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, boxcar-friedchicken.com.

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Comments

14 thoughts on “Former Fremont Diner Owners Explain Boxcar Fried Chicken & Biscuits

  1. I’m sorry to say I hope their business fails. Only because they were downright cruel to their hardworking employees to give no notice of terminating their employment. Any decent person/persons/company would give at last a weeks notice.

  2. Where is the caramel milkshake and caramel cake? The new is not nearly as good as the Fremont Diner. Owners behavior was so erratic that it really made us wonder about the true story and whether or not staff were treated well. This article doesn’t give us much information.

  3. Where is the caramel milkshake and caramel cake? The new is not nearly as good as the Fremont Diner. Owners behavior was so erratic that it really made us wonder about the true story and whether or not staff were treated well. This article doesn’t give us much information.

  4. Fried chicken was not the main star at Fremont Diner it was BBQ puled pork and brisket along with pastrami and the home made ham biscuit. If you want incredible fried chicken and waffles the folks from New Orleans at Hummingbird in Fairfax blow the fried chicken and waffles here away.

  5. Fried chicken was not the main star at Fremont Diner it was BBQ puled pork and brisket along with pastrami and the home made ham biscuit. If you want incredible fried chicken and waffles the folks from New Orleans at Hummingbird in Fairfax blow the fried chicken and waffles here away.

  6. They “closed down” their Fremont Diner but failed to tell their employees except by posting a note on their door. If those employees have returned, they must be desperate for employment. I too live in Sonoma and will never eat at their place again. Maybe they can get lots of business from passing tourists

  7. They “closed down” their Fremont Diner but failed to tell their employees except by posting a note on their door. If those employees have returned, they must be desperate for employment. I too live in Sonoma and will never eat at their place again. Maybe they can get lots of business from passing tourists

  8. Sounds good. But then I remember this used to be the Fremont Diner and the same owners. Our first (and last) visit was the most disgusting experience I’ve ever had. Dead flies all over the table and windowsills. Dirty cutlery. And the bathroom was a horror show. If you go make sure your shots are up to date.

  9. Mortie – I live in Sonoma, and tried it out a couple weeks ago. I was a regular customer at the Fremont Diner. The original staff still work there and seem happy, and the food is as good as ever, albeit with a streamlined menu. Sometimes, people just need a break, and since the staff don’t seem bent out of shape over this, I’m not going to judge them myself .

  10. I would never patronize a business who fired every employee without any warning simply because the owners wanted a break. If they are that thoughtless and selfish with their staff you can only imagine what else takes a backseat.

  11. Sounds good. But then I remember this used to be the Fremont Diner and the same owners. Our first (and last) visit was the most disgusting experience I’ve ever had. Dead flies all over the table and windowsills. Dirty cutlery. And the bathroom was a horror show. If you go make sure your shots are up to date.

  12. Mortie – I live in Sonoma, and tried it out a couple weeks ago. I was a regular customer at the Fremont Diner. The original staff still work there and seem happy, and the food is as good as ever, albeit with a streamlined menu. Sometimes, people just need a break, and since the staff don’t seem bent out of shape over this, I’m not going to judge them myself .

  13. I would never patronize a business who fired every employee without any warning simply because the owners wanted a break. If they are that thoughtless and selfish with their staff you can only imagine what else takes a backseat.

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