri but had locations all across the Midwest. From what I can tell, they developed the concept for Nutty Munkey on their own, and the first successful pitch was to cobrand a location with a KFC RSG that had purchased and was ready to rebuild in Altus, OK. With RSG getting the “all clear” from Tricon/Yum, the brand worked with KFC architects to include a walkup stand and outdoor seating. The restaurant interior would also be customized to include a jukebox and 1950s theme.

The first Nutty Munkey Frozen Custard opened in conjunction with the new KFC in August 2002. The experiment would be allowed to stew before moving forward with any other cobranded locations. From what I can tell, Tricon/Yum had only a small stake, if any, in Nutty Munkey. The franchising and restaurant support all came from RSG. After having their pitch work, the next location to open would be a freestanding store in Missouri, where RSG’s headquarters are. This company-owned location was built to resemble a 1950s walkup stand, with bright neon lights and some palm trees on the exterior. When you walked in (you ordered and paid inside, but there was no seating), the customer would give you a “jungle greeting”, and they would tell customers to “Have a Nutty Day” upon exit. The 1950s detail was likely a carryover from Yum influences, but this store’s jungle side was all RSG. The connection to Yum also helped RSG and Nutty Munkey receive a fair amount of recognition from the retail media of the day. However, almost as quickly as the Yum partnership started, it collapsed, and Nutty Munkey/RSG would be left on their own. The final store and the first franchisee would be Houston, which opened in May 2004. Our location was a near copy of the Missouri one, a mix of 1950s and jungle all in one. Nutty Munkey would never expand beyond these three locations, and around 2005 RSG closed their locations, leaving Houston as the last standing. Our store would make it to 2007 before the owner filed for bankruptcy. It’s not clear why Yum pulled their support, but when they did, they doomed Nutty Munkey. Over the next few years, Yum’s multibrand stores began to struggle. Specifically, Long Johns and A&W, of which RSG had many, lagged far behind their siblings. With RSG struggling overall, they attempted a name change to Table Rock Restaurants and finally seem to have sold off their final locations around 2010. Nutty Munkey remains but an odd memory and a stand-out structure in Houston. The St. Louis location was demolished for a Wendy’s shortly after it closed.

One comment