Why the return of Yellowknife's KFC is a really big deal: scientists

·4 min read
Yellowknife's Kentucky Fried Chicken hasn't been open for six years.  (Chantal Dubuc/CBC - image credit)
Yellowknife's Kentucky Fried Chicken hasn't been open for six years. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC - image credit)

The smell of fried chicken will once again permeate through the air in Yellowknife when Kentucky Fried Chicken opens its doors on Monday.

And social media is already buzzing again about the fast-food restaurant's return.

Some people are counting the days left until the grand opening on Monday and other comments are talking about traffic jams.

Mayor Rebecca Alty says bylaw officers will be standing by to help with the influx of customers.

"KFC and Starbucks have been working with me on traffic management," Alty said.

"We do encourage people, if there's alternate ways that you can travel on Monday, this might be busy. You might want to take a secondary route."

It's been six years since the iconic KFC restaurant closed its doors after being in business for 47 years. And for some researchers, it was a perfect opportunity to look into the sentiment attached to the eatery.

A deep-dive

Many patrons were so disappointed when the franchise left town in 2015 that they took to social media with hashtags like #RIPKFC.

It created such a stir of comments that it prompted Audrey Giles, a professor at the School of Human Kinetics at the University of Ottawa, to study the impact it had on the community. After it closed, she saw hundreds of comments about how people felt about it on articles from various news outlets and on Facebook.

"I've just never seen that level of emotional outpouring of the closure of anything," said Giles. "I knew this paper had to be written."

Meghan Lynch, who has a PhD in nutrition and is a postdoctoral fellow in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, helped work on the study.

"It was such an interesting study from the perspective of [the] cultural significance of food and fast food, as well as health promotion and of criticisms of public health and how they promote healthy eating," Lynch said.

The paper describes a divide between people who were in favour of the closure of the KFC and people who were very anti-closure.

Audrey Giles is a professor at the School of Human Kinetics at the University of Ottawa. She chose to study the impact the KFC had on the community, after she saw the hundreds of comments online when the eatery closed.
Audrey Giles is a professor at the School of Human Kinetics at the University of Ottawa. She chose to study the impact the KFC had on the community, after she saw the hundreds of comments online when the eatery closed.(Submitted by Audrey Giles)

"Some of the ones that were more pro-closure … were coming from people who weren't necessarily from up North," Lynch said.

Those folk, Lynch said, were judgmental and took a hard line public health approach.

"They were saying, 'It's a good thing it's closing. It's going to reduce all these chronic diseases up North,' and [were] really being very disconnected from what this KFC in Yellowknife really meant to the residents."

Meanwhile, anti-closure commenters posted longer comments describing their fond memories of the restaurant.

"It meant so much more than just going and buying and eating fast food. They had all these stories about how it was connected to different traditions and their families," Lynch said.

As a researcher in and out of the North for 20 years, Giles knows first hand the connection that the people in the N.W.T. have with KFC.

"The everyday experience that I think most northerners have had … is being on a plane that just smells like fried chicken because everyone is importing it into communities for gatherings and weddings," Giles said.

The authors say it was a fun, two-year research project and they still laugh about how much attention it received, describing it as the only paper they've written that ever got read.

"My 20 years of research on drowning got totally ignored but the one article on KFC — that's the one that makes it in [the media]," Giles said with a laugh.

Meghan Lynch, who has a PhD in nutrition and is a postdoctoral fellow in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, helped work on the study.
Meghan Lynch, who has a PhD in nutrition and is a postdoctoral fellow in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, helped work on the study.(Submitted by Meghan Lynch)

'Finger licking good research'

Both researchers also point out that underneath the tongue-in-cheek aspect of it, there's a serious current.

"We saw it as kind of encouraging other food and nutrition and public health researchers to look at what else is connected to encouraging healthy eating, and not just taking ... a nutrition approach of saying, 'Fast food is bad and this is why,'" Lynch said.

As for the graduate students who helped work on the study, Giles wrote in their recommendation letters that they had "done finger licking good research."