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Chicken Feed: Last November 9, a money-losing fast-food company named Boston Chicken, Inc., decided to go public, offering almost two million shares of stock at $20 per share. By the time the market's closing bell rang, Wall Street traders' jaws had dropped to the floor. Boston Chicken finished the day trading at $48.50, the largest first-day stock price increase of any new issue in several years. Investors believe the company could be another McDonald's. Boston Chicken recently hit the Valley, opening its first store here (others are planned) just before Christmas. I dropped by to see what the commotion was about, and found that Boston Chicken looks pretty much like a typical fast-food place. The walls are painted with colorful pictures of fresh produce, but that's about as far as the "ambiance" goes. Behind the counter is a massive block of rotisserie units, spinning hundreds of chickens. There are also more workers back there than I've ever seen in a fast-food joint. These folks expect to do well. Marinated, slow-roasted chicken is the ostensible centerpiece of the operation. And it is pretty good, moist and tender inside, with a crunchy, flavorful exterior. A whole bird goes for $7.49. But the keys to Boston Chicken's success are really the side dishes. No greasy French fries, mushy corn on the cob or packaged dinner rolls accompany these fowl. Instead, patrons choose from an astonishing assortment of homemade items that change with the seasons, all temptingly laid out in a display case by the counter. Take the butternut squash pur‚e. It's sweet and nutty, a taste of Thanksgiving in March. Along the same lines, there was also a yummy, sage-scented stuffing, laced with bits of carrot, mushroom, celery and onion. It had real flair, with no taste of the institutional about it. Skin-on hunks of red potato, seasoned with garlic and dill, are another choice you won't find at most burger-and-chicken joints. And I really enjoyed the creamed spinach, though whatever healthful properties the spinach possessed were negated by the thick cream sauce. The light mashed potatoes don't fall short on taste, either. If you wish, you can forget about chicken and just order a plate of side orders. A three-item sampler costs $3.99, and includes a very sweet piece of fresh, crumbly corn bread.

Boston Chicken has also hired help that can make change for a dollar without consulting the boss. There is a bewildering number of meal deals and combinations--you'd have to sit there with a computer for 20 minutes to determine your best financial course. The counter people reconfigured my complex order and saved me a buck.

Despite appearances, Boston Chicken is not a health-food parlor. Look out for tons of salt, cream and sugar hidden in the side orders. But in the corporate-fast-food-taste sweepstakes, this place has surged past the competition.

Small wonder management has been aggressively expanding. Two years ago, there were 37 units; there are about 200 now, mostly franchises, and the company expects to double that number by the end of 1994. Boston Chicken is located on the northeast corner at the intersection of 19th Avenue and Northern. Call 944-7000.

 
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