Thursday, May 30, 2024

FireBird—the Nashville hot chicken staple—to close Long Beach location

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FireBird, the space which can easily be pinpointed as the heart of the Nashville hot chicken craze that eventually saw a seemingly endless amounts of mimics invade the city, will be closing its Long Beach doors on September 26.

Owners Thyda and Chet Sieng said that a combination of the pandemic, staffing, and—perhaps most devastating—a string of deeply painful, deeply personal family matters have given them little choice but to focus solely on their new brick-and-mortar in Anaheim while closing up their flagship location inside Liberation Brewing Co. in Bixby Knolls.

Thyda assured readers she “loves her Long Beach” and its patrons but that “so much has happened that the weight is hard to carry healthily, both for myself and especially Chet, who has suffered heavy loss.”

These words carry hefty weight: The pandemic has expounded what would have otherwise been something indeed stressful but workable. The pandemic has expounded a restaurant’s inability to both close for mental and personal health reasons and handle personal issues while letting a business take care of itself.

FireBird is just that great.

And for me, FireBird is one of those losses that is difficult to explicate: Was it around for a long time? No, it didn’t even last two years. Was it offering something so distinct that it is unattainable elsewhere? No, the hot chicken boom has long exploded the bubble it should have occupied (and, for the record, I can’t thank the Food Gods enough that Hotville and Howlin’ Ray are still around).

What FireBird did do, at least for me, was consistently remind me of the origins of Nashville hot chicken: Not only did Thyda and Chet travel to Nashville to learn both the story and love behind the Princes, the royal family of hot chicken, they also spent years perfecting the art of frying fowl.

Like any great artist and master, they didn’t jump into the commercialization but rather, honed their frying skills. They had pop-ups here. A brief stint at Delicious Crepes Cafe there. And the culinary act they were directly following wasn’t an easy one to leave the stage after: Kim Prince, niece of André Prince Jeffries, the matriarch behind Nashville’s iconic, James Beard Award-winning Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, did a pop-up in Long Beach itself. For me personally—even outside of the stellar Howlin’ Ray in Chinatown in DTLA—it was a communal and cultural food experience that still leaves me in awe.

When I talked to Kim Prince, she told me Nashville hot chicken was “givin’ someone a warm Southern hug.”

As per all wonderful Southern phrases, there’s a deeper depth to her words—and that is, in order to give someone a genuinely warm Southern hug via food, you have to know what the hell you’re doing. Like many fiends addicted to the absurd heat that can come with Nashville hot chicken, I began seeking it out everywhere I could—only to find myself perpetually disappointed by any space that wasn’t Kim or Howlin’.

Until Thyda and Chet came along.

And they didn’t go to L.A. They didn’t go to a city that didn’t have the trend. Like any true Cambo of Long Beach, they made the dream begin here, in their hometown.

I know Long Beach is often scrutinized for certain characteristics, both among outsiders and our own: We either accept the mediocre because the city has so long been ignored that we are admittedly over-welcoming for any investment in our city or we are so proud that we ignore what is great (or better) outside our city walls. Both of these stereotypes hold a grain of truth—and I mean it when I say that I am not mindlessly elevating something because it was Long Beach or that I haven’t experienced greatness outside of it. Ms. Kim and Howlin’ call Inglewood and DTLA their homes; not Long Beach.

And with that, I am proud to say that the sole purveyor of hot chicken I put in that same bucket was FireBird.

For those who have not experienced them, I deeply suggest you try them before they solely operate out of Anaheim in what will likely be an entirely different concept. (You heard that right: They are most likely shifting gears to a fish-focused spot—more on that later). And don’t forget to order the Fire Sticks, Nashville hot mozzy sticks that invade my childhood dreams of past.

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Until we eat again, FireBird…

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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