By Frier McCollister
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
Daddy’s Chicken Shack is easy to miss but not so easy to forget.
“Downhome, casual,” is how owner and chef, Pace Webb described her eatery. “No presentation, no fuss. Hole-in-the-wall is the goal here.”
Around the corner from Fair Oaks on Dayton Street, it’s not an actual shack but the front-of-house area is all of 100 square feet.
“We opened November 2018. It’s literally the smallest restaurant in Pasadena.”
Webb’s formula proved successful almost immediately, as her custom fried chicken sandwiches pushed the restaurant through the pandemic.
Webb comes from three generations of Texan hostesses, who provided the spark of inspiration for her culinary dreams.
“I come from a long line of ladies who love to entertain,” Webb said. “I have a great-grandmother, a grandmother and a mother who just really love to host and bring people together. There’s definitely an art to it. Growing up I took it for granted that everyone knew how to throw a great gathering of any size.”
Webb’s mother was a theater actress, who continued to stoke the family’s tradition of hospitality.
“Opening night parties were always at our house,” Webb said. “She always had that touch to throw a dimmer on the lights, or put the best samba music on. But nothing was ever very precious. The ambiance was really just people coming together to have a good time.
“I had this moment as a teenager, when I looked around at one of the parties. I thought, ‘I want to be on this side of the party as opposed to just a guest. I want to host.’ (But) I didn’t think that was really a profession.”
A bout with colon cancer as a senior in high school set Webb on a path to a healthier lifestyle, which coincided with her affinity for hospitality.
“That got me on a very long journey with food and health and lifestyle,” she said. “The interest in health evolved into just eating the best quality whole foods over joyful occasions. It evolved into, ‘Let’s celebrate the best beef that there is, the best pork that there is, the best seasonal vegetables that there are.’ It just happened to marry with people gathering over food.”
Arriving in Southern California in 2006, Webb was unsure of where to take her culinary inspirations.
“As a youngster trying to figure out what I wanted to do culinarily, I had little direction. I was working three jobs at the time: at a bakery; assisting at the culinary school; staging at restaurants. Trying to figure out, what do I want to do?”
A series of informal catering jobs snowballed successfully. “People would ask me, ‘Could I cater this party, could I cater that party.’ It took on a life of its own and evolved into something very naturally with my catering business.”
That catering business — Taste of Pace — soon became quite busy, serving “regional Italian by way of California.” In 2014, a large celebrity-driven event led to an invitation to cater a smaller casual party with a menu of tacos and sliders. It would prove providential.
“This fried chicken sandwich sounded really good with Thai-style slaw, sriracha mayo, buttermilk fried chicken, brioche bun. What could possibly go wrong? It’ll be great. I didn’t even test it.”
The sandwich was a hit.
“People were freaking out about the fried chicken sliders. That night, my sous chef and I (said), ‘Maybe we have something here. Wouldn’t it be fun to just serve folks fried chicken sandwiches?’ Just focus on one thing and do it really, really well.”
A talk with her father sealed the deal.
“I called my dad the next day,” she said. “‘What do you think? It could be your retirement plan and we could call it Daddy’s.’ Daddy’s Chicken Shack has a really cute ring to it. So, we put together a business plan for it.”
It wasn’t until Webb met her partner, Chris Georgalas, a year later, that the plan really took off. Launching the concept as a one-off pop-up Downtown, Webb’s recipe again proved itself.
“It was awesome. It was so busy and so successful.” The success of the pop-up led the couple to a regular presence at Smorgasburg, the popular weekly Sunday food fair Downtown.
In the meantime, Georgalas was on a mission to find a permanent home for the concept and quickly landed on Dayton Street in Pasadena.
“He found this location on his third try. We went to go see it. It was green lights all the way around, serendipitous, a meant-to-be situation.”
However, as Webb noted, “It’s one thing to find the location. It’s another to open the doors and stay in business.”
The straightforward menu and casual accessibility quickly proved to be popular and sustainable.
Fried chicken sandwiches are the destination here, though there are convincing vegan options as well. The recipe hasn’t changed much. The fresh chicken is brined in buttermilk overnight before double dredging and frying, all served on a brioche bun with napa slaw and sriracha mayonnaise. The Big Daddy ($12) and the Spicy Daddy ($12) front the menu. There is also the choice of three Little Daddy sliders ($12) as well as popcorn chicken ($12).
The Vegan Daddy ($13) and the Vegan Daddy Nuggets ($9) are composed of fried cauliflower brined in curried coconut milk and served with sambal mayo, cilantro and mint. The nuggets are served with a scattering of salted lime peanuts.
On a random Monday afternoon, a new customer, Edwina Daniel, arrived to order the vegan nuggets having sampled them at a small party the day before.
“It was so delicious,” she said. “I came over here now to get some.” If the vegan nuggets draw this attention, the fried chicken sandwich is definitely worth a try.
That said there are also breakfast options, served all day: two Southern Daddy biscuit sammies ($10); the famous breakfast burrito ($11); or the Mornin’ Daddy breakfast sando ($10).
Because Webb’s model was already well-designed for takeout and delivery, no hard pivots were required when the pandemic lockdown came last March. As general manager Brooke Saul noted, “It’s actually gotten busier. We were already on these (delivery) apps. We saw those numbers skyrocket. We were ready to go.”
However, with Smorgasburg closed, that revenue stream evaporated, and Webb engaged with the city’s Great Plates program to provide meals for front-line workers and homebound elders.
“It really helped our catering business to stay afloat,” Webb said. “It felt good to be helping other people. It felt heroic. It was a really cool program.”
Webb and Georgalas live six blocks away from the “shack” with their 2-year-old daughter, Asa, and share a backyard with his brother’s family. It’s all downhome here.
“I just love to feed people really delicious food,” Webb said. “It’s my love language. My food is a warm hug.”