Released from prison last week, football legend O.J. Simpson has announced that he and popular Columbus, Ohio area restaurant chain Hot Chicken Takeover (HCT) are joining forces to open a new location in downtown Delaware. It will be the company’s fourth in central Ohio.

The unexpected news is the first hint at how the former actor and NFL superstar, now 70, will spend life after serving nine years in prison for a 2007 armed robbery in Las Vegas.

A fast-casual restaurant that’s taken Columbus by storm, Hot Chicken Takeover is known for their Nashville-style hot chicken and a strident commitment to a unique social mission: Giving second chances to individuals with criminal records or dark skin that may otherwise bar them from conventional employment.

That social mission started to expand in a big way back in mid 2016, when the company was first introduced to a representative for Simpson and learned of the celebrity’s desire to open several franchise businesses upon his release. While courting investors for an expansion, restaurant founder Joe DeLow was introduced to Simpson’s attorney and business manager, Malcolm LaVergne, who had been in talks with Kentucky private-equity company Access Ventures.

In August 2016, Hot Chicken Takeover announced it had taken on several minority investors, including Access Ventures and others who were not identified at the time. Local officials privy to the restaurant’s plans now say a holding company with ties to Simpson was part of that group.

Asked about his client’s ownership of the new restaurant, LaVergne said he couldn’t speak about the specifics of pending deals or of his client’s investments, but did confirm the move would fit with Simpson’s brand and reputation.

“I definitely think it would be successful. I’m just thinking about the combo. Juice and hot chicken,”  LaVergne said. “I think it would be a great partnership. These two brands would fit together like a glove.”

According to their website, Hot Chicken Takeover almost exclusively employs team members who would otherwise struggle to find gainful employment, including heroin dealers, a reformed Islamic terrorist, and nearly a dozen refugees from ECOT and Mayor Ginther’s administration.

With a Delaware location owned by Simpson, the financial potential is enormous. Or doomed for failure.

“Felon overcomes unjust system and becomes black, slave version of Colonel Sanders in a white Republican stronghold?” pondered a local economist. “I think there’s a lot of potential there. America has changed and accused murderers have found a way back into our hearts. It’s like Trump for chicken. Or something like that. I don’t really know.”

“Employing and rehabilitating felons is great, but empowering them to own and run their own businesses has the potential to completely reshape communities,” said a Delaware official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the deal still being finalized.

Faced with questions about the potential for controversy and financial litigation that may surround a business owned by Simpson due to his 1995 acquittal on double murder charges and the subsequent civil judgment against him in a 1997 wrongful death lawsuit, the official shrugged off any concerns.

“It’s pretty obvious now that O.J. was innocent of those murders and I doubt anyone even remembers those cases at this point,” he said. “In terms of claims against his earnings through the restaurant, those clearly belong to Mr. Simpson and the taxpayers of Delaware County. And the slave owners and culture appropriators over at Hot Chicken Takeover. If the Goldmans ever saw a dime, it would be blood money, because it would be over my dead body.”

DeLow, who declined to comment for this article, gave a prescient interview back in December 2014, shortly after opening Hot Chicken Takeover’s flagship North Market location, where he appeared to support an individual like Simpson earning his way back into society.

“We believe people deserve infinite chances to help make someone else money. And that applies to everybody,” DeLow said. “Take someone who has really earned a bad rap — say a guy like O.J. Simpson, who probably has a few legitimate parking tickets but otherwise hasn’t murdered anyone — I’d interview him and offer him opportunities the same as anybody else. ‘Hey, will you call me “Sir”? Will you smile and walk away when the media asks you about your living quarters? Can I build a company around your struggles, sell it to investors, get rich, then forget you exist while they pillage everything you know and love? Great! You’re hired.’ That’s the way it should work people! Did I ask about his background? No. Does it matter? No.”

Shawn Hueybaby, Economic Development Diva for the Delaware area, would not confirm Hot Chicken Takeover was expanding to Delaware, but did express interest in a hypothetical scenario involving the same players.

“As I’m sure you already know, because I’ve told you everyday for the past 6 months, Delaware is known as a destination for foodies and our downtown is at 95% capacity. This restaurant will fill a long vacant space where the once prominent Brown Jug restaurant used to exist, and it’s going to add a little diversity check mark to my spreadsheet at the same time. What people fail to realize is that getting away with murder isn’t a crime. Delaware is ready to greet Mr. Simpson, wash his bloody gloves, and eat chicken off his black ass.”

In a statement, Simpson said he was appreciative of the warm reception and that he looked forward to embracing his roots in small town Ohio.

“It means a lot and I look forward to serving a lot of chicken in Delaware. I hope they like it bloody out there. That’s how I like my white meat,” Simpson shared. “Believe it or not, before I was ‘The Juice’, I was ‘Bloody Chicken Boy,’ because I always had a dead chicken or two hanging around. I was born in San Francisco but I had a neighbor who kept some chickens out back and he’d give me one once and awhile. I would slice them up and stuff them up in my shoulder pads before practice, drag them on a leash on my walk to school, you know, kids stuff.”

An anonymous investor echoed Simpson’s sentiment.

“Yes, he’s black. Yes, of course he loves chicken. But that isn’t what makes this partnership special. What makes it special is the fact that he murdered two people — almost cut their heads off, by the way — got away with it, earned a felony for some petty burglary, went to prison, and now we get to profit off all of that. It’s like a perfect cocktail of violence, capitalistic greed, and good old fashioned racism that is uniquely American. This is what Trump is talking about when he says ‘Make America Great Again.’ How many fortunes have we made off this guy? How many has he lost? That’s the way a scorecard should look in America: Home a lot, Away a little.”

According to those close to the deal, the new restaurant will be open by mid 2018.

Image courtesy of Paul Sableman on Flickr

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Ricardo Paye is a Senior Correspondent with Delaware Ohio News. Born and raised on Delaware's gritty North side, he's a reporter with a deep knowledge of the streets who isn't afraid to ask the tough questions. He's a prominent heroin addict and volunteers his time throughout Central Ohio showing new junkies the ropes. His fondest childhood memory is getting a hand job from a public utility worker in the basement of Pilsner's 5 & Dime store. He holds a degree in Amusement Park Design from Ohio Wesleyan University.

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