Why Hialeah’s KFC stopped selling its flan after 45 years

Dan Yagoda was proud to own the only Kentucky Fried Chicken in the world to bake its own flan.

That it was in Hialeah was a specific source of pride – a reflection of the Cuban community that embraced the city in the 1960s, when Cubans fled the revolution and called this working-class town home. Over 45 years ago, an immigrant cook, a former chef in Havana, adapted the original 16-quart pressure cookers used to prepare the Colonel’s Secret Recipe Chicken to cook perfect flan with a secret recipe all his own. .

Even after KFC stopped using these pans, this KFC at 811 W. 49th St. got special dispensation from its corporate headquarters to continue making a flan silky and succulent enough to make any home cook jealous. House. Customers came with their own containers from as far away as Key West and Tampa to buy whole flans over the holidays.

But anyone who visited KFC around Thanksgiving in 2021 found a bitter surprise: flan was no longer on the menu.

“Customers were not happy. They were just very disappointed that they couldn’t get it anymore,” Yagoda said.

Frank Turcios and Blanca Rosa Ortiz are the only people at this KFC in Hialeah who know how to make the famous flan from scratch. MATIAS J. OCNER [email protected]

You can blame a supply chain that made key ingredients hard to get for KFC’s supplier, especially because they weren’t used in other stores. We can blame a reduced and overwhelmed team, especially since only two people from this KFC (one of whom is partly retired) know how to make the flan from a recipe handed down for 40 years.

And there was another culprit that Yagoda had never seen coming.

‘The perfect product’

That the flan lasted so long was a stroke of luck. The only reason it existed was because franchisees were encouraged to make up their own menu items in the early ’70s, and this place, which Yagoda’s father had owned since 1970, experimented with everything from fried shrimp to pie to lime. The late Baldomero Gonzalez, the Cuban immigrant chef, used to cook family meals for the staff before the restaurant opened, from fried chicken livers to chicken fricassee. He used ingredients from these dishes to make the flan water bath in the pressure cooker.

The local community loved it. The 9-ounce, 650-calorie wedge has sold for 99 cents for decades, a loss leader to draw locals to the store. (It last sold for $2.89.)

When the world outside Hialeah discovered the secret flan decades later, this KFC became national history.

But in February 2020, just before the pandemic began, Yagoda was diagnosed with cancer at the base of his tongue. He underwent 35 radiation treatments and three chemotherapy sessions in less than two months. He lost 47 pounds.

He passed the restaurant into the hands of longtime managers and the flan to the two staff flanaderos – Blanca Rosa Ortiz, who works part-time and Genero “Frank” Turcios. Ortiz had taught Turcios the recipe she had learned from Baldomero.

For a time, the restaurant did better than ever.

“We had the perfect product: comfort food, it was cheap and you could have it delivered,” said Yagoda, who had worked for his father at KFC since 1975.

Meanwhile, Yagoda has recovered. He was back to a healthy weight and quarterly PET scans showed that his tongue cancer was gone.

“I even got my taste buds back. And I felt fantastic,” he said.

But the pandemic drags on. Workers were harder to find, although Yagoda says he paid $14 an hour. Flan ingredients became a luxury: supply chain shortages meant that even basic KFC supplies were rationed between stores. Its supplier had a harder time getting standardized items for the restaurant, and the condensed milk and eggs used just for flan weren’t even part of what KFC regularly stocked. And Yagoda was not allowed to buy what the flan makers needed from a local store.

KFC’s flan in Hialeah was made in an adapted pressure cooker previously used to fry chicken. MATIAS J. OCNER [email protected]

Yagoda, now 72, was getting tired. Real estate prices in Hialeah skyrocketed and he decided to sell the restaurant. The buyer, KBP Brands, owned 660 KFCs and 139 Taco Bells with annual sales of $1 billion as of August 2021, according to the Franchise Times.

“There were a lot of tears”

In September, as the closing date approached, Yagoda underwent a routine PET scan. The result showed something unexpected: a 2.5 centimeter tumor at the end of his pancreas. Yagoda had a different cancer, one of the most dangerous. According to statistics from the National Cancer Institute, less than 40% of people survive beyond five years.

“Pancreatic cancer is a very scary thing – scarier than I thought at the time,” he said.

Yagoda sold his three KFCs to KBP Brands in the first week of November 2021. A week later, he underwent surgery to have half of his pancreas and spleen removed. Yagoda remains on a preventative chemotherapy protocol, where some weeks he can barely keep food down. But doctors told him they caught him early and he had a fighting chance.

“I have bad days like everyone else who has to take this poison, but they’re convinced it works,” Yagoda said.

He said goodbye to employees who had become friends, many of whom had worked at this KFC for decades. He dispatched many members of the management team with bounties.

“There were a lot of tears,” said Susan Benitez, Yagoda’s operations manager, who had worked for him for more than 30 years since she started as a part-time employee at Hialeah High at age 15. “It’s the end of an era, it is what it is.”

Towards the end of November, under new ownership, flan disappeared from the Hialeah KFC menu. Customers who came around Thanksgiving for their usual flan left empty-handed.

“We had people coming just for the flan. I have to tell them, ‘Caballero is Kentucky Fried Chicken, not a bakery,’” joked general manager Claudia Bovea, a 35-year Yagoda employee who remains in charge of the Hialeah store.

But all is not lost for flan lovers.

Bovea said her new bosses told her she could keep making the flan – if she ever had enough staff and could stock the necessary ingredients. Making the flan is a 6-8 hour process, she said, and the only person on staff who knows how to do it — Turcios — has to devote an entire day to it.

“I just don’t have the employees to release him for a full day,” she said. “I need him to fry some chicken.”

For now, flan is another casualty in the supply chain. But maybe not permanent.

“If all of these things come together, I can start making flan again,” she said. “I have hope.”

This story was originally published February 22, 2022 06:00.

Miami Herald editor Carlos Frías won the 2018 James Beard Award for Outstanding Coverage of the Food Industry. Originally from Miami, he is also the author of the memoir “Take Me With You: A Secret Search for Family in a Forbidden Cuba”.

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