One of the busiest and most beloved fried chicken spots in Hampton Roads has closed.
Moseberth’s Fried Chicken has been an 81-year institution in Portsmouth, founded by John and Della Moseberth as a successor to the family chicken hatchery. The fried chicken stalwart was a testament to tradition and simplicity — with a crisp, light breading that placed it among our newspaper’s favorites in the region during multiple recent taste tests.
Beneath a stately rooster, its sign announced “Value since 1940,” a promise backed up with $3.60 minced pork BBQ and full fried-chicken dinners that never seemed to crest $10. The restaurant stood the tide of generations on Airline Boulevard.
But on its Facebook page Friday, the restaurant announced that its eight decades in Hampton Roads had come to an end.
“It is with a heavy and broken heart that we are announcing that Moseberth’s Fried Chicken has closed,” began the post. “Last Saturday, our hood exhaust system broke and we were forced to close down. This week we were trying to get it repaired but we were unsuccessful. With the time it would take to get a new system in, the cost, the rise of prices of food and supplies in the last several years and especially the last year with the Corona virus, and along with family health problems. ... we have decided now was the time to close.”
The restaurant had been closed since the previous week, promising to re-open once kitchen equipment was repaired. With the announcement Friday, the closure is permanent.
This news follows just three months after the passing of Moseberth’s second-generation owner and operator, Linwood Moseberth Sr., who died Jan. 24 at 91. For more than two decades, the restaurant had already passed on to the third generation.
In its farewell message, the Moseberth family saluted the restaurant’s employees, including five that had been with the restaurant for more than 50 years. Their bond “is something I just can’t explain in words,” read the message.
The restaurant’s longevity came from those longtime employees, owner John Moseberth attested to the Pilot in 1980 — when the restaurant was a mere spring chicken at 40 years old.
“We don’t have ‘secret’ ingredients,” Moseberth said. “Just a basic flour breading with seasonings. And some of our employees have been with us 30 years, which gives our chicken consistent goodness.”
The customers have been just as consistent, building slowly by word of mouth. By 1993, Moseberth’s was shipping 4,000 pounds a week of fried chicken out the door.
In recent visits, the tiny lot at Moseberth’s has been full seemingly any hour the restaurant was open, sometimes with customers eating in their cars. Lines were a regular feature at Moseberth’s, in part because people were willing to wait. Cash tips went into a gas can “for employee gas money.” Family photos went on one wall, famous visitor Guy Fieri on another.
But it wasn’t always so. At the end of their first week of business, a handwritten ledger on May 1, 1940, showed that John and Della Moseberth made a mere $9.77 that day.
“Before my mother and father opened the restaurant, my father had a chicken hatchery on Piedmont Avenue,” recalled Linwood in a 1997 Pilot profile. “When they started here during the winter of 1939-1940, they took over an old wooden dane hall. This was in the boonies then, only a two- or three-lane road. There were three beer joints across the street, and no houses around us. Although he drank beer himself, my father always said beer and food don’t mix, so he wouldn’t sell it. Most people said that was crazy, that he’d never make it.”
They made it work. And according to their grandson, the secret of that success has been simple, like everything else at Moseberth’s.
“We don’t do any advertising, and we try to treat people right. That’s the main thing,” Linnwood Moseberth Jr. told the Pilot in 1993. “It seems to work. We don’t really pay that much attention to the competition. We just stick to the basics.’'
In its farewell, the restaurant thanked the many generations of customers who kept them in business for so long. In turn, the outpouring from customers was immediate, with memories that often reached to previous generations.
“Oh no. My mom and dad use to go on dates there,” wrote one. “Had my taste buds ready for chicken tonight. You will be sorely missed. Let’s all pray for a miracle.”
“My dad use to bring home ‘chicken in the box’ from Moseberths all the time. Loved having my own little box of chicken,” wrote another. “Always loved the little note in all the boxes it read ‘only a little prayer will make this meal complete.’ Please don’t close.”
For at least one, it was the last straw.
“Where will we get such great fried chicken and gizzards?” they lamented, citing the closure of Farm Fresh and the (temporary) closure of Suffolk’s Rodman’s Bar-B-Q.
“Without our customers and without our employees, we would not have been successful for 81 years,” Moseberth’s message to its customers concluded. “THANK YOU ALL SO VERY MUCH.”
The Portsmouth icon signed off, as apparently did many of its customers, with the picture of a broken heart.
Matthew Korfhage, 757-446-2318, firstname.lastname@example.org