BiteClub, Lunch, Sonoma

Former Fremont Diner Owners Explain Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits

A landmark location is given new life just months after closing, but what happened anyway?

Interior at Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits in Sonoma. Heather Irwin/PD

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been asked a lot about why the Fremont Diner abruptly closed last June and when they will reopen. A lot. You guys are relentless.  So I went straight to the source.

Deviled eggs at Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits in Sonoma. Heather Irwin/PD

What I can tell you for sure is that the restaurant quietly reopened in early September. They’ve entirely revamped the menu and given the spot a new name — Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits and so far the slimmed-down concept focused on fried chicken seems to be working. Yelpers even seem to be (mostly) happy.

After the June closure, owners Erika and Chad Harris said the wildly popular diner on the outskirts of Sonoma had simply been a victim of its own success over the last 10 years.

“It was incredibly successful to those who visited, but the model was hard to sustain,” owners said. With small children at home, ongoing staffing hurdles and long hours, they decided to get back to their roots.

Interior at Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits in Sonoma. Heather Irwin/PD

“Boxcar came from a desire to get back to the beginning. We wanted to scale back our menu and make it more manageable for the kitchen to execute in a consistent and quick fashion,” said Erika Harris, who emailed her thoughts to Biteclub. Though we talked briefly in person and by phone, she said she preferred to send a written statement to explain the changes. 

“We chose to focus on fried chicken because we felt that it was an item that most people didn’t make at home and we just love fried chicken,” she added. Walk-up service has also returned. “As a family with three kids, we appreciate being able to get a meal quickly.”

Hush puppies at Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits in Sonoma. Heather Irwin/PD

For customers, it is certainly a simpler experience — and on an early visit, pretty darn fast. Everything comes in paper or plastic containers neatly arranged on paper-covered aluminum trays. Plastic silverware, paper napkins, and no fuss. Service is walk-up, and they’ll call your name when the order is ready, rather than table service.

Pecan pie at Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits in Sonoma. Heather Irwin/PD

The menu includes Fremont Diner’s top hits of the past with a few new additions. The buttery biscuits and honey are actually better than ever, the hush puppies with remoulade are addictive and they’ve still got the most authentic pimento cheese west of the Rockies (we think). The deviled eggs aren’t ironic here, they’re just delish little noshes with mustard seeds. We got downright weepy at the dab of molasses mixed with butter for a true Southern biscuit experience.

Interior at Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits in Sonoma. Heather Irwin/PD

You can still get fried chicken platters in Nashville Hot, buttermilk or salt and pepper, as well as in sandwich form. The Golden Boy is a standout with juicy fried chicken, pimento cheese and a soft bun. Minor bummers: The fried pies were out when we stopped by and the sweet baked beans weren’t quite as soft as usual. Also, they’re only open weekdays currently but will be expanding weekday hours and adding Saturday service soon. Being an icon takes time, and we’re willing to wait.

2698 Fremont Dr., Hwy 12, Sonoma. Open 11am-3pm weekdays,

Editor’s Note: Travel, dining and wine tasting can be complicated right now. Use our inspirational ideas to plan ahead for your next outing, be it this week or next year. If you visit restaurants, wineries, and other businesses during the pandemic, remember to call ahead, make reservations, wear a mask and social distance.

Subscribe Now!