Back in the Day, It Was Arlington’s Favorite Fast Food

Once upon a time, Holly Farms Chicken was the place to go for buckets full of comfort.
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W-L students Michelle Roeder and Peter Ching at Holly Farms in 1976 (Photo from W-L 1976 yearbook)

In the 1970s, one of the surprisingly popular items at the Holly Farms Chicken franchise on Wilson Boulevard came breaded and fried and packaged in a 12-ounce Styrofoam cup. It wasn’t the signature two-piece fried chicken meal (complete with dinner roll and “Holly Taters”) or the jumbo 18-piece bucket (only $7.89 in 1978), but chicken livers, which could be yours for less than a dollar. 

Long before streamlined value menus and order-ahead apps, Holly Farms served fast-food chicken that felt traditional and familiar on dinner tables throughout the South. The Arlington location was a freestanding  joint in the parking lot of the Safeway just west of Ballston, making it a favorite for grocery workers getting off their shifts and high-school students stopping by for an after-school snack. 

Whenever someone mentions Holly Farms in the “I Grew Up in Arlington, VA” Facebook group, a flood of nostalgic comments is sure to follow. “Food tasted like real food back then,” wrote one wistful local.

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Founded in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in 1958, Holly Farms Chicken was a household name in the Southeast, serving up crispy thighs, breasts and drumsticks alongside Kentucky Fried Chicken, Roy Rogers and a handful of regional chains. In a 1981 story titled “Washington’s Fried Chicken Wars,” The Washington Post noted that fried chicken sales in D.C. exceeded the national average by 22%.

At the height of its popularity, Holly Farms boasted 20 locations in the DMV. By the late 1980s, however, the company had transitioned its business model to packaged chicken sales in grocery stores and was acquired by Tysons Food in 1989. 

Today, fried chicken can be found in places like Hot Lola’s, Ruthie’s All-Day, Queen Mother’s, Tupelo Honey Café and The Liberty Tavern. But the memory of Holly Farms, for some, is still so savory they can nearly taste it. 

“My uncle would bring home chicken and tater wedges every Friday night,” remembers Ohio resident Kat Morris Hicks, who grew up in Arlington with her uncle Robby Copeland (he died in 2018 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery) and cousin Wayne Copeland. 

“He was a single parent to both of us. One Thanksgiving, he preordered Holly Farms chicken dinners and went to 7-11 and bought a bunch of Willy Wonka candy. It was just the three of us, but it was a fun-filled holiday.”

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Categories: Local History